Mar 16, 2016  By Phyllis Chancy Solomon  Category: Travel,

'We will make dreams come true': Reflections on the $1 Billion Roadmap Mission

JNF's Sderot-Shaar HaNegev Eshkol Task Force. Our author stands second from left.

One by one, we trickled in Friday morning, full of smiles, hugs, and embraces. A group of people familiar with this place and the mission they were about to undertake. There was a palpable excitement in the air, and it made the statement: "We are here, when do we get to work?"

I am describing the start of the JNF $1 Billion Roadmap Mission that just took place in Israel from March 6-12. Dedicated professionals and lay leaders from all over the U.S. joined their task forces and went off to hear and access the needs of the communities they were assigned to.
Visiting a fortified preschool in Israel's south. 

I traveled with the Sderot-Shaar HaNegev Eshkol Task Force, which kicked off our week in Ashkelon, close to the Sderot region. From hour one we were off and running, meeting with mayors and listening to their stories and plans. We soon realized this was an unbelievable opportunity to weigh in on creating change with positive, lasting effects.

One by one, these leaders spoke to us of the needs, accomplishments, and dreams of their communities. Their passions filled the room and those who heard them took their requests for our partnership very seriously.

We met with residents, community leaders, both young and old, and we heard about plans for housing, education, trauma centers, high-tech incubators and accelerators, employment centers, the need for providing cultural activities to people who are challenged almost daily with the threat of rockets from Gaza. We visited a preschool that was fortified to house 30 adorable, intelligent, vibrant toddlers. Their needs are great, with families in the area growing each year, all longing for the same security and comforts for their children as we do.

One of the week's highlights took place at the Sderot indoor playground, where task force chair Betsy Fisher brought party favors and music all the way from New Jersey. The children smiled and giggled and danced along excitedly to her music. Kol ha kavod to Betsy for turning an ordinary day into a magical day for the kids of Sderot.

More from the $1 Billion Roadmap Mission: 
JNF mega-mission leaders leave Israel inspired, and inspiring others 
Lost in the Arava, and (uh-oh!) late to the JNF bus 

Meeting with the president of Sapir College and hearing from a young Bedouin student was another pinnacle. He related how receiving an education gave him hope for his future and he was thankful for the opportunity to be the recipient of a scholarship that enabled him to continue his studies. We spoke to an Israeli young woman who was studying law and on her way to receiving a job with a prominent law firm. Both these people are first generation college-educated students. Hope filled the air on the campus of Sapir.

We also spent time on the border with Gaza, visiting with the residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz and hearing about their history and life in the area. The experience was an eye- opener into a day in the life of these remarkable people who tell you "we are here, and we are staying as life here is 90 percent heaven and 10 percent hell." One truly wonders what runs through their DNA that gives them this positive outlook to go forth and try to make life better for their fellow neighbors as well as the future citizens of the area.  

It was difficult leaving Israel this time, as there was much more to hear and so much more to accomplish. As in all beginnings, however, this is just the start and the initial plans are part of the foundation.

The mission's final stop was in Be'er Sheva, where we listened to each of the 20 task forces' experiences, thoughts, and ideas. This mission became an amazing think-tank and I have the utmost confidence that all of us, the entire $1 Billion Roadmap Mission, will bring positive change. We heard about the visions, opportunities, and dreams at hand and I know we will make dreams come true. That is what JNF does best.   

The task force outside the Sderot indoor playground. Phyllis Chancy Solomon is third from left.