This is a story about the afterlife.
It’s been 10 years since we loss Mack Ness, a New Jersey farmer who lived so frugally that our receptionist thought he was homeless. He wanted to help Israel, and he did.
When Mr. Ness came to Federation about 15 years ago to donate his $15 million estate, we knew it was a ness (miracle), but didn’t predict the way the Ness Fund would change the Negev, especially for young adults. Even today, the Negev encompasses more than half of Israel’s land, but is home to less than 10 percent of the population.
At the same time (late 1990s), I visited Israel with my family, but not the Negev. The tour guide said people sometimes passed through on the way to Eilat (at the southern border), but that was about it. The region’s young people usually moved away after finishing military service.
Enter the Ness Fund. As a fund of the Jewish Community Endowment Foundation of Central NJ (which merged into JCF in 2012), it was able to work immediately with Federation partners on the ground. Partners such as the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), which runs the Young Adult Centers to connect young people with good jobs in the Negev. Or the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering, which is educating about 150 Bedouins (30 percent of them women!) to secure well-paying jobs that will lift their families out of poverty.
If we toured today we’d likely stop in Old City Be’er Sheva for a free concert at “Monday at the Museum,” or go mountain biking at a park in Yerucham. We could tour a kibbutz that is rebounding thanks to HaShomer HaChadash, a local organization that received funding from the Ness Fund. In the first year, 20 young people came to the kibbutz to work the orchards, take classes in Zionist history, help guard the property from vandals at night, and work with volunteers. The second year 15 chose to stay.
All these changes — and so many more — came to Israel from the “homeless” farmer. Mr. Ness may have died in 2004, but the Ness Fund has helped thousands of people every day since by bringing jobs, housing, education, and cultural programs to the Negev. He wanted to help Israel, and he did.
Not a bad afterlife all in all.
The Ness Fund supports innovative projects from a wide range of Jewish and non-Jewish partner agencies, including nonprofit and government agencies, cultural/arts organizations, and businesses. To learn more, call Jessica Mehlman at (973) 929-3003.