Oct 7, 2021  By Jacqui Schneider  Category: Travel,

JNF-USA Virtual Tour Brought My Passion for Israel Right to Me

My Jewish identity has deepened and been fine-tuned throughout my life. I'm an original “Valley Girl,” born and raised in the San Fernando Valley where almost everyone was Jewish. At least it seemed that way.

All the homes had a mezuzah on the doorpost. But the only Jewish holidays I remember celebrating were Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah. We didn’t belong to a synagogue. I didn’t know what we were celebrating, I just knew we ate matzah on Passover, dipped apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah and ate latkes and chocolate money on Chanukah, and lit the menorah, of course.

In the early '60s, my mother joined B’nai Brith Women. On one very special day, we got all dressed up and went to a luncheon where the guest speaker was Miss Israel. I didn’t know anything about Israel, but my 8-year-old self was star struck at the grace and beauty of Miss Israel in her gown and tiara. She was so beautiful and spoke with an accent. She talked about the “Jewish State” and the “Land of Milk and Honey.”

That day I fell in love with Israel.

My first husband was an Israeli Sabra. His family were Syrian Jews from Allepo. They had been cast out of Syria in the 1930s after living there for 300 years. They walked to Lebanon and then joined the Zionist cause around 1944. They moved to Haifa, where my husband was born in 1945. We visited Israel many times, and I heard so many stories about those early years before Independence.

I was very naïve, I had no idea what Zionism was. I did know about the Holocaust and believed in the importance of a Jewish homeland, self-determination, and a place where every Jew could feel safe. My husband was a paramedic in both the 1967 and 1973 wars. Every visit to Israel deepened my love and pride for Israel.

My daughters attended a very small Jewish day school and that began my education.  We lit candles every Friday and I even baked challah. We built a Sukkah and my girls starred in Purim plays for years. We visited the family in Israel and my love grew and grew, but I never really knew I could support Israel in a meaningful way. Our home was always the place where family and friends gathered for holidays, and that is true until today.

In June 2020, my second husband and I had been completely isolating for three months due to COVID-19.  The days were blurring together, so I called a cousin in Cleveland to check in. She said there was a really fantastic virtual tour of Israel through Jewish National Fund-USA. They had been invited on one of the first tours. She sent me a link and I registered for a tour with JNF-USA's Arts & Entertainment Task Force in July.  That tour was a life-changing event.

I felt the magic of JNF-USA. From the Sderot playground and music center to the Be’er Sheva River Park to the Arava Valley agribusiness and the exemplary work of Central Arava Regional Council’s Director of Resource Development, Noa Zer. I want to be part of JNF-USA's work. That tour had some VIPs on it and Russell Robinson, JNF-USA CEO, made a guest appearance. I felt his passion and energy and knew I wanted to know more and do more.

I signed up for another tour with JNF-USA's Fire & Rescue Task Force. WOW! That tour made me cry and I realized JNF-USA was the organization where I could channel my love and passion for Israel into purpose and action. I made a pledge and became a Sapphire Society, JNF-USA's Major Donor division for women, member.

Additionally, I joined the Arts & Entertainment Task Force. I wanted to share my newfound love for JNF-USA and had the idea to bring all of my friends along on a bus to Israel on a JNF-USA Virtual Tour. I had a lot of support from Monica Edelman, JNF-USA Director of San Diego, and Debbie Kornberg and worked together with the guide to build an arts and entertainment focused itinerary. The Virtual Tour took off on Nov. 8, 2020 with a full bus. We made some new friends, brought in donations and people still tell me how great that tour of Israel was.

And best of all, traveling virtually to Israel is an easy trip! No jet lag. I hope to see you there.