An Exclusive Report from Russell F. Robinson



JNF Brings Young People Together

As a young adult, Ori Friedland loved nothing more than being outdoors and surrounded by nature. One day a few years back, as he was hiking with some friends in Israel, he lost his footing and fell. Left unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair, Ori’s spirit was broken and he fell into depression. Eventually he visited Jewish National Fund-partner LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible and became a guide on the universally accessible trails. His esteem returned and surrounded by his love, the nature of the land, Ori regained his life and found renewed purpose. He entered university and while studying there met a fellow student, Yasmim. This past November, they both came to our National Conference to share their story and to thank our donors, especially the Gutmann family of Norwood, NJ for building the “Path of Creation” hiking trail. Shortly after returning home, Ori and Yasmim announced their engagement. He credits JNF’s programming for helping him return to life and have a happy and promising future.  

I am also very happy to share the engagement of Rebecca Levy, a JNFuture from Austin, Texas to Jason Zenner, National JNFuture Vice Chair and the Trips and Chair of JNFuture Chicago, who met through JNFuture, and fell in love after participating on the JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission in 2016. And, a special Mazel Tov to JNFuture Sam Goldberg on his wedding last week to Natalie Aswell.



Tourism to Israel is Up, Up, Up

Uri Steinberg, Consul and Israel’s Tourism Commissioner for North America, recently advised me that last year’s numbers look great for travel to Israel from North America. Over 778,000 American tourists visited Israel in 2017, a growth of 20% compared to 2016 (648,000 tourists), which was a record year in itself.  So, I ask, are you among the 778,000 who visited last year? If not, sign up for one of our amazing trips and see Israel with Jewish National Fund. If you are among those stats, I thank you, and ask you to book another trip to keep the numbers soaring higher.  We have trips for everyone and upcoming tours include our Israel@70 experiences on four very different tracks; the VIP Tech Tour; Young Professionals Tour (for singles ages 30-45); the Sunshine Tour (for active adults 55+); Queen of Sheba: Women for Israel Tour; and the Israel H20 Water Tour.

Did you know that tourism from North America made up nearly 24% of the overall incoming tourism to Israel in 2017 (3.6 million tourists). For the first time, revenue from incoming tourism passed the NIS 20 billion threshold and created about 25,000 new jobs. 


Adam Ziv (R) and Alaa Sweitat.  (Photo: Yuval Chen-YNET)


Buza Founders named to Visionary List

I am very proud to share that Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweitat, founders of Buza Ice Cream, were again named to Real Leaders ‘100 Visionary List’. The magazine referenced that their vision “to set an example of coexistence for Arabs and Jews in Israel began when they established their ice cream company that specializes in producing a 100% natural, fresh and local product.” The duo, members of Jewish National Fund’s super Chamber of Commerce in the Western Galilee, has built a renowned business where Arabs and Jews can experience “cooperation and personal empowerment.” At Buza, “their policy is to employ workers from all communities, including the disabled, to foster an inclusive and peaceful working environment.” Last Fall the partners received the prestigious UN Flourish Prize for their work promoting peace. Read the YNET story. Well done Alaa and Adam!



JNFuture-to-be Builds a Legacy at Sderot

In March 2011, Ben Sherry, son of JNF’s Laura Sherry, Director, North Palm Beach and Boca Raton, chose his Bar Mitzvah project to center around his love of basketball while raising money for JNF’s Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot. Drawn in by stories of how kids in Sderot had no safe place to play due to regular rocket attacks coming from nearby Gaza, Ben devised a 3-on-3 basketball tournament for girls and boys divisions with his “Ben’s Hoop It Up Mitzvah Project.” He also got the word out to members at Congregation B’Nai Torah and donations came flooding in, raising $2,000 for the Center. Now, nearly seven years later, as a sophomore at The University of Florida at Gainesville studying advertising in the School of Journalism, Ben took part this winter on Taglit-Birthright with Shorashim and his group visited Sderot. This was Ben’s first time seeing the Rec. Center (pictured above with Hagit, a staff member there) and the many children and parents who utilize the facility knowing that they can safely play without fear of danger.Thank you Ben!  


Making Your Voice Heard

I recently received a warm letter from Alan Wolk via our President-elect Bruce K. Gould in response to his weekly update.


Dear Bruce-- Jewish National Fund is an organization where “involvement” means more than just money; it means that we donors truly make our voices heard in Israel. I recently closed a “Women for Israel” meeting in Atlanta with the same message, sharing my story of driving change in Special in Uniform.  As a result, beyond my multi-year commitment to JNF and SIU specifically, Special in Uniform has a 5-year strategic plan and we take young adults with cerebral palsy because I pushed and the partner listened. Special in Uniform is just one example where donors can craft a partnership with JNF, and more importantly, with the program on the ground in Israel. Roni’s and my voice are heard every day at 22 bases with 360 young adults. What a blessing that we can do this.  
Alan Wolk, Chair
SIU Board of Governors,
Member, JNF National Board


Personal Growth Enriches More than Students at AMHSI
You would probably guess correctly that Rabbi Mordechai Cohen observes a lot of personal growth as Head of School at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. In late December after the closing ceremony took place on campus in Hod HaSharon, he shared with me a little story about one of the students from that that session, Emily Faith Garcia, of Shepton High School in Plano, Texas, and granddaughter of Myron Stayman, JNF Co-Vice President, Strategic Relationships. In his comment to me, Mordechai said, “I am reminded by one of the sayings from our tradition: ‘While it is expected that we learn from our teachers, it is no less true that we learn most from our students.’” What I came to find out is that Emily had delivered a closing speech and thanked Adi, her counselor at AMHSI. In her remarks, Emily said, “Adi you have taught me how to be myself and accept the flaws I have. Thank you for pushing me to step out of my comfort zone and to try new things…Thank you for making these last four months the most amazing thing I have ever experienced and for helping me become who I am today.”  


For Your Eyes Only

Tu BiShvat, the New Year for Trees, reminds us of our connection to the land of Israel and to the environment. During the last month, many thousands of individuals and families purchased trees to mark a myriad of occasions and causes. The picture above was taken during a tree planting in mid-January at the Harvey Hertz Jewish National Fund Ceremonial Tree Planting Center at Neot Kedumim by members of the family of Lauren Winkler. Lauren was my cousin who was tragically killed in a plane accident. Just last week, members of the Makor Mission dedicated a new tree in front of the new Halutza Medical Center in loving memory of our late Ellen Rosenberg, former Chair of Makor. I know that like Ellen, this tree will grow deep roots in Israel and provide shelter and relief for the people who call this region home. Makor members also visited a tree in full bloom that had been planted in memory of Max Paul at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran rehabilitation village. All of these tree plantings, and the many that occurred during Tu BiShvat, celebrate life while also making us aware that there is hope for the future in memory and in honor of whom these trees now stand. Sadly, our loved ones won’t get to see the children who will play under them or experience their shade and comfort, but their memory lives on through the joy and greenery these trees will provide for generations.


Chief Executive Officer
Jewish National Fund