21 Reasons Why I’m Excited About 2021
Jewish National Fund-USA President, Dr. Sol Lizerbram explains why he's excited about everything we have achieved this year, and why 2021 will be our best year yet.
There has never been a more exciting time to be alive. Of course, it has been a difficult year, yet we, the Jewish people, have no other choice than to remain unabashedly optimistic knowing that our best days are yet to come. We are a people inspired by dreams, vision, human dignity, and making the world a better place.
In a world driven by 10-second soundbites, Twitter and other social media, it’s easy to lose sight of everything that is good in our community.
Never before have we yearned to return to the underrated mundanity of pre-COVID life. Riding the subway. Shaking a colleague’s hand. Or perhaps most of all, sitting around a shabbat table with our loved ones.
With 2020 in our rearview mirror, I have never felt more excited about what we’ll achieve in the coming year. Here are 21 reasons why I’m optimistic about 2021:
1. New friends
The normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE (and other Arab nations) transcends politics. Since the Abraham Accords were signed, 50,000 Israelis have traveled to the UAE to learn, do business, and share Israeli culture with another regional economic powerhouse. There is so much to look forward to and it’s a relationship that will surely grow.
2. Opportunities to share Israel’s achievements with the world
Israel is a world leader in agriculture technology. From drip irrigation to the invention of the cherry tomato, Israel continues to innovate and serve as a light unto the nations. Year after year, Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) has helped bring more than 1,200 students from developing countries to Israel to learn about the latest in agriculture technology at AICAT. From Fiji to Kenya, Laos to The Gambia – and even Indonesia, students return to their home countries with the tools and know-how that not only helps their own farms, they also uplift their local communities through economic development. Through the support of JNF-USA, the new Dean Family Fellowship Grant will amplify the impact of standout graduates by providing them with financial support to grow their agriculture dreams once they return to their local communities.
Students at AICAT
3. The greatest conversation in Zionism is about to begin
Plans to build the largest-ever philanthropic capital project in Israel’s history were launched this year, with JNF-USA set to establish the $350 million World Zionist Village. The 21-acre village will include the second campus for JNF-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel; gap year and post-college internship program; JNF technology center, adult education opportunities, and more. Fundraising for the Village will take place over the next five years with multiple giving opportunities at various levels available.
The World Zionist Village will start a new conversation in Zionist education
4. Israeli high-tech reaches new heights
In 2020, Israeli tech companies raised more capital than ever before (approximately $10 billion). As the Co-Founder of PICO Venture Partners said on the premier Israel-focused podcast, IsraelCast: “What we’re seeing with our growth rates is business plans we had for one or two years down the road are happening in one or two months.”
5. Gal Gadot is launching new movies
Israeli global superstar, Gal Gadot recently reprised her role as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman 1984 and will also star in the upcoming Zack Snyder's Justice League. Gadot is also set to be featured in a movie about Irena Sendler, a Polish heroine who saved thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust. Gadot also starred in JNF-USA’s Spectacular Sunday day of giving from coast to coast.
6. Israel became the #1 gap semester destination for U.S. college students
As the world shutdown, Israel remained open (albeit with strict health and safety measures) to students seeking to deepen their connection to the land and people of Israel. While most college students remained off-campus, more than 7,000 American students traveled to Israel. The 40% increase in students traveling to Israel led to organizations like The Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE-JNF) launch its inaugural gap semester program: Frontier Israel – enabling college students to live and breathe 4,000 years of Jewish history. 2021 places are filling up fast, so sign-up today at amhsi.org/frontier.
Students at High School in Israel
7. A conference like no other
In 2021, JNF-USA will hold its first ever national conference in Israel October 10-14. The weeklong extravaganza will see participants enjoy a conference experience like no other with events to be held at iconic locations throughout Israel. Imagine attending a gala dinner under the stars in the Negev, followed by a planning session overlooking the rolling hills of the Galilee. For more information and to register, visit jnf.org/nc.
8. The sky’s the limit with more direct flights to Israel
At just over 17 hours flight time, or long enough to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy…twice, El Al will launch direct flights to Australia in 2021. Israel’s flag carrier ran “test” flights that turned into repatriation flights in 2020 and proved the airlines new 787 Dreamliners could safely fly the distance. This is in addition to historic direct flights established (and being established) between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and other countries. Direct flights between Rabat and Jerusalem will mean participants attending JNF-USA pre-national-conference events in Morocco will be able to fly directly to Israel, reducing air travel time by several hours.
9.…And regarding a different type of air travel
Israel’s Space IL announced plans to return to the moon with Beresheet 2. According to the company, the mission will include two landers, each of which will carry out experiments on the surface of the moon, and an orbiter that will stay for several years. Although the launch date won’t take place until 2024, we’re already excited to see the team take another “moon shot.”
10. Back on land, we are tasting the fruits of our labor
JNF-USA supported efforts to grow an ancient date-palm tree from a 2,000-year-old seed. Aptly named Methuselah after the biblical figure who lived to the age of 969, the botanic marvel can be found at the Arava Institute in Israel’s south. Here’s hoping that we’ll be able to taste some of the tree’s dates in person in 2021!
11. A culinary revolution will take place in the Galilee
The Galilee Culinary Institute by JNF will continue to take shape in 2021 as we create the next culinary and food technology capital of the world. Located in the Greater Kiryat Shmona region, GCI by JNF will be a one-of-a-kind institution that combines culinary and restaurant expertise, tourism and entrepreneurship. At GCI by JNF, the planned Rosenfield School of culinary arts program will allow students to acquire the rich language of culinary arts through hands-on experiences and connections with culinary entrepreneurs and food professionals across Israel and the globe. You can catch GCI by JNF’s co-founder, chef Lior Lev Sercarz on a recent episode of the Rachael Ray show.
