Looking back at his days working in the fields at Ramat Hashofet, a kibbutz in the Carmel Hills outside of Haifa, Chicago attorney Theodore (Ted) Banks recalls, “Everybody picked more oranges than I could, so I knew that wasn’t for me.”
Banks would later spend his junior year work program in 1970 in a factory making wooden boxes to hold ammunition for the Israeli Army. He vividly recalls the watchtower and fortifications that were in place then, remnants from 1948, the year that Israel became a nation and immediately had to defend herself on multiple fronts. “Back then, Israelis were still very much in survival mode. You would be on a crowded bus, everybody was talking, and then the news would come on the radio and everybody stopped to listen. People were much more united. ”
While Israel was often on his mind it would be years before he would return. In 1985, after graduating from the University of Denver Law School and working as a corporate attorney, Ted went back with his wife, Cheryl, and three young daughters, ages two, five and eight at the time. “It was important for us to go as a family and for our children to see Israel at an early age and develop a connection.”
A member of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois, Ted served on the board there and was president of the Men’s Club. Later, he used his connections, knowledge of Israel, and fundraising ability, to help grow the JNF Chicago board and its donor levels.
Getting people to understand JNF’s mission was not always easy. “There were people who would give to Israeli social causes and tell me they already contributed. I would say, ‘that’s like buying a computer without the software, one won’t work without the other.’ You can’t just support social services without also protecting the land. If you truly support Israel you have to do both.”
Once donors understand JNF he finds that they are really impressed with the operation. “The idea that the land that had been purchased by the Jewish people was still being managed for the benefit of the State of Israel, with the rent from those lands being plowed back in to JNF projects in Israel, was so different from other charities. The notion that every dollar that is donated to JNF is leveraged to work harder is an important distinction. “ Active in JNF’s Lawyers for Israel affinity group, Banks is adamant that Jewish attorneys know the truth of what goes on in Israel.
“As lawyers, we look at facts and evidence to support conclusions. You have to dismiss much of what you hear in the media and what others tell you. Also, lawyers should understand more about the environmental projects created by JNF in Israel – it’s more than planting trees – it’s about water recycling, reservoir projects, parks and other legal issues in Israel that our group has a general interest in.”
Most recently, Ted has been involved with the Housing Development Fund, which attempts to address the financial and bureaucratic challenges that have held back the development of housing in Israel. Using insight from a number of US real estate developers and a few lawyers, JNF has found a way to end the frustration of many families who could afford a home, but were locked into a small apartment by the traditional financing practices. With the creation a revolving loan fund, JNF has been able to circumvent otherwise extremely restrictive practices regarding housing infrastructure. “While this would have been completely rejected in the United States, JNF has been able to jump start the development of new housing for hundreds of families who want to move to the Negev or Galil.”
That is the impact that JNF and Lawyers for Israel is making for the people of Israel.
Theodore L. Banks (Ted) is a partner in the law firm of Scharf Banks Marmor LLC in Chicago, where his practice concentrates on general corporate, food industry, and antitrust matters. He is also President of Compliance & Competition Consultants, LLC, a firm devoted to assisting companies in developing effective compliance programs. He serves as a compliance monitor for the Federal Trade Commission and Competition Bureau of Canada, and is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Loyola University School of Law in Chicago.