The dream started simply enough. Over a decade ago, a few, active, female Jewish National Fund donors drove through Israel looking for a place where they could make a difference.
They traversed the country until they came to Israel’s South – to the Arava desert to be specific – where they met two young men who wanted to build a community and develop the land on an abandoned army base. And as Vivian Grossman, JNF-USA’s National Chair of Social Media, recalled, “They said, ‘I believe with Jewish National Fund’s help we can build a town that will thrive here,’ and today the lively artist community of Tzukim is a success. I believe every lot is full. It’s amazing – and it’s due to the power of women who took the work on and raised money for it to happen.”
That initiative, one of the first projects taken on by JNF’s Women’s Campaign, which was established in 1999, has led to more and the Women’s Campaign has become a place for like-minded women philanthropists to come together to create innovative solutions for enhancing the lives of the people of Israel. March is celebrated as Women’s Month at Jewish National Fund, and the world commemorates the many achievements of women on March 8, with International Women’s Day. From March 8 to 31, all contributions made by women will be matched up to $900,000 by donor Theresa Lungwitz of Scottsdale, Arizona.
Grossman, a member of Jewish National Fund’s Sapphire Society, the women’s Major Donor society, is energized by the passion of the other women in the group.
“We all know that women are passionate,” says Grossman, who lives in Weston, Florida. “At JNF, you put women in a space together and we do amazing things. We brainstorm, put plans into action, and often come ahead of schedule to meet our goals.
“Jewish National Fund’s Women’s Campaign has gone from just existing to being a force to be reckoned with. With our financial success last year raising $23 million, it’s really fabulous to see that the power of women’s philanthropy is being recognized,” she added.
And making big things happen is exactly what the Women’s Campaign is committed to do.
According to Jewish National Fund’s new national president, Dr. Sol Lizerbram, the women’s campaign alone raised nearly $10 million in his first 100 days in office. Moreover, at JNF’s Annual Conference, more than 150 women in the campaign’s Sapphire and Chai societies attended in a show of solidarity and support for both JNF and the Jewish state. “I sit on the national board of directors of Jewish National Fund where there’s a huge drive to bring on more women and be heard. I think JNF is a place where women’s voices are definitely respected and invited,” said Grossman.
For Beckie Fischer, of Hollywood, Florida, head of JNF’s Arava Task Force, that kind of safe space to express her thoughts in a supportive environment is incredibly important to her on both a professional and personal level.
Fischer runs her own successful law firm and remains grateful to Jewish National Fund for being an organization that allows women’s voices to flourish in a safe atmosphere. “JNF has always been good about giving leadership roles to women. It has played to my strengths, utilized my skills and understands the challenges of a work/life balance,” she said.
As for her work at JNF, she is amazed by the organization’s ability to gradually transform the Arava from a desolate desert to a blooming hub of life and innovation.
“I completely fell in love with the organization and the work we do. JNF is on the ground in Israel changing lives for the better, probably more than any other organization in the country,” she said, citing her involvement in the establishment of the Danielle A. and Irving J. Grossman Arava Medical Center, a state-of-the-art medical facility in Sapir that recorded 10,800 general and 4,410 specialist visits last year. Next door, the new Nancy Simches Emergency Response Center is being built.
Gina Raphael, a major donor from Beverly Hills, California, is on the newly formed Eastern Galilee Task Force and believes the Women’s Campaign is critical. “It’s very important for women to be their own person and have their own voice,” she said.
Raphael, who adopted three daughters from China, wants to be a positive role model for her girls and demonstrate to them the importance of being a strong, empowered woman who is a force for change in the world.
She applauds the “power of a community of women” where bonding and camaraderie are strongly encouraged. The Women’s Campaign is also an inclusive one where women of all denominations, political affiliations and ages are encouraged to participate.
Stephanie Kelman, of Portland, Oregon, the National Chair of JNFuture (for younger donors aged 22 to 40) and a Women’s Campaign Chai Society member, is an example of how the younger members are proving to be a driving force in the campaign and beyond.
“Our generation is very hands-on. They’re actually very active and want to do something – not just sit there writing checks. So JNFuture offers them the ability to work with their money and not just give it,” Kelman, said describing the organization’s division of young ambitious professionals.
“Being part of the women’s campaign is phenomenal because we are doing so much more than any other campaign at Jewish National Fund. In fact, our Queen of Sheba trip this fall [November 8 to 14] will focus on Southern Israel and see what the power of women has developed in the Arava and Tzukim.”
“Women raise money with their heart. I’m not saying men don’t, but women are able to reach other women on a more emotional level and relate to some of the issues that we’re working toward a bit more personally,” she added.
According to Kelman, today, half of Jewish National Fund’s local board chairs are women and the future looks bright as women continue rising to the top of the organization’s leadership.
“It’s going to be a ‘women-run’ organization in the next 20 years, for sure,” she predicted.
This article was written in cooperation with JNF-USA.