The Rosenfield School of Culinary Arts at GCI by JNF will produce world-class chefs
12. Fighting fires faster
While there’s nothing good about deliberately lit fires, Israelis living along the border with Gaza will now be able to reach brush fires in difficult terrain faster thanks to the provision of “Rapid Action Fire Vehicles,” made possible by supporters of JNF-USA’s Fire & Rescue Taskforce. This initiative will also help protect hundreds of acres of crops along with homes, parks, and community infrastructure from potential fire damage.
JNF-USA’s helps Israeli communities along the Gaza border get to fires faster thanks to its provision of Rapid Action Fire Vehicles
13. Lots of buzzz
Bees around the world have a lot to look forward to in 2021 thanks to Israeli start-up, Beewise and their “Beehome.” Powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Beehome is the first automated beehive that will allow beekeepers to monitor and tend to their bees remotely. Their mission is "to help beekeepers pollinate and produce honey by saving their bees, utilizing modern technology," according to the company’s website. To support Israel’s 500 beekeepers who care for over 100,000 beehives, JNF has planted thousands of nectar producing plants to support the local bee and honey industry.
14. We’ll continue to be there for Israeli small businesses in 2021
Back in March, just days after largescale tourism in Israel ceased, we launched the Online Mitzvah Marketplace, ensuring that supporters of Israel could continue to buy amazing Israeli products from shops in the Negev and Galilee. As we wait to get back to Israel, we can still support incredible Israeli small businesses and ensure that they remain viable as they wait for us to return to their stores and marketplaces.
15. We’re going to “hit it out of the park” in Tokyo
Team Israel will head to Tokyo in 2021 as one of only six nations to qualify for the Olympic baseball event. With the backing of JNF-USA, team Israel will head to Tokyo as top medal contenders. You can support the team at jnf.org/teamisrael. Thanks to our partners (donors), we continue to develop the game in Israel through the creation of new baseball facilities that allow players of all ages to discover the magic of America’s favorite pastime. For the residents of Bet Shemesh, they’ll experience this in 2021 as construction on our beautiful new baseball field is completed.
JNF-USA supports Israel’s Olympic baseball team and Project Baseball as it builds interest in the sport in Israel
16. Wine will be the next superfood
Well, kind of. Thanks to Israeli start-up, Nutrilees, the waste from wine production is turned into a superfood powder rich in proteins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Their product will help to enhance foods such as chocolate, cookies, energy bars, and so much more!
17. Preparing for Israel’s economic bounce back
Planning for Israel’s economic bounce back is well underway as JNF-USA supports efforts in the Negev and Galilee to find employment for thousands of job seekers while attracting new “pioneers” from the center of the country to the north and south with the promise of new lives and livelihoods. In 2020, our Housing Development Fund supported funding for 1,338 housing lots (12.4-percent increase over 2019 figures) and we expect to increase our support for new housing development sites in 2021 with $22 million already approved to help 29 communities. We will also establish a new small business association to unite the efforts of small business in the Negev and Galilee.
JNF-USA’s Housing Development Fund Taskforces plays a crucial role supporting housing development sites in the Negev and Galilee
18. Tour Jerusalem on your treadmill (or couch)
While we may still not be able to walk (or run) around Jerusalem’s ancient limestone paved streets, two innovative Israelis (one of whom taught at our High School in Israel) are leading virtual runs around the City of Gold. In each episode, the camera follows Glassman and Kutscher while they run a five-kilometer course as Glassman gives Kutscher, and the virtual participants an informative and entertaining historical running tour of each area. If running’s not for you, why not join a virtual tour to Israel and see why over 6,000 people (and counting) are raving about their incredible “trip” to Israel.
19. Israel is helping first responders around the world remain COVID safe
Israeli PPE maker Sonovia has created a reusable cotton-poly SonoMask that is infused with metal-oxide nanoparticles that kill germs and last through 55 washings without losing potency. The company states that their masks are 99.35% effective against COVID. While we hope we don’t have to wear masks for too much longer, Israel enables us to access some of the best in preventative masks and clothing. Hear from Sonovia’s Chief Technology Officer at JNF-USA’s January 24 Doctors for Israel event. To register, visit jnf.org/northflodfi.
20. Promoting Inclusion
Serving in the Israel Defense Forces is a right-of-passage for many young Israeli men and women. Thanks to JNF-USA, people with disabilities are given the chance to support the IDF while learning important professional skills through Special in Uniform. In 2021, the program will continue to support young people with intellectual disabilities as it helps them gain job-ready skills while fostering greater inclusion. JNF-USA will be highlighting the incredible contribution that people with disabilities make to our society during February’s Jewish Disability Acceptance, Awareness, and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). For more information on our work with people with disabilities, visit jnf.org/disabilities.
21. Seeing family and friends again
Perhaps more than anything in this world, I cannot wait to spend more quality time with my family and friends in 2021. We have so much to look forward to in the coming year, yet there’s nothing I’d rather do than sit in our local café and drink soda with my beautiful grandchildren.
As we count down the hours until 2021, I hope we will use this past year as a means to recognize what really matters in life. For me it’s friends, family, and philanthropy. For you it may be different, however, may we be united in our shared optimism and desire to work together to make 2021 our best year yet.
Dr. Sol Lizerbram is president of Jewish National Fund-USA.