Jul 22, 2018  By Lisa Grier  Category: Travel,

First-time JNF mission leader calls Israel trip 'powerful, life-changing'

Author Lisa Grier (bottom center) with her mission participants.

After traveling internationally for two months in a row, first to Israel, and then to China, I am so happy to be back home in the great USA. We are very lucky, as Jewish Americans, to have the opportunity to visit Israel whenever we choose and to support it through amazing nonprofit organizations like Jewish National Fund. The trip to Israel was the first mission I led as a JNF professional. I never wanted it to end. 

Our mighty 47 travel participants became like a family: a family united in the patriotism we feel for Israel and all its inhabitants. After working for Jewish National Fund for a little over a year and a half as director in Orange County, Long Beach and Palos Verdes, I finally had the opportunity to bring people to our homeland and really touch, see, and feel all the incredible things we do in Israel every day.

A few other things made my to Israel trip even more special. My mother, a Jew by choice, decided to come to the Holy Land for her first time.  Seeing the country and the work that JNF does through her eyes was very special and something I will never forget. She said  she had had absolutely no idea what a large influence and impact JNF makes in Israel.  I could tell my mom is really proud of the work I am doing and now fully understands my passion. 
Lisa Grier and her mom on their recent trip to Israel.

She and I got to see firsthand what Jewish National Fund has done in the Central Arava.  We visited AICAT (Arava International Center for Agriculture Training), where we met students from Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia. These students embark on a 10- to 11-month program where they learn things like how to grow different crops and about the water drip system (which was invented by Israel). They they go back to their respective countries and grow crops not only to feed their families but enough to sell for their own businesses. This is one of the many positive Israel programs JNF helps fund. I was so moved to see and meet students from Vietnam who were proud to wear the Star of David. 

My mother and I also toured two different medical centers in Halutza and Sapir that are desperately needed in the southern part of Israel. I saw the plaques of three of my favorite donors at both medical centers. People living in those areas would have to drive up to two hours to go to a dentist appointment, ob-gyn, you name it. This is just so hard for me to wrap my mind around because we have doctors and medical centers around every corner. 

The other thing that made this such a powerful and life-changing trip was that two non-Jewish Filipinos, a mother, Geri Kate, and her daughter, joined me for their first trip to Israel. Geri Kate has a son who was born with a disability and wasn’t supposed to live beyond a few months. Thanks to Geri Kate's determination, and a doctor's help, her son is a thriving at 8 year old.  She came to a local event and learned about the four different JNF-supported programs that focus on disabilities in Israel.  She was so moved by Special in Uniform she had to get more involved.  

Lisa Grier with JNF CEO Russell Robinson. 
SIU is a JNF partner that makes it possible for Israelis with disabilities to serve in the IDF.  

You have to realize that serving in the IDF is a rite of passage for Israelis. All of their parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles, brothers, and sisters served in the Israeli Defense Forces. Now, with the help of this dynamic program, people who are autistic, blind, deaf, missing a limb, or in a wheelchair (to name a few) can serve their country.  They also are given the opportunity to learn life skills that prepare them for the workforce after their service. Geri Kate loves this program and would love to share it with every country.  She sees Israel as being very progressive for those with disabilities, something she hopes will catch on quickly throughout the world.Geri Kate is a current OC board member, serves on the JNF Disabilities Task Force, and is a Sapphire member. 

This is what's magical about Jewish National Fund. You do not have to be an Israeli, religious, or a Jew to support JNF. You just need to be a Zionist. 

I am proud we have 47 new Zionists after this Israel trip. They are our new ambassadors sharing the magic of what JNF does on a daily basis. It was so special to hear these participants ask how they could get more involved -- whether it was to join a task force, join a board, make a contribution, and/or join us at our national conference on Oct. 26-29 in Arizona. 

When I am asked what JNF does, I usually answer "Well, it’s more like what aren’t we doing?" I am so proud and humbled to have my dream job and to work for a nonprofit that really is doing something to make a difference in the world.  I am truly looking forward to leading my next mission with Jewish National Fund.