Sue Bookbinder and Fineberg Foundation Are Spearheading a $1M Match Challenge for Disability Awareness
By Stefan Oberman
Two thousand years ago, Honi the Sage was walking through the fields near his home in the Galilee when he came upon an old man planting a carob tree. Knowing that it takes at least 70 years for a carob tree to bear fruit, Honi asked the man, "Why are you planting that carob tree? You will never get any fruit from it."
As the old man continued planting, he replied, "Just as my grandfather planted trees so that I would enjoy their fruit, I am planting this tree for my grandchildren.”
As Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) transitions from January’s Tu BiShvat (the Jewish New Year for trees) to February’s Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM), philanthropist and community volunteer Sue Bookbinder is planting her own “seeds” of hope for people with disabilities – and leading the organization’s $1m match for people with disabilities.
Thanks to additional support from the Fineberg Foundation towards the $1m match, supporters of JNF-USA are being called on to contribute towards the organization’s work with people with disabilities in Israel. Throughout the month of February, events will be held around the U.S. to build awareness (upcoming events at: jnf.org/ondemand)
In 2003, Sue Bookbinder and her late husband, Art, moved permanently from New York to North Naples to enjoy their retirement, and while the couple had retired from their highflying corporate careers, their days and nights soon became filled with a multitude of philanthropic endeavors in addition to their involvement with the local Federation and Temple.
Before his passing, Art was Chairman of the Board of Lighthouse of Collier, an organization he helped establish (with Sue’s ongoing support) and grow as Collier County’s first and only rehabilitation organization for blind and low-vision individuals.
The cause was close to the Bookbinders after Art was diagnosed with an eye disease decades ago that led to him becoming legally blind. Sue also suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and like her late husband, she has dedicated much of her life to serving local disability focused non-profits.
Sue and Art Bookbinder
In addition to her work as a Board Member of the Lighthouse foundation and work with other charitable organizations, Sue joined JNF-USA’s Naples Board and says she is determined to highlight the organization’s support of people with disabilities in Israel.
“Our community knows about JNF-USA’s tree planting efforts, yet the organization does so much more, especially in support of people with disabilities.”
Sue first learned about the organization’s involvement with people with disabilities when the couple was honored at a JNF-USA Tree of Life Award Dinner in February 2020.
“During the [Tree of Life] dinner, Art and I shared a table with people from one of JNF-USA’s affiliates, Special in Uniform,” said Sue. “We were moved beyond words by their incredible stories. There really is nothing else in the universe like their organization! I think that dinner was the catalyst that deepened my involvement with JNF-USA in support of Special in Uniform.”
Special in Uniform is an innovative program that integrates youths with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and helps prepare them for careers following their army service.
The program was founded to give everyone the opportunity to fulfill their potential and contribute to society, regardless of any disability. Special in Uniform goes beyond the walls of IDF bases, helping its graduates integrate into the workforce and Israeli society in meaningful ways.
“The fact that they can take young people with disabilities out of high school; figure out their skills; give them a uniform and then help them get jobs is beyond incredible,” said Sue. “I’ve worked in HR for most of my life and interacted with people with disabilities, yet the fact that they [Special in Uniform] do this full-time and that they help people gain skills that can lead to greater inclusion is really amazing. I don’t think we have the same level of support or programs for people with disabilities in the U.S, and perhaps it’s time our country looks more to what Israel is doing in this field.”
In the lead up to JDAAIM, Sue believes that people will dig deep in support of people with disabilities.
“There’s never been a more important time to get behind JNF-USA. For many of us, the organization helps maintain our connection to the land and people of Israel. As we approach JDAAIM, I want to highlight how Israel leads the world in supporting people with disabilities through organizations like Special in Uniform.”
Just as the old man planted the carob tree that would take 70 years to bear fruit, so too has Sue ensured that future generations of Israelis, and in particular people with disabilities, will be supported through her efforts today, tomorrow, and for decades to come.
In honor of JDAAIM and thanks to the leadership of the Bookbinder Family Foundation in addition to support from the Fineberg Foundation, JNF-USA is proud to announce a February $1 million match funding challenge for its work in Disabilities & Special Needs. For more information about JDAAIM, Special in Uniform and how to help ensure no Israeli is left behind, visit jnf.org/disabilities or contact JNF-USA Executive Director, National Major Donor Advancement, Yossi Kahana at [email protected] or 212.879.9305 x240