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25th JNF Tree-a-thon to aid Negev residents

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Brandon Silver holds a raffle prize voucher that may be won by volunteers at the 25th Jewish National Fund Tree-a-thon Feb. 3.

MONTREAL — Jewish National Fund (JNF) holds its 25th annual Tree-a-thon, a telephone fundraising campaign coinciding with Tu b’Shvat, the Jewish new year of the trees, on Feb. 3.

Volunteers, the majority of them senior high school, CEGEP and university students, will be manning the phones in the “war room” at the Gelber Conference Centre from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., canvassing thousands of prospects.

The event is always a lot of fun, co-chair Stu Guttman said, and since this year’s edition coincides with the Super Bowl, there will be a football theme, including a tailgate party and a TV tuned into the pre-game show.

Supporters donate prizes and food is offered throughout the day. Everyone should be home in plenty of time for the kickoff, Guttman said.

Last year’s Tree-a-thon attracted about 150, mostly young, people, and the campaign raised more than $175,000.

Guttman, an MBA student at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business and director of Camp Massad, and another co-chair, Aaron Gluck-Thaler, a mechanical engineering student at McGill University, have been JNF volunteers since they were in high school.

The third co-chair, Laurie Rosenthal, a veteran community volunteer, is a relative newcomer to the organization. She became fully acquainted with its work last year when her father, Micky Rosenthal, was JNF’s Negev Dinner honoree in June, an event she helped plan in celebrating his 95th birthday.

As always, the Tree-a-thon’s goal is to collect money to plant trees in Israel.

This year’s project, however, has a particular relevance, organizers say.

The proceeds will go toward the redevelopment of the Kissufim Forest in the Negev Desert near the Gaza border, which has been damaged by Hamas rocket fire. This area not only serves as a much-needed recreational area for residents, but also contributes to the security of southern Israel, Gluck-Thaler said.

The forest helps shield residents from missiles and artillery fire. JNF works with the Israel Defence Forces in planting trees in formations that are not only esthetically pleasing, but also block the sightlines of armed groups, Guttman said.

It is also hoped that this restored green space will encourage Israelis traumatized by terror to once again venture outdoors, Gluck-Thaler said. It may also boost the region’s tourism.

The forestation of the desert, Guttman said, is a testament to JNF’s research over many years into desert agriculture.

The Tree-a-thon is more than a one-day blitz. Guttman and Gluck-Thaler go into Jewish high schools to spread the 112-year-old organization’s environmental message, an issue that resonates with today’s youth, Rosenthal said.

“I’m really impressed with the students’ enthusiasm. It’s fantastic to see them so animated,” she said.

The students who show up to work the phones also play an active role in planning and implementing the activities for the day. Many accumulate volunteer hours required by their schools, leadership groups or other associations. Training is provided.

The minimum commitment is two hours, but the co-chairs agreed that since everyone has such a good time, many volunteers stay much longer.

A tree costs $18. If you’re not home on Feb. 3, contributions can be made online or by calling the JNF at any time. More information is available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jnfmontreal.

People of all ages, of course, are welcome and volunteer. Gluck-Thaler is gratified to see how many parents, who had intended to just drop off their kids, come in and pitch in as well.

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