A Task Force Growing New Communities and Creating a Lasting Change

By: Eric Narrow

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For many, helping to create lasting change in the world is one of the greatest rewards of their philanthropic involvement. Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) takes this even further, truly embodying its slogan of being “Your voice in Israel.” With over 18 task forces to take part in, JNF encourages and provides donors from around the country with the opportunity to become more involved in shaping Israel’s future. Each task force is comprised of lay leaders and donors, bringing their own expertise and experience to JNF's vision for the future.  

Last month, the Housing Development Fund Task Force returned to Israel on their annual mission, led by Jeffrey Schwartz, a residential home builder from Penn Valley, PA, where they met with existing partner communities across the country and identified new needs of emerging pioneering communities throughout Israel's peripheral areas. As one of JNF's most expansive task forces, members of the Housing Development Fund are an integral part of the organization’s overarching mission to bring over 800,000 people to the Northern and Southern regions of Israel to alleviate the stress and issues associated with population density and affordability in Central Israel.  

Joel and Irene Spalter, of Fayetteville, AR, veteran members of both the Housing Development and Arava Task Forces, believe that “the spirit and ability of people is our biggest partnership, and they are willing to work for a better quality of life.” Indeed, the energy and fervor of the dozen communities that the Housing Fund met with this trip alone, which span across the Negev and Galilee regions of Israel, is infectious.  

To date, nearly 700 housing lots have been supported in communities around the country, with over 600 new expansion lots in progress, several of which were just approved as part of the Housing Fund's mission.

Twenty-seven-year-old Housing Committee member Jason Zenner, who is also the national missions co-chair for JNFuture—the JNF division representing young professionals and adults ages 22-40—remarked, “JNF gets things done.” Although he is the youngest member, Zenner feels valued for his opinions, perspective, and involvement, despite a significant age gap between the rest of the committee members. For Zenner, the opportunity to become a member of the Housing Development Fund has created unparalleled opportunities to make major real differences in Israel. He views his involvement on this task force as the next step in his leadership development beyond the Root Society, JNF’s young professional leadership society. Adding that there’s something for everyone’s interests, Zenner hopes his recent experiences will influence fellow JNFuture members to get involved in one or more of JNF's task forces.  

Most significantly, all members of the task force shared the same feeling that their experience on the Housing Committee demonstrated the efficiency and intelligence that they look for in their philanthropic endeavors.  

Ariel Grunberg, a Long Island-based real estate developer, shared that he supports JNF, and specifically the Housing Fund, because it allows him to see the tangible results of fundraising. Grunberg has traveled to Israel 36 times, including five President's Society Missions, and is often impressed with the constant progress that JNF strives to deliver. Most remarkable, according to Grunberg, is the number of communities the Housing Fund has touched, and will continue to develop.  

Designed as a revolving fund, the Housing Development Fund reinvests the principal fund as loans are paid back. “The Housing Development Fund serves to increase the value of my contribution,” said Joel Spalter. “It is this realization that you should deal with an entire region, rather than individual communities,” he added. For Spalter, JNF represents several essential points for community growth: housing, work, and quality of life. Similarly, Allen Rishe, of Los Angeles, views the revolving nature of the Housing Development Fund as an ongoing, standalone initiative in achieving JNF's vision to bring success and prosperity to peripheral areas.  

Following a successful week that’s anything but a vacation, each of the committee members returned home, bringing a renewed sense of accomplishment and excitement to share within their communities as they continue their work to grow a country half a world away.

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