An Exclusive Report from Russell F. Robinson


We are all Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life

The worst attack in this country against the Jewish people occurred on a Shabbat morning in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Eleven souls were taken from us and seven left seriously injured. This horrific act took place while we were gathered in Arizona for our Jewish National Fund conference and local law enforcement beefed up the already tight security, because of our group’s large Jewish presence. Throughout the weekend each of us grieved alone and together in solidarity. One of our conference attendees, Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz, chaplain of the Nassau County Police Department, had just completed morning prayers when he received a call from his police commissioner expressing his condolences, assistance and solidarity with the Jewish community. When Rabbi Schwartz returned home, he shared with me that he was overwhelmed by the number of voicemails and e-mails from Christian friends and colleagues, who knew that all Jews are one family—and all part of Tree of Life.


We know all too well the horror humanity can unleash and the lifelong pain such actions can cause. What we cannot do is give in to fear. At our conference we gathered together—more than 1,300 voices singing strongly and respectfully—the Israeli folk song Kol Ha’olam Kulo, “Don’t be Afraid.” The words of which include: “The whole world is just a narrow bridge, a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid, not to frighten yourself.” With the confidence that we are not alone, all of us are with Pittsburgh, its city, the Jewish community, the brave police who ran charging into the synagogue, and with the victims and their families. May their memory be a blessing, always. 

A Show of Strength, Unity and Support for Gaza Envelope

As both Jewish National Fund CEO and as a major donor to our organization, I often ask for feedback and engage staff, donors, and friends on what we could be doing differently or better to promote our work and recruit new donors. In early August, one of my professional staff in Denver, Boaz Meir, and JNF Gaza Envelope Task Force Chair Betsy Fischer, recommended Jewish National Fund take the lead in sharing the story no one else was telling—that of the thousands of Israelis living along the Gaza border who had lost 10,000 acres of forest and farmlands since late March when terrorists from Gaza began using arson, in the form of burning kites, to destroy livelihoods and greenspace in Israel. I quickly met with our top leaders and our organization rapidly mobilized every lay leader, department, and office around the country to present a two-week Town Hall tour, bringing three Israelis from the Gaza border region to 11 cities across the United States to share their stories and experiences. More than 3,500 Americans got to hear a story we don’t see on the news and over $4 million was raised for new bomb shelters, fire trucks, emergency equipment, therapy sessions at our new resilience centers, operational funding for the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, including 79 Sderot Tulips sold (unique one-of-a-kind works of art made in Israel from the fallen rockets), and so much more. Our events were also reported by 60 news organizations domestically and internationally. This is a credit to every employee, lay leader, and board member who comprise Jewish National Fund, and the expanse of our reach and work.   


National Conference Delivers Big

Over 1,300 leaders, philanthropists, and students gathered in late October in Phoenix for our annual National Conference, including 250 students from 87 campuses and 125 JNFuture members. I am thrilled that over 1/3 of our participants were under the age of 40. Some 200,000 people joined us on social media throughout the weekend, with 50,000 viewing our plenaries on Facebook Live. A very special thank you to the Co-Chairs of this phenomenal conference, Toni Dusik and Marc Kelman, whose dedication, time, and vision helped make this annual event a rousing success. In the midst of celebrating our accomplishments, on Saturday morning October 27, we mourned with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue that suffered the tragic and horrific act of terrorism. This episode of mass violence left us devastated and heartbroken. Only together—with generations standing side-by-side—did we get through the weekend, committed more than ever to the work we do, and the vision behind it. Next year, 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 And, you’re not going to want to miss JNF’s 2020 National Conference in Israel from October 25-29 (with an optional pre-conference mission to Morocco). 


Our ‘Awesome’ New Sababa Society  

Ever since then-11 year old Ziv Zusman of Atlanta, GA asked me to consider a society for young people his age, specifically, tweens between the ages of 10-14, I was intrigued. Here was a young man, not yet a Bar Mitzvah, who wanted to help other young people increase their involvement and connection to Israel. Ziv, now 13, is the founder of our new Sababa Society for young donors! Sababa Society—Sababa means awesome in Hebrew—members learn about Israel and JNF’s work in Israel by participating in interactive activities focusing on JNF’s seven program areas (Community Building, Water Solutions, Forestry & Green Innovations, Heritage Sites, Zionist Education, Disabilities & Special Needs, Research & Development). Members choose from a variety of activities and participate in their own communities, earning points towards prizes, badges, and special recognition. Sababa members are strongly encouraged to raise $104 for the year—$2 a week—and decide which JNF-USA program area will receive their contributions. For more information, contact [email protected] or 212.879.9305 x245. 


For Your Eyes Only

Every time I go to Israel and stop in Be’er Sheva in the Negev Desert, I meet with Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, our great partner there who has done so much to help meet our mutual vision for the city’s future. On each visit as I drive into the city from the north, I see in the distance the tall cranes, derricks, and hoists raising new structures and buildings, and think back only a decade ago when nothing was taking place. Now, people are coming in droves. Apartments cannot be built quick enough to house the new residents and the college students graduating from Ben Gurion University. Those graduates are remaining and others are moving there because of great jobs in the hi-tech sector, and the good quality of life and beautiful change we have made in the city. Our Lauder Employment Center helps find more than 3,000 people annually new jobs, and our Jewish National Fund Riverpark complex is coming to life with the new 23-acre lake to soon open. Thanks to the Mayor, part of the landscape contains a 10-acre parcel of land to house the new Jewish National Fund International Zionist Village. Here, we will offer a one-of-a-kind institute that will connect our ancestral soil from the time of Abraham to present day, where adults, college students, and teens can come explore, learn, live, and be part of our Jewish experience, and the promising future that Israel holds. More details coming soon. In the meantime, read the Israel 21c story on why you should add Be’er Sheva to your travel itinerary.    


With my very best wishes to you and your family,


Chief Executive Officer
Jewish National Fund

P.S. Remember that Tuesday, November 27, is Giving Tuesday. Every gift to JNF will be matched up to $1.15 million thanks to Ronald S. Lauder, the Gene & Marlene Epstein Humanitarian Foundation, and Bob Lembke.