More than 1,300 Took Part in Annual National Conference in Phoenix


November 6, 2018 – Phoenix, AZ – Over 1,300 leaders, philanthropists, and high school and college students from across the U.S. and Israel gathered in the Grand Canyon State for Jewish National Fund’s (JNF-USA) annual National Conference. The dedicated supporters of the 117-year-old organization learned about and discussed the key issues of the day over a powerful and impactful weekend.


This year’s line-up of speakers emphasized Jewish National Fund’s critical work in Israel. Speakers included: 

  • Marlee Matlin, Academy Award-winning actress and activist, who shared her personal story of overcoming adversity and succeeding in the film industry and recounted her first trip to Israel this year where she was inspired by Jewish National Fund’s work with Special in Uniform.
  • Ronald S. Lauder, JNF Chairman of the Board Emeritus, spoke about putting aside our political differences and coming together as Jews to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism.
  • Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, led a discussion on the harrowing reality of Holocaust denial which was eerily timely and relevant. 
  • Bari Weiss, writer and editor for The New York Times op-ed page, changed her topic following the tragic killings in Pittsburgh to speak about her home synagogue, Tree of Life, where she celebrated her own Bat Mitzvah “We will build a Jewish people and a Jewish state that are not only safe and resilient, but self-aware, meaningful, generative, humane, joyful, and life-affirming,” said Weiss.  

Through a talk show style presentation, conference attendees experienced “Israel Continuum,” exploring how Jewish National Fund connects American Jews to Israel from birth through adulthood. Hosted by Rabbi Leor Sinai, Co-CEO of Alexander Muss High School in Israel, it spotlighted donors at different stages in life.   

Over the past three decades, Jewish National Fund has helped to bolster Israel’s available water by developing alternative water sources, advancing Israeli agriculture, and improving water quality; the topic was examined in the special session, “Israel’s Water Challenges and Opportunities.” Water and environmental experts from Israel and the U.S. addressed the next steps being taken to confront and mitigate today’s serious global water challenges.

On Saturday, the organization recognized the horrific attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue with a moment of silence, and a call for unity with the city and families of victims, the entire Jewish community, and the law enforcement personnel who bravely risked their own lives. Conference Co-Chairs Toni Dusik and Marc Kelman remarked “Jewish National Fund-USA mourns with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue that suffered the tragic act of terrorism Saturday morning during Shabbat services. This episode of mass violence leaves us devastated and heartbroken.” 

“Jewish National Fund supporters turned out in full force for an unforgettable and meaningful weekend,” continued Dusik and Kelman. “We hope everyone left the conference feeling reenergized and excited for the upcoming initiatives and projects that we are embarking upon in the coming year.”  

One such project announced during the “Chop and Chat” cooking competition is JNF’s plan to open a state-of-the-art culinary institute in Israel’s Upper Eastern Galilee. The institute, expected to begin classes in the fall of 2019, will be the first of its kind in the Middle East, becoming a center of professional excellence not just in cooking, baking, food science, food technology, and agriculture, but also in restaurant and hospitality management and the business of food security.

“This year’s National Conference surpassed my expectations as we had a fantastic, energetic turn out with 1/3 of our participants under the age of 40,” said Jewish National Fund President Dr. Sol Lizerbram. “It was a privilege to particularly spotlight the building we are leading in Northern Israel that will bring thousands of new jobs and residents to the Upper Eastern Galilee along with much needed infrastructure. Similar to our efforts in the Negev city of Be’er Sheva, our work in the north will transform the regional economy and Israel’s future.”

This year’s conference included the largest delegation of college students in conference history, with 250 students from 87 campuses participating in the College Summit. This includes non-Jewish students who participated in Jewish National Fund’s Caravan for Democracy Student Leadership trip offered annually in December to some 80 campus leaders. The students strategized on how better to educate and work with each other and to promote their connection to Israel. JNF also welcomed 125 JNFuture members, ages 22-40, from its young professionals division. 

Jewish National Fund’s 2019 National Conference will take place in Washington, D.C. September 13-16. For more information and to register, please visit


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