Like many people, Susan Farber’s primary association with Jewish National Fund was that they plant trees. It wasn’t until she participated in the Solidarity Mission to Israel in 2014 that she realized JNF does so much more.
Susan had been to Israel in April of 2014, and in July she began seeing images of the constant rocket assaults from Gaza into Israel as what became known as Operation Protective Edge began. JNF planned a trip immediately to the region, and when Susan heard about it, she felt she had to go.
Since all the airlines based in the United States stopped flying to Israel because of the rocket attacks, Susan took a British Airways flight to Israel. More than 50 American s participated on two JNF missions.
“When we got over there we met with mayors of different regions, went shopping for supplies and then we packed boxes for the soldiers,” explains Susan. “We visited what’s called the Gaza envelope – communities that lie along the border that were getting most of the missiles.”
Susan says it was eerie to see the streets of Israel so empty since no one was leaving their homes and tourists stayed away. “I heard the sirens in Beersheba and Tel Aviv,” she says. “The whole country at times was under siege, and spent a lot of time in bomb shelters.”
One of the projects that Susan worked on was pouring cement to construct bomb shelters. “JNF was asked for the funds at the beginning of July, and this was the third week of July, and we were pouring cement on the last one,” she recalls. JNF immediately gave the funds to build the 30 bomb shelters needed.
“I came home and was blown away that an organization could be so hands-on and so helpful. I have never felt more useful – maybe as a mother,” Susan jokes – she has three grown children.
Shortly after her return from Israel, she had coffee with Deb Rochford, executive vice president of JNF. “I told Deb to put me to work, and then I came home and told my husband I’m retiring,” says Susan. She had been running her husband’s medical practice for the last 24 years.
And put her to work Deb did! Then on Oct. 1, 2017, Susan became president of JNF Arizona. “Before I even became president, I sat down with the incumbent members who didn’t have positions, and I wanted to hear about their interests and their passions to see if I couldn’t get them more engaged, give them some responsibilities,” explains Susan. “To me, the worse thing is to be a volunteer and go to a board meeting and wonder why you are there.”
Utilizing her business background, she has brought people with different profiles onto the board to provide new perspectives. She also created a list of responsibilities for new board members so that they know what the expectations of their positions are. “The main one is making a significant gift to JNF, the other was coming to 70% of the board meetings, and the third was to help us connect with people by committing to fill a table at the annual breakfast,” says Susan. Her plan worked because more than 1,000 people attended the JNF Breakfast for Israel at the Arizona Biltmore on March 9. “Everyone on my board filled at least one table, and I had at least two board members that filled four tables!”
Susan is excited that JNF Arizona will be hosting the 2018 JNF National Conference in October in Phoenix. It will be held at the Arizona Biltmore and they are expecting about 1,000 people from out of town to stay there.
She is also working to hold more intimate events throughout the year. “A lot of the position for me is education and engaging people more, letting them know more about projects, specialized parlor meetings with different speakers – highlighting JNF’s projects,” she explains.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised about how easy it is for me to talk to people I don’t know about JNF,” she says. Susan admits to not wanting to “go overboard” with her friends, but they have all been very supportive and some have made significant donations in honor of her presidency.
She also has made many new friends within the JNF organization who have bonded over their shared passion. These women are also very supportive of one another.
“It’s a team effort (with our volunteers), and everyone gets acknowledged at the end of the year with a private celebration. We can’t give bonuses or raises,” she says. “That’s the basis of the work that we do here.”
For more information on Jewish National Fund, visit jnf.org.