The Heart of the Matter
The New York City-based Jewish National Fund’s mission statement describes the organization as “the caretaker of the land of Israel on behalf of its owners — Jewish people everywhere.” As such, it raises money to implement programs to plant trees, build reservoirs and manage water, and develop land in Israel.
In the fiscal year ending October 2005, the JNF raised $50 million, all in private donations.
JNF Chief Executive Russell Robinson says that Jews in the United States are generous givers, donating close to $2 billion a year in charitable contributions — no small number considering that the Jewish community comprises only 3 percent of the U.S. population.
“There is a word in Jewish life that talks about charity — tzedakah — and part of that word translates into ‘a sense of responsibility,’” Robinson explains. “Inherent in the Jewish nature is feeling a sense of responsibility toward others. Be it to the crises we’ve had with natural disasters, to Jewish causes and to Israel, the outpouring from the Jewish community has been tremendous.
“Charitable giving has been a major part of the fabric of Jewish life throughout our history and will remain so,” he adds.
Here, Robinson addresses the Jewish charitable nature and the causes it supports.
FundRaising Success: Are there any special considerations when approaching Jewish donors?
Russell Robinson: Understand the Jewish community. It’s not a community defined by any one definition. The secular Jew — those who aren’t affiliated with any synagogues or Jewish institutions — and the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews, all have sensitivities and considerations when making charitable gifts. When approaching this community, you should understand that it’s desirous of participating but cannot and should not be approached by a single definition, a definition of one. It’s not a proper approach.
FS: What types of causes are Jewish donors most likely to contribute to, other than specifically Jewish causes?
RR: With its inherent charitable nature, the Jewish community’s response to non-Jewish causes is equal to, if not greater than, Jewish causes and includes social services, major universities, the arts, sciences and hospitals, to name a few.
FS: Within the community, are there certain demographics that are more responsive than others?
RR: That depends on what the ask is for. The older generation, the one that remembers a time before the existence of the state of Israel, has a stronger connection to the state ... they lived through a time when there was no Israel; they understand how important it is to ... not only hold on to it but build it up and make it stronger.
We’re finding the connection to Israel in the younger community growing stronger yearly. In our college programs we’re finding thousands of Jewish students who want to show their involvement with Israel. In our high-school programs and our other educational initiatives, we’re finding involvement and attachment. Across the U.S. we have a representation of people 40 to 50 years old leading many of our local JNF boards.
That excitement is not part of an event or a project, but of a vision, of JNF’s message, and the Jewish community is attracted to that vision — the growth of the Jewish people.
JNF builds and takes care of the land of Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Our message, our vision, is about the environment; it’s about water; it’s about community development; it’s about afforestation and the land. What we do gives young people an attachment and a chance to be involved in Israel, in Jewish life and in world life.
The JNF is working on a new initiative — developing the Negev Desert by bringing 250,000 people over the next five to 10 years to live and work in an area that until now has been largely uninhabited.
To learn more about the Jewish National Fund, call 212.879.9305.