Today, we are facing unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting our families, businesses, communities, organizations and ways of life.
As president of Jewish National Fund’s Maryland board of directors, I extend my heartfelt wishes for a full recovery to anyone in our Baltimore community who is sick, and our hearts go out to anyone who has been impacted by this virus, either directly or indirectly.
At JNF, as with all companies and businesses, we are focusing on the health and safety of our employees, families, communities and Israel. This is an organization about family and people, and we have taken bold action to ensure that not only is our family here in the United States safe but also the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Israel, who have also been deeply affected by this global crisis.
While this is uncharted territory for all of us, JNF and our lay leaders in Baltimore are working to make sure that social distancing does not lead to the conversational distancing of JNF’s message: working toward a brighter future for all who call Israel home.
How are we doing this? We believe we can take the uncertainty of today and create something positive. As communities throughout the U.S. face stricter social distancing measures, JNF has launched a suite of live and On-Demand interactive Zoom videos to help members of the community feel connected.
Nationally, we are holding myriad live and interactive Zoom meetings, including educational programs that tell the story of Israel’s independence; guest speakers like Marina Furman, a “refusenik” telling her story of coming home to Israel after being denied the right to freedom when she lived in the former Soviet Union and fought hard — nearly dying — or that freedom; and Alon Ben-Gurion, David Ben-Gurion’s grandson, telling stories about how his grandfather fought against reality with dreams 72 years ago, making the land of Israel the land of the Jewish people everywhere.
Locally, we are hosting JNFuture Virtual Shabbat Experiences for our young professionals, ages 22-40, so they can also continue to experience the joy of welcoming Shabbat with friends. We have also migrated our board of directors’ meetings, parlor meetings, Women for Israel gatherings, and the many more local JNF Maryland events online for everyone’s safety and well-being.
Tourism is Israel’s economic bloodline, and as a result of the coronavirus, tourism in Israel has dried up. In one day, over 100,000 Israelis tried registering for unemployment benefits, with close to one million now out of work.
To mitigate the economic impact, JNF is working with its affiliates in Israel and has launched a home shopping network called “Online Mitzvah Marketplace: Shop Israeli Goods.”
JNF is inviting small businesses in Israel’s north and south to come on our show, which is being filmed at the JNF Western Galilee Tourist Information Center in Akko, to talk about and display the products they sell. People can view and buy these products online, which are shipped to the U.S. The Marketplace is bringing together vendors — from wine to jewelry, to ceramics and cosmetics — to help generate income and stimulate Israel’s economy, and new shows are recorded every day. This initiative will help Israeli businesses to operate outside of their traditional business model, which relies on foot traffic from tourists.
Together, we are helping and showing all the people of Israel that we are with them, we are thinking of them, and we know they are thinking of us. Here at home, JNF is not only “Your Voice in Israel;” JNF is family, and while other organizations call you “donors,” we call you “partners,” because you are our partner for the land of the people of Israel.
Nanci Seff is president of Jewish National Fund’s Maryland Board.
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