Oct 21, 2021  By Penny Bustin  Category: Special Needs,

JNF-USA Gives Me a Way to Impact the Israel I Love, Even from Afar

My involvement with Jewish National Fund-USA began by happy “accident” when I wandered into the middle of a Lotem presentation in our synagogue and asked the person next to me, “What is Lotem?” Stuart Diamond-Cohen, then Director of JNF-USA Mid-Atlantic region, explained this was a project to make the outdoors accessible for those with disabilities. I was hooked! Over cups of coffee, he convinced me that JNF-USA would be the perfect “home” for my professional background in Special Education, my personal experiences from living in Israel, and above all, my need to stay closely attached to Israel.

Since then, my involvement with JNF-USA continues to grow and be inspired by projects impacting Israelis in almost every aspect of their lives. Having lived in Israel, I know how important such projects are – now and in the future. I know that helping keep Israel safe, economically alive, and socially vibrant is a vital “work in progress”.

I moved to Israel with my Israeli husband in 1969. Four years later, came the Yom Kippur War. In less than 24 hours, my husband was called up to the army. I later learned how close we’d been to going under. That made Israel’s isolation and need for survival very real to me. I saw, firsthand, the Israeli spirit to fight for survival while simultaneously having the courage to absorb an amazingly diverse population of immigrants, while also continuing to build a modern nation – all under extreme, complex conditions. Though I was not aware then, I understand now, the impact JNF-USA has in supporting Israel’s desire and vision to thrive and prosper.

Now, many years later and living in the USA, my heart and mind remain in two places at once. Though we’ve been back many times, I miss Israel: the friends and relatives dear to us, the land, the people. Now, I’ve found I can re-connect in a new, exciting way, by working with Women for Israel (WFI) and with JNF-USA. I identify with and I’m inspired by JNF-USA’s missions and projects, especially, of course, those that help persons with disabilities.

For me, the great value of JNF-USA’s goals and projects is that these arise from needs expressed by Israelis: creating quality-of-life towns and jobs in the North and South; working on water resources, job training and employment for women; addressing the needs of those with disabilities – a long list that grows as Israel develops. Through JNF-USA and WFI, I can keep closely connected to all that I know and love about Israel. The Israeli people use all possible energies to make the country thrive and be safe – against all odds. I know and feel their urge to live, not just to survive. I want to help.

JNF-USA recognizes what I discovered long ago: Israel thrives when every person counts no matter their abilities needs or cultural background. I know I can personally “count” through my involvement in JNF-USA, including the Sapphire Society, Special In Uniform, and more recently, as Chair of the WFI Committee of Greater Washington which provides a comfortable space to be with women I like and trust; where I can be encouraged and encouraging, inspired and inspiring and where I can act as a “connector” to other women of a similar mind. I am committed and so proud to be part of Women for Israel and JNF-USA.

Author, Penny Bustin, is Chair of Jewish National Fund-USA's Women for Israel Greater Washington Committee and currently resides in Maryland.