With the recent conclusion of the High Holiday season, we’re reminded of life’s renewal within ourselves and the world around us.

True, it was different listening to the shofar’s blast this year heralding a sweet Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through my synagogue’s virtual services. But it was a necessary precaution for the safety and wellbeing of the community.

Holidays, family simchas and so much else in our lives have made that pivot to virtual, and so has Jewish National Fund with our 2020 Virtual National Conference from Oct. 18-23. For the first time ever, JNF’s National Conference will go virtual and will continue to serve as the 119-year-old organization’s planning and celebratory event.

This was meant to be a huge year for JNF’s National Conference. It was to be held in Israel for the first time in the organization’s history. Some past conference locations include Washington, D.C., New York City, Denver, Miami, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Orlando. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, JNF quickly pivoted and moved the largest gathering in its yearly plan of events online.  

Of course, we will miss everyone and wish we could be together in-person and in Israel as planned. However, we adapted to the current situation, and over the course of six days the not-to-be missed conference will feature a program with a focus on how JNF is impacting Israel’s present and future, and the accomplishments made over the past year.

We will be discussing how JNF is helping shape the Upper Eastern Galilee and the greater Kiryat Shmona region as the culinary and food capital of the world with the Galilee Culinary Institute by JNF.

Directed by renowned chef and spice master Lior Lev Sercarz, the GCI allows students to learn culinary arts through hands-on experiences and connections with culinary entrepreneurs and food professionals across Israel and the globe.

The GCI’s first class will start in the fall of 2022, and with so much positive change in the region between Israel and her neighbors, there’s hope for an increase in cultural exchange in the culinary realm as well as other fields. 

Attendees will also learn how students from all over Southeast Asia and Africa are coming to the Central Arava to study at Jewish National Fund affiliate, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training. Even during this global pandemic, students are coming to the AICAT to learn innovative Israeli farming techniques, including arid agricultural farming, so they can return home with the skills and knowledge to implement farming practices allowing them to do more with less, and in turn, bring greater economic prosperity to their families.

Since 60 percent of Israel’s landmass is desert, it’s only fitting that we’ll have a plenary session devoted to water security. A year ago, JNF, the University of Arizona and the Arava signed a trilateral, game-changing Memorandum of Understanding to establish the JNF Joint Institute for Global Food, Water, and Energy Security. This session will dive into the most critical and important issues regarding our most precious resource – water — and what’s necessary to ensure a water secure future globally.

The global pandemic has caused a disruption in schooling for many students, but right now there’s over 100 high school students studying a semester abroad — in a safe way and in strict accordance with Israel’s Ministry of Health guidelines — at Alexander Muss High School in Israel. The pandemic has changed many things, but college applications still need to be sent in. At the Muss High School, students are continuing their general studies, learning about more than four millennia of Jewish and Israeli history, and enhancing their college applications, giving them that qualitative “edge” colleges are looking for.

We’ll hear directly from current students about their experiences during our “Going Home to Israel: Stories from Our Students” plenary session.

The JNF family and I are excited to tune in for this year’s Virtual National Conference and remain connected even as the world changes. We also eagerly await to see everyone in Israel for JNF’s next National Conference, Oct. 10-14, 2021. Registration is open at jnf.org/nc.

Each year around the table we say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” The phrase certainly has an extra special meaning this year, and we hope to see all of you in Jerusalem, the Arava, Tel Aviv, Kiryat Shmona, Akko and Timna!

Nanci Seff

A Pikesville resident and Beth El congregant, Nanci Seff is president of Jewish National Fund’s Maryland Board of Directors. Registration for JNF’s Virtual National Conference ends Oct. 14.

To view the full schedule, visit jnf.org/virtualnc. For information or to get involved, contact Diane Scar, national campaign director, at dscar@jnf.org or 212-879-9305, ext. 840.