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Joining forces after more than two decades, JNF-USA and KKL-JNF look to rebuild shattered Gaza border towns

New $54 million project, which is expected to grow, is meant to help rehabilitate communities hit by Hamas attacks

The $50 million joint project of the Jewish National Fund-USA and Keren Kayemet Le’Israel to rebuild the Gaza border communities destroyed on Oct. 7 — unveiled on Sunday at JNF-USA’s annual conference — is just “the tip of the iceberg,” a JNF spokesperson told eJewishPhilanthropy

The project, called “Building Together,” will go toward rehabilitation of the Gaza border communities devastated by Hamas’ attacks, JNF said. The collaboration also portends a renewed cooperative relationship between the two organizations after almost two decades of separation. 

The two groups have maintained strained ties with one another over the years over a variety of disputes, some ideological and some over management practices. This summer, the two agreed in principle to work together again, and at last week’s conference, they signed a memorandum of understanding about their respective roles in the joint initiative. Each organization is expected to contribute an initial $25 million toward the project. The nonbinding MOU signed at the conference will now be sent to each organization’s boards for consideration and ratification. 

The spokesperson said he anticipates the fund will grow as other Jewish organizations contribute funding, noting that “conversations are already underway.” 

The project is set to focus on the needs of the residents and the local governments representing the towns, villages and kibbutzim that were hardest hit by the terrorist attacks. KKL-JNF and JNF-USA leaders will also collaborate to approve new projects. 

“We have cried together. We have mourned together. And now, we must rebuild together. The challenges before us are great, yet we are greater,” JNF-USA’s CEO, Russell Robinson, said in a statement. “This moment requires all organizations to put aside any perceptions of ‘logo ego’ and unite around our shared mission. Together, we will make the communities of Israel’s Western Negev the most desirable places to live anywhere in the country. And we are doing it driven by our historic vision for the land and people of Israel and Jewish people everywhere.

“I, and Jewish people everywhere, realize that October 7 changes everything,“ he continued.“It changes the way we think, the way we plan, and the way we contemplate our future. Israel owes its existence to a Blue Box that unified our people on a hope and a dream in 1901, and just as it does now again, inspiring Zionists around the world to work to rebuild our ancient homeland.”

Jewish leaders, college students, high schoolers, and young professionals — 2,500 in all, more than double the 2022 crowd — gathered in Denver for the four-day JNF-USA Global Conference for Israel. Concluding on Sunday, the event had a marked somber tone in the wake of Hamas’ massacres in southern Israel and the ongoing war.