By Phyllis Bernstein
Purim reminded us to be courageous in speaking out against injustice, intolerance, and hatred whenever and wherever we encounter it. It reminds us to be ever grateful and mindful of the miracles that sustain and protect us and our loved ones. It reminds us that when we stand together, we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. The Ness Fund is a perfect example of standing together when the sum is greater than the individual.
Mack Ness was a farmer in Watchung and Warren. When he passed away, he left his land – valued at $15 million – to what was then Jewish Federation of Central NJ for the specific purpose of making Israel a better place. Since its inception in 2008, our Ness board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ has been working to fulfill Mack Ness’ legacy by helping to develop the Negev—the region that covers 60 percent of the land of Israel, located in the south of the country, with a population of 600,000 people.
A few weeks ago, 16 individuals from our Greater MetroWest Keren Ness Board met in Israel for our Annual Board meeting and to see how our work is enabling the Negev to become a community full of idealistic, creative young people who are taking charge of developing Israel’s frontier.
As a board member since its inception, in 2008, I am proud to say I am the only board member who has attended each Israel board meeting. I thought to myself, “It doesn’t get better than this,” as I sat on the small bus with current chair Howard Tepper, JCF Executive Director Stanley Stone; former chairs Eleanor Rubin and Norman Weinberg; members Sandy and Roz Hollander, Jean Mandell, Larry Rein, Judi Harrison, Jim Shrager, Marcy Lazar, Gordon Haas, and Ken Heyman; and Odelia Karutchi, our new Israeli program director, who organized an impactful program.
We met the new president of Ben Gurion University, the president of Sapir College in Sderot, young artists at the Elad Theater, entrepreneurs, farmers, and many other inspiring people. After each meeting we shared our views on what we saw and heard. In the end, our group recognized and recommended funding for nine new projects to improve quality of life, economic growth in high tech, and entrepreneurship. The full Ness board will approve the recommended projects at its May meeting.
We heard from returning projects such as Elad Theatre; Agricultural research in Halutza to enhance and improve farming techniques and set up protocols for monitoring and data collection; Yanabiya, a foundation that is developing strategies and principles for investing in the Bedouin community including in marketing, tourism, and agriculture; and Crowd IL, a peer-to-peer platform for combining Israel engagement and financial opportunities for Israeli micro and small business, NGOs, and social businesses through loans.
Some new projects we’re considering include:
The media industry has been identified as one of the most significant sources of growth potential in the Western Negev region and is one of the cornerstones of the Western Negev Cluster’s strategic development plan. The Ness Fund grant would enable the funding of a full-time project manager to design and implement strategies for the region. How important and impressive!
I am so proud to be helping to honor the legacy of Mack Ness and helping make this magical mystery area bloom.