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Becoming a progressive Zionist
By Quentin Ozeri
Jan 25, 2021 By Diane Scar Category: Travel,
Why my love for Israel stays strong after 60 visits
Growing up as a young girl in the 1970’s, I felt a burning desire to help and elevate others to reach their true potential. Throughout my teen and early adult years, I tried various volunteer gigs at hospitals, nursing homes, residential centers, etc. and while all were satisfying, there was still an “empty” void searching for more.
At the same time, I recalled the flickering lights of Shabbat candles I had observed in neighboring homes as a young child and wanted desperately to learn more about my own Jewish religion and traditions. I longed to raise a family in a “Jewish” home, complete with large holiday family gatherings and tradition which would run through my veins and those of whom I held close.
In my early 20’s, I was offered an opportunity to work with the homebound Jewish elderly. That experience brought me into the homes and hearts of some of the most fascinating people I had ever met. I heard stories of survival, fortitude and despair. I was inspired by stories of will, strength, determination and hope.
At the center of most of these conversations was the establishment of the State of Israel. The pride and exhilaration these elderly people exuded when discussing Israel was something I had never witnessed. I started devouring every word, and reading everything I could to learn more about this tiny country. I remained fascinated by what Israel meant to this population, and found myself on a plane crossing oceans to discover this magical country for myself.
What captivated me the most on my first trip to Israel was the intensity and diversity of the people – from different backgrounds, different cultures – all bonded by their Jewish identity and their desire to build a better life for themselves and their country as a whole. I wanted in!
In 1990, as a young new mother, I received a call from an employment agency asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a position for the Jewish National Fund - to raise money for Israel. I had no idea how that worked. The "head hunter" explained that this would be an opportunity to blend my passion for helping others with my Jewish identity and at the same time – to strengthen the Jewish homeland. I jumped at the opportunity to learn more.
That phone call took place over thirty years ago. Since that time, I have shared, loved and cried with the most generous, caring, selfless humans in the world. While I am of course incredibly proud of the magical infrastructure projects we have made happen together over the years – trees, water resources, parks, playgrounds, to world-class Culinary Institutes and Zionist education centers, my greatest moments have been witnessing the transformation of human souls – showing a donor/partner how their funds have literally changed lives, and watching now, over three generations of family members marvel with pride at how their involvement and generosity continues to build a country.
Still today, on the cusp of my 60th trip to Israel, there is nothing more gratifying or thrilling than witnessing a new person’s fascination with the work of the Jewish National Fund. Observing the psyche of another person finding higher purpose and fulfillment with their life lifts me up and propels me to continue to want to do more to “link the oceans”. It begs me to find new ways to showcase Israel – her accomplishments and strength and stirs me to search for more and more people to understand our magic.
It is so very comforting for me to witness the pride of our next generation embracing Israel as their spiritual home and connecting the strong link of Jewish survival and continuity. I feel tremendous pride and deep gratitude to all who have afforded me this unique opportunity to “help” build up others through my own “Jewish” prism and through the exceptional accomplishments of the Jewish National Fund.