JNF-USA's new west coast leader

Lizerbram is very committed to sharing and telling Positively Israel stories and the many programs JNF-USA offers that engage people who are not Jewish or had no prior connection to Israel.

August 22, 2017 18:29
Ahead of the festive Jerusalem Day ceremony on Ammunition Hill, the citys mayor, Nir Barkat, poses

Ahead of the festive Jerusalem Day ceremony on Ammunition Hill, the city's mayor, Nir Barkat, poses with incoming JNF-USA President Dr. Sol Lizerbram, San Diego Regional President Lauren Lizerbram, and JNF-USA CEO Russell F. Robinson on Wednesday. (photo credit: MENACHEM LANDOW)


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Dr. SoL Lizerbram, a longtime family physician who is due to begin his term as Jewish National Fund-USA’s national president in October, has fond memories of his early introduction to the environmental non-profit organization.

“I knew about JNF as a little boy when we used to put money in my bubbe’s Blue Box on a Friday evening before lighting candles, and from Hebrew school, where we had to fill up cards to be given tree certificates.”

But it was only after he and his wife, Lauren, moved from Philadelphia to California in 1978 that he really became involved.

“I became friendly with a prominent Jewish personality named Larry Lawrence, who owned the well-known city landmark called the Hotel del Coronado,” Lizerbram recalls in a telephone interview from his home in San Diego. “He introduced me to some people doing good work for the Jewish National Fund. In the beginning, I didn’t know much about it, but started getting engaged on a local basis and eventually, over time, became president of the local board in San Diego, then joined the national board, and became more and more involved.

“Over the years, I saw the growth of JNF, which became very strong as a result of the vision of Ronald S. Lauder and Russell F. Robinson, who have really turned it into a major organization in the US.”

Lizerbram and Lauren – who also has served as president of JNF-USA’s San Diego chapter – have a married son and daughter and three grandchildren, and make it a weekly practice to put coins in their Blue Box before lighting Shabbat candles.

“We’re very fortunate that our children live in San Diego with their spouses and their children, and we have a very close family unit. They also participate in the Jewish National Fund, and so we are really blessed to have both our biological family and our JNF family.”

When Lizerbram takes over the reins of JNF-USA from Jeffrey E. Levine, he will also sit on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“I was told that I will be the first national president of a major Jewish organization from the West Coast of the United States,” he says. “That, in itself, will have an impact. There’s no reason that there shouldn’t be a strong West Coast presence because we have a strong Jewish community and travel these days is easy, and I look forward to it. I think it will increase JNF awareness in the western region just by virtue of the fact that there will be a president attending more events on the west coast.”

Dr. Sol and Lauren were part of the large JNF-USA mission attending the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Six Day War in June, which centered on a festive ceremony held at Ammunition Hill, whose recent renovations were funded by the organization. “It was very exciting to be part of the celebrations for the reunification of Jerusalem and we look forward to being part of the festivities for Israel’s 70th anniversary next year,” he says.

Regarding his plans for the future, Lizerbram says he plans to expand the organization’s One Billion Dollar Roadmap campaign for the many JNF-USA projects that have made such a meaningful impact on Israel.  “The Jewish National Fund is in the middle of a $1 billion fundraising campaign, which started a couple of years ago, and we’re actually half way there,” he says. “There are a number of great projects going on and I feel very grateful to be part of them.”

Lizerbram is very committed to sharing and telling Positively Israel stories and the many programs JNF-USA offers that engage people who are not Jewish or had no prior connection to Israel. “I believe that JNF affects every Israeli in a positive way through things like water conservation, building communities in the periphery, helping young couples purchase housing, planting trees and maintaining the many parks we have and ensuring that public areas are accessible to people with disabilities,” he says. “We’re very proud of the fact that we positively affect Israel in many ways, and we will continue to do this in the years ahead with a greater emphasis on additional projects as part of our billion-dollar campaign to improve the lives of Israelis.”

There are several projects that are important to him personally.

“Our work in developing the Negev and the Western Galilee is very important to me, and I’d like to expand our presence there. I’d like to make structural improvements to the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which we fund. There are several projects that are very close to my heart ‒ the Special in Uniform program that enlists youth with disabilities into the army; the fortified indoor recreation center for the children of Sderot; and a program for teaching music to underprivileged children.”

Lizerbram particularly wants to develop the music center in Sha’ar Hanegev, which not only attracts children from communities close to the Gaza border that have come under rocket attacks in past conflicts, but is also San Diego County’s partnership region. He notes that the program, named “Replacing the Sound of Rockets with the Sound of Music,” was based in Sderot’s C. Hugh Friedman Music Center, named after a prominent legal scholar at the University of San Diego. Friedman, who was married to former congresswoman Lynn Schenk, played the saxophone and clarinet, and even performed with the famous jazz musician, Benny Goodman, in his youth.

After receiving his medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Lizerbram served as a family medicine doctor in San Diego for nearly 15 years. Asked if his medical expertise would play a role in his presidency, he says, “I practiced family medicine for many years, and for the last 25 years have been involved in businesses producing medical software. JNF is involved with medical centers in Israel, and that will, of course, be of interest to me.”

Over the years, Lizerbram has developed a close relationship with California’s Governor Jerry Brown. “We’re very fortunate to have Jerry Brown as our governor, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu on several issues, including water conservation. Governor Brown is a good friend of mine, and a good friend of the Jewish National Fund.”

Regarding the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Lizerbram says, “Jewish National Fund is not a political organization, and we don’t take political sides. Of course, we condemn racism and antisemitism, but JNF doesn’t participate in political debate. Antisemitism concerns me as an American Jew and it concerns JNF, which has many programs, including Caravan for Democracy, in which we educate students on college campuses against antisemitism, and Faculty Fellowship, where we send professors and teachers to Israel to expose them to the realities of the Jewish homeland. We are certainly proud of the programs that we have here in the United States to combat antisemitism and BDS that are part of the JNF umbrella.” Lizerbram is genuinely looking forward to being JNF-USA’s national president.

“I’m very grateful. This should be a very exciting time for me and my family and JNF,” he says. “We have a great lay leadership with great professional guidance. I can say that with all the organizations I have been involved in, there’s none like the Jewish National Fund, which is like a family. It’s a great feeling of belonging.”

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