The next generation of Jewish giving

With JNFuture, a new crop of young Jewish philanthropists are re-defining what it means to support the Jewish state.

JNFuture members pose with volunteers of Hashomer Hahadash, a JNF-USA sponsored project, while touring the Galilee (photo credit: BOB BENEDON)
JNFuture members pose with volunteers of Hashomer Hahadash, a JNF-USA sponsored project, while touring the Galilee
(photo credit: BOB BENEDON)
Matt Rosen may hold down a serious job as a lawyer, but he is still a kid at heart.
Despite the tour guide’s pleas to get the group back on the bus, Rosen couldn’t resist tickling the ivory keys of a piano located in the Pelech community recreation center.
As JNFuture members gathered around him, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” turned into a quick bit of “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” which turned into… “Hava Nagila.” The non sequitur set list was actually quite appropriate for the group of young Jewish professionals who happily formed a circle and sang the celebratory Jewish folk song.
The group was in Israel at the end of July as part of a JLIM mission (JNFuture Leadership Institute Mission) of young professionals who spent a week touring the country in order to see for themselves how JNF-USA’s projects are transforming Israeli lives.
The Pelech housing community in the Galilee is just one example of them seeing JNF at work. By providing loans to communities like Pelech, JNF is inching toward its goal of completing both its Blueprint Negev and Go North campaigns which strive to bring 500,000 and 300,000 new residents to those regions respectively.
JNFuture is designed to enable those in their 20s and 30s to be part of JNF’s mission to continue one’s engagement with Israel and his/her Jewish identity through all stages of life, Yael Septee Kane, JNF’s Chief Israel Advocacy and Leadership Officer explained.
“Along the way, we are in subtle and not so subtle ways teaching them what it means to be a leader, and the many ways you can exercise that,” she said. “We’re investing in these young people.”
And it’s quite an investment. Although members are required to pay for their flight, the rest of the trip – lodging, meals and, of course, seeing the country – is subsidized by JNF with the added support of two of their donors. However, that is not to say this group of dedicated young professionals are getting a free ride. Just the opposite.
In addition to a yearly membership commitment of $360, many JNFuture members found themselves so inspired by what they saw that they wanted to give even more.
Sara Armet was one of the many who confidently walked to the front of the bus, grabbed the microphone and announced that she’s upping her donation to a $1000.
“It’s basically two pairs of nice shoes,” Armet, who works at a high-end department store in New York City said, justifying her generosity. “Israel and JNF are important to me and it’s all about realigning priorities and focusing on what really matters” “We all hail from different backgrounds, but we have one shared common passion and that’s Israel,” Alana Gerson, who serves as co-chair of this JILM mission and is the chair of the JNFuture Cincinnati chapter, said.
JNF hopes that when these young adults return home, they will become de-facto ambassadors of Israel and tell their peers about the work being done there.
As such, Gerson is dedicated to explaining to JNFuture newbies how they can be effective in their individual communities when they go back home.
“It’s our responsibility as a generation to keep Israel going,” she added.
Gerson co-chaired this mission with Josh Goodkin and the two agree that a paradigm shift in assuming responsibility to foster a more solid connection between Jewish millennials and Israel needs to occur.
“For a lot of Jewish-Americans, they rely on their parents and grandparents to carry the weight. They don’t think [supporting Israel] is their responsibility and they take it for granted. JNFuture shows that it doesn’t have to be them, it can be us – a generation of millennials who step up and say they want to make an impact,” he said.
JNFuture members, like Nicole Talor who serves as Baltimore chapter chair, is an example of continuing a family legacy of Jewish activism.
As someone with Israeli roots and parents who are long-time JNF members, becoming part of the organization was a natural decision for her.
“With every trip, my connection to JNF only gets stronger,” Talor confessed. “It’s really exciting for me that JNF touches all corners of lives of the people of Israel.”
It was JNF’s commitment to supporting a myriad of projects helping Israeli citizens that drew Zack Garber. He was particularly taken with JNF’s initiative to enhance Israel’s water supply and is a member of their Water Task Force.
“I see water as a future solution for peace,” Garber, who was just named as one of Forbes’ top 500 Millennial financial advisors, said.
The networking opportunities available to him as part of JNFuture, is a win-win situation for him professionally and personally.
“It’s a responsibility to give back, but if it enables you to also benefit, then that’s a by-product,” he explained.
In an age where millennials are often castigated as entitled and reluctant to work, this cohort of ambitious, socially conscious professionals are one by one proving the stereotype wrong.
It is an axiom that Goodkin refuses to accept. “Our generation is defined as doers who make things happen. JNF allows us to do that in a way that’s relevant to us,” he said.
This article was prepared in cooperation with a JNF-USA.