December 2023 / January 2024ISRAELL'CHAIM

Our 2023 Moment


By Jacob Kamaras

Kicking off the Jewish National Fund-USA Global Conference for Israel in Denver last month, the organization’s San Diego-based National President Dr. Sol Lizerbram gave both a history lesson and an immediate call to action.

“This is our 1901 moment. This is our 1948 moment,” he told the 2,500 attendees, referring to the years of the founding of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) and the State of Israel, respectively. “In the shadow of tragedy and uncertainty, we will rebuild.”

Or perhaps, in the aftermath of the darkest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, today’s challenges stand on their own in defining our 2023 moment. As Lizerbram later told me in an interview, “October 7th changed the Jewish world.”

Lizerbram reflected in his opening remarks that “things have changed…it feels as though we are in a fight for our very survival.” At the same time, he declared, “We say to the world that we are one and we are an insurmountable force.”

Another San Diego-based speaker at the conference who projected optimism was Ron Nehring, former presidential campaign spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and director of international programs at the Leadership Institute.

“One day, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs will live in peace. That will happen,” Nehring said during a session on pro-Israel advocacy and social media. “Even the Hundred Years’ War came to an end after 116 years…eventually that will come in the Middle East. But it won’t come with Hamas…violence and genocide are foundational to what Hamas is, the same way they were foundational to what the Nazis were.”

That is why as a supporter of Israel, he said, “You should have total confidence that you are on the right side. Look at what the other side has to defend. They have to defend authoritarianism, terrorism, and death. They are playing the weak hand very well, but they’re still wrong.”

Remembering the Slain Mayor of Sha’ar HaNegev

The memory of Ofir Libstein—the late mayor of San Diego’s longtime partner region of Sha’ar HaNegev, who was killed while defending his kibbutz on October 7—was a fixture throughout the conference.

This past January, Libstein invited Israeli social entrepreneur Gidi Grinstein to Sha’ar HaNegev. They drove along a bumpy road on the border with Gaza, and they envisioned peace-building humanitarian projects that could benefit Palestinians.

“Ofir was very proud of his turf,” Grinstein said, noting Sapir College near Sderot as well as local infrastructure supported by JNF-USA such as schools, parks, a high-tech center, and a pool for people with disabilities.

On their tour of Sha’ar HaNegev, “wherever we stopped, there was a sign with a blue-and-green box,” noted Grinstein, referring to JNF-USA’s iconic tzedakah box.

JNF-USA’s CEO Russell Robinson said that if he were still alive, Libstein “would be telling us to move forward. He would be telling us about his hopes and dreams.”

The slain mayor’s brother, Doron Libstein, thanked conference attendees for showing “empathy, love, and friendship.”

“What I’ve seen here is that we are not alone in Israel,” he said.

San Diego’s imprint on the conference could also be seen through the work of Elyasaf Meira, the Israeli artist who beautifies JNF-USA’s bomb shelters in the area known as the Gaza Envelope. Meira was present in Denver to work on live paintings. Philanthropists in San Diego and nationwide — including Lizerbram and JNF-USA San Diego Board President Jacqui Schneider — partner with the organization for its bomb shelter beautification initiative. The murals help with PTSD and make them less scary for children, especially when they are located next to playgrounds and other areas where kids play.

From the Pandemic to the War

Lizerbram said in our interview that two different all-encompassing episodes during his time as JNF-USA’s national president — the COVID-19 pandemic and now, the war in Israel — have demonstrated “the flexibility of the organization.”

“When COVID hit, we immediately went into Zoom mode, and we began creating opportunities for our Israeli partners that were suffering economically,” he said, adding, “We always talk about the blue box. This showed our ability to think outside of the box.”

He continued, “To the same effect, it happened now with October 7th. So now, they call me a wartime president. Within 24 hours, JNF-USA set up a situation room in Israel to deal with the needs of the people and the land of Israel….Both of these disruptions, COVID and the war, showed how JNF-USA’s agility enabled us to satisfy the needs of the people in Israel.”

The conference itself was another indicator of the organization’s nimble character, Lizerbram said, as the entire program needed to be altered following the onset of the war.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan told reporters that he devoted time to the conference because “I see it as part of my role to serve as a bridge between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jews, and it’s also very important that they will understand what is truly happening in the house of lies where I serve, the U.N.”

“Since we’re not only fighting on the battlefield, we’re also fighting for the hearts and minds of people in the United States, the young generation, it’s important for me to share my experience with Jewish and other communities and hope to convince them,” Erdan said.

Building Together

The conference concluded with the announcement of Livnot B’Yachad (Build Together), a $50 million joint campaign from JNF-USA and KKL-JNF to rebuild and revitalize the Gaza-border communities that were devastated by Hamas.

JNF-USA’s Robinson told attendees that after October 7, “Life will never be the same. Sleep will never be the same. Sunrise will never be the same. Yet, we will never allow our light to go out.”

He added, “We believe in tomorrow and we will build tomorrow.”


Bella! This Woman’s Place is in the House, A Review

Previous article

Israeli Philharmonic Heals Through Music

Next article

You may also like


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Stronger Together

It was just over six months ago that more than 200 San Diegans traveled to Israel on Jewish Federation of San Diego’s CommUNITY ...