Many of us will
proudly proclaim our faith or tribe affiliation. “I am Jewish” or
“I am a Jew” is professed with a confidence born out of the knowledge that you
are affiliated with a people steeped in culture and learning for over 4,000
years. But in polite circles, there is something we dare not
speak aloud: so I'll say it softly at first and see how it goes – I am a
You see, the term has
been perverted or used to excoriate us by those who seek to delegitimize Israel
or question the loyalty of Jewish Americans. We reflexively cringe
at the term’s very mention.
I'll let you in
on a secret: you need not live in Israel nor abandon your loyalty or love of
America to be a Zionist. In fact, no less a patriot than Senator John McCain
reinforced that notion when he proclaimed “it’s no contradiction to be a loyal
American and a supporter of the Zionist mission."
We at Jewish National Fund are perhaps a bit more comfortable with the
ideology and identity than many of our co-religionists. After all, the father of
modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, is our founder. He, like no other, in the wake
of the Dreyfus trial understood the need to return to Zion – to our ancient,
current and future National Home.
those that bristle at the notion of a formal declaration of Israel as a Jewish
state – as the Jewish state – and for very good reasons such as concerns
for minority rights or world opinion.
mind you, let's not even get into the broader issue of Palestinian statehood,
which, for the record, I support. But within Israel's borders, non-Jews have
equal rights and receive consideration that Jews living in European States or
Muslim lands could only dream of prior to the creation of the modern state of
For me, Zionism is the exquisitely
incongruous product of our collective ancestral pain coupled with a yearning to
return from exile to the land of our forefathers and foremothers. It is a land
with Jewish farmers, scientists, fireman and soldiers serving under the Star of
David in a Jewish army. For Herzl, who I like to call our prophet for a new
Millennium, it is a return to our source, to our sanctuary, to our
We, as a people, are unique in that
it is difficult to separate the Jewish faith from the Jewish people, and make no
mistake, we are a people, a nation, a community, whether we live in Timbuktu or
Tel Aviv. But yearning and faith in and of itself does not create a nation. And
it was left to Jewish National Fund to energize the Diaspora, raise the funds
to buy the land and make the desert bloom again.
How many times have you heard that phrase, “Israel made the desert
bloom?” It sounds a bit cliché, but more pointedly, it was and is Jewish
National Fund and the Jewish people or nation wherever they reside, who pulled
together as a global community to grow a modern state – the Jewish
Our legacy as an organization speaks
to our Hebrew name, Keren Keyemet L'Yisrael – it translates as the “Eternal
Fund” for it belongs to the Jewish people and our non-Jewish supporters
throughout the world. Its purpose is crystal clear – to support and sustain the
Jewish state forever more.
So we planted 250
million trees and built hundreds of reservoirs and security roads and
infrastructure from Metula to the Negev. And when the Palestinian Authority was
planning to build its first major city in the West Bank since the middle of the
Ottoman Empire’s reign, they turned to JNF to help plan and plant it – and we
And when a medical clinic is needed in
the Negev, JNF is there. When security roads are critical in the North to shield
school children from Hezbollah guns and rockets, JNF is there. When the
children of Sderot need sanctuary from a hailstorm of missiles from Gaza, JNF
is there building an indoor playground and bomb shelter, a community center
that makes life livable for all who reside there.
We at JNF are the ubiquitous symbol of environmental sciences, nature
and infrastructure that in large part makes Israel—Israel. JNF's connection to
the land of Israel is spiritual and sustainable. Our efforts bridge the space
between that which nourishes our souls and the soil.
In English, the only difference between soul and soil are the letters
“U” and “I,” and it is you and I in the larger sense that engenders hope or
tikvah to a land and its people.
wife Lisa and I and all of us on the JNF-Chicago Board are grateful to be part
of this amazing organization. We are active participants in building a nation;
we are building the Jewish nation.