It was a trip to Israel in 2019 that inspired North Shore resident Marcia Widmer to join Jewish National Fund-USA’s local board and expand her philanthropic impact.
“So many of us know JNF-USA as the tree people, yet they do so much more,” said Widmer. “I want to educate our community about JNF-USA’s vision for the Negev and Galilee and how we are part of a historic movement that’s changing lives and livelihoods.”
Widmer, the chief compliance officer with Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at BIDMC, believes that many in her local community are unaware of how JNF-USA is connecting the next generation of Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – to the land and people of Israel.
“Before joining JNF-USA, I had no idea of everything they do to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses,” said Widmer. “For example, every year they send hundreds of non-Jewish college student leaders and professors to Israel to explore the country in a way that goes beyond what they see on the nightly news. It really is a brilliant idea.”
Widmer noted that her February trip to Israel was her first visit to the Jewish state. “I fell in love with the land, people, foods, cultures, and religions – it was just a beautiful experience,” she said.
Widmer also had much praise for the organizers of her February trip – run by Marblehead’s Temple Emanu-El and led by Rabbi David J. Meyer.
“It was such an incredible experience! Rabbi Meyer really went above and beyond to create a thoughtful trip that covered the length and breadth of Israel.”
Like many travelers who return from Israel, Widmer received a volley of well meaning yet inquisitive questions from her friends and co-workers. Her colleagues also asked her about the conflict in the region. “We had two big Shabbat nights during the trip which we shared with Arab families. The first was in Jerusalem and the second was in Tel Aviv. It was such a wonderful and inclusive experience, and given Jews and Arabs share many similar dietary laws, it’s so easy to eat together.
“We also visited the home of a Druze family where we foraged for herbs and lettuce before helping to cook lunch for our group. It was such an amazing meal! People don’t realize that Israel is truly a melting pot of cultures and religions.”
When Widmer returned from Israel, she was determined to deepen her connection to the land.
“I was in love with Israel!” she said. “I felt I wanted to join an organization that was having a direct and positive impact on Israel.”
“I had recently attended a bar mitzvah and I thought, what should I get the bar mitzvah boy? I ended up donating trees through JNF-USA and of course, a few months later, I started getting emails about everything they do. I also started to receive their triannual magazine [B’Yachad]”
“As I read through the pages of B’Yachad, I was fascinated by everything they were doing. I read about their [JNF-USA’s] R&D collaboration with the University of Arizona to support water projects as well as their creation of the Galilee Culinary Institute to help bring 50,000 jobs to the Greater Kiryat Shmona region – it was all so inspiring.”
After speaking with a friend who put Widmer in touch with JNF’s Israel Emissary in New England, Dar Nadler, she agreed to join the Boston board.
“People should become involved in JNF-USA because it helps you feel truly connected to Israel, even from thousands of miles away. It’s not just about fundraising. It’s about telling the story of Israel and a story that continues to endure.”