Robert Chertkof and the Israeli ‘waterfall street’

From left: Robert Chertkof, Florence Chertkof and Russel Robinson at the dedication ceremony of the "waterfall street" in Nov. 2019
From left: Robert Chertkof, Florence Chertkof and Russel Robinson at the dedication ceremony of the “waterfall street” in Nov. 2019 (Courtesy of Robert Chertkof)

While many are motivated by a passionate love for Israel, not as many can say they helped shape a small part of it. But not everyone is Robert Chertkof, who pushed the Jewish National Fund – USA  to fund the development of a “waterfall street” in northern Israel and then donated his own money to help get the project off the ground.

Chertkof, 80, is a member of Beth El Congregation and is currently retired, having served in the Army Corp of Engineers and worked for 30 years in medical recruiting. He lives in Lutherville with his wife, Florence, and they have two daughters, Ashley Chertkof, 50, and Hilary Trader, 45.

Chertkof grew up in Pikesville and attended Hebrew school at Beth El. He later received his B.S. in civil engineering from Bucknell University and his J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law.

Motivated by a spiritual connection with Israel, Chertkof decided to get involved with the Jewish National Fund – USA. He gained a seat on JNF-USA’s Maryland board of directors, and in 2015 he went on his first JNF-USA trip to Israel.

While there, he visited the town of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, a community of 20,000 near the Galilee consisting of Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians. At the local mayor’s office, local officials pitched several ideas for infrastructure projects to him and his JNF-USA colleagues. One of them was a “waterfall street,” which Chertkof described as consisting of “20 cascading ponds down a hillside to a lake,” and would require an investment of around $1 million. Each of these “waterfalls,” he explained, involves a fairly short drop, measured in feet or inches. The water flows from one pond to another before ending near the local lake.

Today, the series of waterfalls are flanked on either side by a pedestrian walkway, within a larger outdoor recreational park that features a jungle gym, ziplining, hotels, an amphitheater and a stone walkway around the lake. While at this time the waterfall street itself is relatively complete, Chertkof said, there are plans to construct a long string of boutique shops along its walking paths, where visitors could purchase things like jewelry, clothing, artwork and souvenirs, which should boost local economic activity. Chertkof believes that there is no other place in Israel that has a waterfall path quite like this.

The decision to fund the project was ultimately made by Russell Robinson, JNF-USA’s CEO, Chertkof explained. But this was only done in 2018 after years of Chertkof reminding Robinson about the proposal and nudging him towards funding it.

“It took three years to get him to pull the trigger, of memos, getting it to come along, and make sure this was going to be a viable project,” Chertkof said. “There wasn’t anything there except the lake at that point. Three years later, he decided to fund this, and they built it.”

Construction started in 2018, with Chertkof personally donating enough to fund one of the ponds, he said. He traveled back to Israel in November of 2019 for the dedication of the first pond, and expects he will return again in the future to see its current state.

Aside from the promotion of economic activity, Chertkof hopes the project will provide local families with a place for a weekend respite from their day to day lives.

“I think it’s enjoyed by families in Israel, particularly in the northern part of Israel, that want a weekend of outdoor recreation for their kids,” Chertkof said.

2/16/22 12:16 p.m. Correction: This article has been corrected to state that Robert Chertkof and Russel Robinson are members of Jewish National Fund-USA, and not members of Jewish National Fund. The Baltimore Jewish Times regrets this error.

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