It was a full house last night, Dec. 8th, as the Jewish National Fund’s Baltimore and Delaware Region office honored outgoing president Frank Spector and incoming president Orly Shalem.

The program was held at Shalem’s home in Stevenson for 75 donors who contributed at least $1,000 to the organization’s 2017 campaign. It included remarks by 2017 National Treasurer Andy Klein, a d’var Torah by Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of Moses Monefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation, and a talk by guest speaker Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

Before passing the gavel to Shalem, Spector spoke about his tenure as president of JNF’s regional office.

“I’m very satisfied with what we’ve been able to achieve in our area,” he said. “We’ve been able to increase enthusiasm and visibility for JNF, and we’ve seen great commitment from our donors.”

For Shalem, the regional office’s first female and Israeli president, her new role with JNF is “an opportunity to close a circle. Once I was receiving, and today I’m here to give back. Payback time.”

Shalem was born nearly 50 years ago in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva. At 15, she moved to Sde Yoav, a kibbutz located between Beersheva and Ashkelon. After completing her military service, Shalem visited the United States, where she met her future husband, Yair Shalem. The couple moved to Baltimore, started Orly Moving Systems, and have three children.

Their son, Dean, made aliyah last year and is now a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Shalem said she is confident that her son is “safe” because of the support provided to him by new JNF partner Nefesh B’Nefesh’s “Lone Soldier” program, which provides assistance to soldiers whose families do not live in Israel.

In her first official address as president, Shalem said she became active with JNF after being approached by JNF National Campaign Director Diane Scar seven years ago.

“She asked me to contribute to a campaign to help build a massive river walk and park in Beersheva, in an area of the city that was famous for its industrial zones, filled with waste and junkyards,” Shalem said. “This seemed like it was reaching for the stars, and it was hard to believe that JNF — the tree organization — could create real change in my home.”

Once she got involved with JNF, Shalem said she learned that the work of the organization went far beyond tree planting. Its initiatives include a range of programs in the United States and Israel, all dedicated to improving the quality of life for Israelis.

Some of these include housing developments, employment, irrigation and infrastructure, schools, camps, recreation centers, leadership development, fire protection, disabilities, environmental protection and heritage preservation.

Shalem said one of the goals of her presidency is to “unify our Israeli and American community in support of JNF.” She said the organization “embodies both heart and action. Our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit.”

The evening was capped by a talk from Abrams on “What’s next for Israel?” Regardless of what audience members think of President-elect Donald Trump, he said when it comes to Israel, the relationship between Israel and the U.S. will likely improve during his administration.

Abrams predicted that Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu will have a better relationship than President Barack Obama and the Israeli prime minister, saying he does not believe Trump “will have the same obsession with settlements [in the West Bank as Obama].”

In addition, Abrams said Trump’s Israel adviser and likely ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Jared Kushner, the president-elect’s Jewish son-in-law, will put Israel’s interests front and center on the Trump agenda.

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