Sep 27, 2017  By Josh Goodkin  Category: Education,

Young JNF leader has a message about Israel for his millennial peers

Josh, bottom center, on a recent trip to Israel with JNF.

Passion. That fire that burns deep inside of you. That feeling that makes you do things you never thought imaginable. That desire to stand up for your convictions, no matter what. 

My passion can be summed up in one word: Israel. It's amazing what the power of passion can do. I think of visionary Theodore Herzl, who epitomized the word passion and paved the way for the Israel we know today. Following in Herzl's footsteps, I want to share how an assimilated Jewish millennial from a small town in Jersey became a leader and advocate for everything Israel.

I also want to share why I believe millennials in 2017 need a new Jewish State of mind. I hope that as you read, you'll find a little bit of me in you. I hope that if you aren't already involved my words may make you think twice about getting involved tomorrow.

"Wandering Jew." That's how I referred to myself when I recently was asked to define myself before I found Jewish National Fund. Caught up in work (more on that in the video below) a busy social life, my early and mid twenties were devoid of Judaism and a passion for Israel. While I didn't realize it at the time, I was unconsciously searching for deeper meaning. I needed something I and so many Jewish millennials push to the side -- a way to connect with my culture, my history, and my people in a way that didn't feel forced.

How to engage millennials? Like this

Justin Timberlake famously sang, "I'm bringin' sexy back." The visionaries at JNF, led by CEO Russell Robinson, set out to "bring sexy back" to Israel. JNF tried to answer the question, "How do we engage millennials who feel indifferent or disconnected to Israel?" That solution came in 2007 with the creation of JNFuture. Targeting Jewish millennials, ages 22-40, JNFuture has soared to 20 chapters across the U.S. 

Led by a fantastic team of young leaders and currently at 800-plus members strong, JNFuture is making it cool to support Israel. From social events to educational programming and trips to Israel, the spark has been re-lit in hundreds of millennial Jews who like me were wandering through their twenties and thirties seeking a meaningful connection. 

JNF has given me and my peers a rare opportunity to have a voice in Israel. The opportunity to truly make a tangible difference for the people and land of Israel. How cool is it to say that at only 30 years old I have a hand in changing the landscape of a country and its people? 

Before JNF, I had a mindset that my parents and grandparents would carry the burden of caring for Israel. I made excuses: I thought I was too young and didn't make enough money to give. I thought it wasn't my problem. So many in my generation share this mindset. We've taken Israel for granted. We've never had to watch Israel truly fight for survival. May my millennial peers never know a time where Israel is anything but a strong, vibrant nation. However, history teaches us that often humans don't react or respond until times of despair.

To my millennial Jewish peers, I say this: Put aside whatever you've heard or seen about Israel and come home for a visit. See Israel for yourself through a JNF trip. For me it was a 2016 visit that was, as Oprah might say, my "a-ha moment." JNFuture Volunteer Vacation reignited my spark. Over the course of a week, we met with Israelis whose lives have been touched by JNF's work, got our hands dirty side by side with JNF partners and truly left feeling empowered and ready to spread the message. Not to mention that I left with 25 new friends who have become a second family to me.   

Searching and finding

Our twenties and thirties are a time for self-exploration, travel, seeking purpose. Is this job right for me? Is this person right for me? We long to find our niche. We long to find happiness and satisfaction. Sometimes we search everywhere, only to realize the very solution to our happiness and fulfillment has been right in front of us the entire time.  

JNF has added meaning and purpose to my life and the lives of countless others. I've watched JNF transform the Negev desert into a place of beauty and life. I've watched JNF give purpose to those with special needs, and welcome and give hope to the thousands making aliyah each year.

This past summer, I sat in Central Park for JNFuture's Shabbat in the Park. Over 400 young professionals in the city that never sleeps, who could have been anywhere else, chose to give up their Friday to spend it with JNF honoring Israel.  The message was clear that night. When you light that spark in us millennials and you continue to fan it with social events, inspirational speakers, and trips to Israel, you CAN change our mindset and direction. 

Israel needs us and we need Israel. Make today the day you  sign up for your first JNFuture event. Make today the day you make Israel a priority in your life.

JNFuture's Shabbat in the Park, which more than 400 young professionals attended. The author, center.

Josh is the JNFuture New Jersey chairperson.