They’re 11,000 km apart, speak two different languages, and now they’re in the most inspiring relationship we know.

It started in 2014, when a delegation from JNF Perth, the capital of Western Australia, came on a mission with KKL-Israel to OR Movement. Until then, they had been raising funds for the larger JNF-Australia pool, now they were looking for a cause of their own; a project in Israel that they could personally connect to.

“We took them to visit a few projects,” recalls Reut, Director of Resource Development at OR Movement. “Merchav Am caught their eye, but it wasn’t until they met a community member, Allison Levine Speiser, that it really clicked.”

Merchav Am, established by OR Movement in 2001, was then a small community of just 50 families pioneering in the middle of the Negev desert. These idealistic pioneers saw their dream of flourishing the Negev, but they didn’t imagine that the JNF community of Western Australia would see it too.

A birds-eye view of Merchav Am in 2015

“In the beginning we had no idea what this would turn into,” recalls Allison. “We thought maybe it would be a three-year partnership, and that’s it. We didn’t realize how important Merchav Am’s success would be to them. It’s inspiring.”

In 2014, Allison flew to Perth to join the JNF-WA Annual Dinner, as a representative of the Merchav Am community, marking the beginning of a very special relationship. The two communities quickly became one, with one joint mission to build an incredible little town in the Negev.

“For Israel itself to be sustainable, the Negev needs to be supported, it needs to thrive.” Dan Springer, CEO of JNF Australia said at a recent dinner. “Communities like Merchav Am – they’re living that dream for us.”

While the community in West Australia raises funds to create beautiful landscaping and other projects in Merchav Am, they also get to know the people who use it and live the pioneer life in the Negev. When visiting Israel, the Australians now make sure to travel down to Merchav Am, their second home, to visit their pioneer friends and see first-hand the contributions they’ve brought to the Negev.

“It was incredible to experience Merchav Am and meet so many inspiring people who live there.” Nikki Levy Leib wrote after making a trip from Perth. “It was so nice to finally see our JNF playground in full use after school. Thanks for the warm welcome.”

The next generation is just as involved as their parents. Every year the community of Perth sends a group of tenth grade students on a trip to Israel, with a special stop in Merchav Am.

“The first year they came here, there was some skepticism over how it would go,” recalls Allison. “The teens spent just an hour here, being with our teenagers, and making real connections – it was wonderful!”

The next year the student delegation came for a full day and a half, which went so well that the following year they came for a Shabbat. The teens agreed that it was the highlight of their three-week trip to Israel.

Despite the language barrier, with the Israeli teens speaking a broken English and the Australians a broken Hebrew, the communication went great. “They just hit off, there was a lot of laughter,” observed Allison. “I definitely remember big hand gestures and lots of pantomiming.”

Every year the relationship grows stronger and deeper. Allison serves as the community liaison, and makes an annual trip to join the JNF Western Australia Dinner and meet the community. She spends time speaking with parents, students, board members, and donors alike. Everyone shows a genuine interest in the important aspects of Merchav Am.

Hylton Rodkin, President of JNF-WA summed it up, saying, “We want to be with Merchav Am for the long-term. In years from now we’ll look back and say, “Look at what we’ve done together!””

Today, Merchav Am is home to beautiful landscaping around their community center, an incredible children’s playground, and a perfect yard for their early education center – all in thanks to generous donations from JNF-WA. The community has grown to over 80 families and 340 children. Their first neighborhood is nearing completion, and eventually the community will count 500 families.

While the little Negev town grows, a heartening bond grows even deeper. The JNF-WA community looks to Merchav Am as their home in Israel, and the pioneers of Merchav Am find inspiration in their friends who believe in their dream, even from the other side of the ocean. As for the future; teens from the coastal city in Australia now have real friends in a desert community in Israel. The relationship is ready for the test of time.

Would your community enjoy an impactful relationship with an Israeli pioneer community? Contact Reut Bendet-Didi and we’ll arrange: reut@or1.org.il 

Watch: JNF WA Dinner Highlights 2017, and JNF WA Merchav Am 2017 Feature