Dec 13, 2018  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Education,

Joining the JNF family feeling engaged, affirmed and optimistic

In relative terms, I’m a Jewish National Fund baby. In the span of just a few months, I made my first charitable contribution to JNF, joined my local JNFuture board, and attended my first JNF National Conference. I jumped into the proverbial JNF deep end without really knowing what I was getting myself into -- I just knew I was supporting Israel, and that was enough to convince me to dip a toe in. 

Now, here I am, sitting on the other side of JNF National Conference 2018, and I feel engaged, affirmed, optimistic, motivated, moved, and so much more. But let me back up.

I grew up proudly Jewish and strongly affiliated with Israel. My mom was born there, and my maternal grandmother was too. My maternal grandfather fled Germany as a young child with his parents in the early 1930s to then-Palestine. My family members were the early Zionist pioneers, settling the land and fighting in the wars that made it a state. It is literally true that without Israel, I would not be here. 

But as I got older, my connection to the Jewish community and Israel faded. I moved away from my hometown and my parents and synagogue and Jewish friends to attend a Jesuit university on the other side of the country. I graduated college, began my career, got married (to a nice Jewish guy), and started a family. My grandparents passed away (as grandparents do). And while my husband and I celebrate Jewish holidays and Jewish life-cycle traditions together, I nevertheless found myself missing something -- that deeper connection to Israel that I once took for granted as an ever-present part of my life.

JNF National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, this past October.
Enter JNF. There were all kinds of things that made the Jewish charitable organization attractive from the start: The ability to support Israel in a tangible way, leadership opportunities for young professionals, and a very warm welcome from local JNF staff were enough to convince me to write that first check and even join my local JNFuture board. But I could never have imagined the impact National Conference would have on me. 

From the moment I walked in on the first morning, I felt like I was part of a big JNF family. I was inspired by the people around me, all dedicated to supporting and strengthening Israel, our shared homeland. Russell Robinson gave me a hug and told me he was happy to see me. (Me? Was he sure?)
Bari Weiss speaking at JNFNC18.

And then on the morning of the second day, Pittsburgh happened. Of course, that tragic event reinforced why we must as a community support Israel. But it was life-affirming in a way I never would have expected. 

I will never forget the sound of the Havdalah blessings ringing out loud and clear that Saturday night, as we proudly and without fear celebrated the end of Shabbat together. I will never forget hearing Bari Weiss of The New York Times, who grew up in that very Pittsburgh Jewish community where tragedy struck, passionately speak about combating hate and anti-Semitism. And I will never forget the feeling of 1,200 Jews from across the United States and Israel dancing together to the Israeli music I remember from my childhood. 

Before National Conference I was happy to financially support JNF. But the experience of being at National Conference sealed the deal on what I know in my heart will be a lifetime of engagement with and support of JNF that goes far beyond writing a check.