I have been involved in the New Israel Fund almost since its inception. In the early eighties, my rabbi at KAM Isaiah Israel, Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, invited my wife Lucy and me to a coffee party at his home and he introduced us to this relatively new organization founded in San Francisco. The organization was devoted to democracy and civil society. Since we had just been involved in the founding of a foundation dealing with social change in Chicago, we thought that NIF sounded like a similar organization, but in Israel.
I’ve been a progressive all my life, to a certain extent, and I come from a line of progressives. My grandfather was a man named Julius Rosenwald, and he was the CEO of Sears Roebuck from 1908 to 1924. He was a noted philanthropist who, among other things, helped to fund the building of 5,000 schools in the rural south for African-American kids in the Jim Crow era. He also founded the Museum of Science and Industry and he had a foundation which gave money to African-American artists, writers, and educators — it was sort of a precursor of the MacArthur foundation “genius awards”, in a sense.
I’m somewhat disenchanted with the right-wing governments in Israel, but what NIF does so well is to champion causes that work to oppose some of the right wing activities going on in Israel at the moment.
I saw this first hand on an NIF Study Tour to Israel in 1993. We were there right after the handshake on the White House lawn with Clinton, Arafat, and Rabin, so people were cautiously optimistic about prospects for peace. It was an interesting moment to be there and to meet with groups from all sides of the spectrum. We went to a settlement and talked to settlers and to an unincorporated Palestinian village that didn’t have electricity. The whole trip was excellent and we came back very enthused.
In terms of joining the Legacy Society, well, it was an easy decision to make. I think it’s really important to support NIF and ensure that NIF continues to be a strong force for social change in Israel once I’m gone.
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