Feb 26, 2021  By Gary Kushner  Category: Special Needs,

There's so much more to JNF than trees

As we celebrate Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM), I have reflected on my involvement with Jewish National Fund-USA and especially JNF-USA’s commitment to enhancing the lives of all Israelis, including those living with disabilities. My wife, Gail, and I were introduced to JNF-USA about ten years ago. Until then, all we identified with JNF-USA was the blue pushke in which our families collected spare change to help support Israel and the trees that we would purchase to commemorate a special occasion or plant a tree in Israel in memory of a dear friend or family member. But then, we visited Israel on JNF-USA’s first Culinary & Wine Mission and got a glimpse of JNF-USA’s broad scope of initiatives. It was then that I knew my commitment of time and money to JNF-USA would make a difference of which I could be both proud and humbled.

As soon as we returned home from the mission, I became active in several JNF-USA programs. But when I met Major General Doron Almog and his lovely bride, Didi, my focus turned to disabilities. I had the pleasure of taking Doron and Didi to lunch when they visited Washington, DC with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s entourage. I immediately sensed a bond with them; we are about the same age, share the same values, and cherish family.  Doron told me about Aleh Negev (now ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran) and I was emotionally moved.

Doron later asked me to join the International Board he was forming, which I did the next time Gail and I visited Israel. Sometime thereafter, JNF-USA decided to establish a national task force on disabilities to coordinate its efforts on behalf of three affiliates – ADI Negev, Special in Uniform, Lotem, and Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center. I became the task force’s first (and still) chair.

gary gail

Israel has over one million people who have some form of disability that makes them struggle with life's daily activities. JNF-USA believes that we have an obligation to ensure that each and every Israeli enjoys a life of dignity, belonging, and purpose. JDAAIM is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them. JDAIM is a call to action for all of us as we act in accordance with our Jewish values, honoring the gifts and strengths that we each possess.

Becoming involved in JNF-USA, and having the honor of chairing not only the ADI Negev Board but the JNF-USA Task Force, has changed my life in so many positive ways. Gail and I are blessed with three healthy children and twin grandsons. I think of them often as I am privileged to help young people with disabilities enjoy the quality of life that all young people deserve.

Gary Kushner is the head of JNF-USA's Disabilities Task Force. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife, Gail. For more information on JNF-USA's work with special needs and disabilities, please contact Yossi Kahana