She Planted Her Heart in Israel
by Gad Nahshon
She planted her heart in Israel. She radiates love for Israel. She loves to plant trees over there. She has strong linkages to Israel's land, landscape, nature, environment as well as to its Negev or the Arava. In the last decade, at least, she devoted her life to the idea of Green Zionism. She became a member of the tribe of those guardian angels of Israel and its future who live in America. And this tribe, sad to say, is shrinking every decade and has to challenge a process of erosion.
Rita Salfeld belongs to this Zionist pro-Israeli tribe. She is a guardian angel of Green Zionism. She is the devoted president of the greater New York region of the organization which promotes Green Zionism in North-America, the Jewish National Fund. Its headquarters is in New York City and its international headquarters is in Jerusalem.
Rita Salfeld, an educator and teacher of art history with experience in real estate, a lovely person and wife, has been active for many years in the J.N.F. Why did she choose the J.N.F. and not other Jewish organizations which deal with fundraising? "I wanted to make a difference. This is the only American Jewish organization that deals, solely, with Israel. I mean in many areas. It deals with Israel as a whole. It links Jews in the Diaspora to Israel as partners. This is its uniqueness," she explained.
The motivation to join J.N.F. has to do with the following. Ms. Selfeld's personal background: Her family was Zionist and loved Israel; she and her husband have been donors to Jewish causes; they were active in Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee; they have many relatives in Israel; they have visited Israel many times: "We used to travel in Israel. We fell in love with its nature and landscape. We love trees. Indeed, we love nature also in America. Also I am a historian. I love to read about the history of Israel and its nature. We believe in the need of Jews to have a home, a state and when we visit Israel we also plant trees. Then we planted trees at my son's Bar Mitzvah. The J.N.F. is planting trees giving birth to forests. So by planting we also learn about the J.N.F. We became active, we became donors. I became active and ten years ago I was elected as a president of the greater New York region. I have dedicated my life, public life to the J.N.F. These facts explain the uniqueness of the J.N.F. and its appeal explaining why I joined this specific fundraising organization. Also, Zalman Lief, who cooperated with the U.N. activities in 1947 as a cartographer (maps), was a relative of mine. He fought and died in 1948 in Israel's Independence War," said Rita Salfeld, a woman for all seasons.
She thinks that the J.N.F. should give priority to the issue of water and the cleaning of rivers in Israel: "Water is a key element in the Middle East. Our region adopted two reservoirs in the Negev and the Arava," she said. The J.N.F. deals with forests, environmental protection, desert agriculture to mention a few issues for fundraising.
What is typical to the new J.N.F. under the leadership of the president, Ron Lauder, and the executive director, Russell Robinson? "First, we have launched the practice of full accountability to the donors. They know the goals. Today, we donate to the reservoir 'Kochva' in the north. This is our goal in the New York region. Second, before the age of Lauder, we did not have a personal relationship with Israel and its J.N.F. managers or leaders in Jerusalem. Today we have personal relations and its has contributed to a positive change here among members and donors! We have, for example, personal ties with the head of the regional municipal council of the Arava Shai Ben-Eliahu. Of course, I am a friend of the executive directors of J.N.F. in Jerusalem. Third, Lauder indeed revolutionized J.N.F. for the better. He is very active in the work and pushes the issue of water. He has a high degree of involvement in our daily activities together with Russell Robinson. Fourth, in the past, too much money donations were not sent to Israel but today 70% of all the donations go to Israel. You should know that we do not have other endowments which cover expenses. I will try to establish an endowment in the near future, it is my goal. We, the lay leaders, work very hard with the professionals to accomplish our J.N.F.'s various goals, so we can help Israel to protect its nature and its natural resources as well," remarked Rita Salfeld, who is also proud of hew New York's Board.
She is looking for young people to donate a minimum of $10,000 in order to become a member of her Board of activists, of dedicated people, the Zionists who cares about Israel's land and nature, who want, like Ms. Selfeld, to increase Israel's natural treasures. "There is an erosion here, an erosion of Jews who care about Israel. I an aware of it. There is less love for Israel. More expressions of indifference to its problems and fate. We try to challenge this negative tendency, but we are also aware of the issue of mixed marriages. I also think that many Jews who become members of all kinds of non-Jewish Boards (museums) which, in the past, were closed to them, tend to stay away from Israeli issues. Others told me 'Israel is successful and rich. Why should I donate to them?' Today it is fashionable to donate to organizations that help combat all kinds of diseases instead of to Israel..." explained Ms. Selfeld, who will never give in to those who express indifference to Israel's well being by using all kinds of excuses not to donate since she is among the guardian angels of Israel in America.
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