Jewish National Fund-USA Inspires at Virtual National Conference Opening Session
Major funding announcements and updates were made during the Opening Session of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Virtual National Conference as the organization showcased its work in the Negev and Galilee
New York, NY: October 19, 2020 – Supporters from across the U.S. and around the world joined Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) for the organization’s first-everVirtual National Confereas 926 participants tuned-in to celebrate their record-high campaign and the many milestones achieved in Israel’s Negev and Galilee in 2020. The evening was emceed by News 12 Anchor and Chief Investigative Reporter Tara Rosenblum, who was joined by JNF-USA President Dr. Sol Lizerbram, and Chief Executive Officer Russell F. Robinson.
(L-R): JNF-USA President, Dr. Sol Lizerbram; News 12 Anchor, Tara Rosenblum; and JNF-USA Chief Executive Officer, Russell F. Robinson highlighted JNF-USA's many achivements in 2020.
“I’m an extremely proud alumna of JNF-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel,” said Rosenblum. “You know, I’ve been pretty blessed in a two decade long career to have some extraordinary experiences and journeys, but if I had to pick the defining adventure of my life…I would tell you it was my time spent at High School in Israel.”
Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, lauded JNF-USA for its narrative-changing work in Israel: “The incredible work that you [JNF-USA] do has helped make Israel the wonder that it is. Thank you! I would also like to thank JNF-USA Chairperson of the Board-Emeritus Ronald S. Lauder for everything that he does for Israel and the Jewish people. COVID-19 may have prevented us from being in Israel this year, but it won’t prevent us from coming together to celebrate [JNF-USA’s] unbelievable work in support of the Jewish homeland.”
Israel Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Gilad Erdan, addresses JNF-USA's Virtual National Conference Opening Session.
The Opening Session highlighted how JNF-USA has built, and continues to build, schools, playgrounds, and parks, in addition to developing affordable housing development sites, constructing medical centers, and supporting people with disabilities.
Dr. Lizerbram and Robinson also discussed how JNF-USA is changing the narrative in Israel’s north through the establishment of the Galilee Culinary Institute (GCI by JNF), which will turn Israel’s north into “the Tuscany of the region” and is part of a strategic plan to attract 50,000 new residents to the Greater Kiryat Shmona region.
The evening also marked the conferment of Jewish National Fund-USA’s President’s Award to Harold Kaplan, JNF-USA vice-president of administration and compliance.
Robinson also explained how JNF-USA has kept American Jewry’s connection to Israel during these challenging times, stating: “At JNF-USA, we were set up for this pandemic and quarantine period without even knowing the events of this year were going to happen. We already had offices in the U.S. that were working remotely. For us, it was just like ‘flicking a switch’”.
Robinson continued: “Naturally, we took care of the health and safety of our employees and enabled them to work remotely from home. We then regrouped and pivoted. We tried to make sense as to whether we were going to be in this situation for one day, one month – nobody knew. However, at JNF-USA, we immediately called up the army – that is, our army of thousands upon thousands of volunteers – our lay leaders and board members together with our professional staff, and the first thing we did was make phone calls – thousands of them, just to find out if people were okay. We also established an ‘On-Demand’ content platform to help maintain our connection with Israel.
Robinson noted that one moment he found especially touching occurred when he received a phone call from a JNF-USA supported therapeutic center in Sderot. “They called us and said, ‘We have therapists. We know you’re going through a tough time and we’re going through it with you.’ So, we had a Zoom call with their therapists and our donors. Now, that shows you the partnership that JNF-USA built.”
The evening’s participants also heard from Dr. Lizerbram about JNF-USA’s bold plans for global Jewish education. “We are bursting at the seams at our Hod HaSharon High School in Israel campus. As a result, JNF-USA is building a second campus for the High School in the Southern city of Be’er Sheva, where we’ll be able to welcome even more students,” said Dr. Lizerbram. “This world-class, $300 million JNF-USA Israel Education and Technology Campus will be a state-of-the-art institute open to students and adults. This campus will include an Internship Innovation and Technology Center, Zionist Education Center, and a new southern campus for our High School in Israel with high quality conference facilities.
Robinson also made a major announcement regarding a new scholarship program: “It’s somewhat unusual for a philanthropic organization in that we took undesignated funds – $100 million – and we established the Boruchin Israel Education Center. To do this, we brought together our lay leaders, members of our Board of Directors, and professionals, and for two-and-a-half years, we’ve been trying to diagnose ‘what can make a major difference in the American Jewish community?’ [They realized] it’s in high school travel to Israel for teenagers. This type of travel has decreased over the course of the past 19 years. Well, at JNF-USA, we like to be revolutionary and make things happen. So, we’re going to be announcing in November a program from our Boruchin Center that’s going to allow teens to go on programs to Israel that qualify as part of our plan – and not just JNF-USA programs, but programs from other organizations as well. We want all the ships to rise.”
Robinson said the scholarship fund would provide significant grants for students traveling to Israel on select programs; however, it would also teach applicants about fundraising. “Students will be able to get up to $7,500 off the price of a program to Israel,” Robinson said. “To do that, we’re also going to teach the meaning of tzedakah – the foundational principle that defines who we are as the Jewish people. Through peer-to-peer fundraising, they’ll be able to raise money for one of our projects in Israel, they’ll learn about Tzedakah – yes, about asking and giving. All of our great Jewish institutions were born out of people giving years ago and…now, these teens will also have an opportunity to receive a grant from the Boruchin Israel Education Center.
Plans are already underway for JNF-USA’s 2021 National Conference in Israel, and as Dr. Lizerbram aptly noted: “The phrase ‘next year in Jerusalem’ has an extra special meaning this year, and I’m looking forward to all of us seeing each other in Israel for JNF-USA’s National Conference next October 10-14..”
JNF-USA’s Virtual National Conference continues through Friday, October 23. For more information, visit jnf.org/virtualnc.
Media enquiries: Stefan Oberman, JNF-USA Director of Communications
P: 212.879.9305 x222
About Jewish National Fund-USA
JNF-USA is the leading philanthropic organization for Israel that supports critical environmental and nation building activities in Israel’s north and south. Through its One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade, JNF-USA is developing new communities in the Galilee and Negev, connecting the next generation to Israel, and creating infrastructure and programs that support ecology, individuals with special needs, and heritage site preservation.