JNF gathering in Cresskill stresses the positive
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JNF gathering in Cresskill stresses the positive

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At Saturday’s JNF fundraiser in Cresskill are, from left, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, hosts Seffie and Jill Janowski, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, JNF emissary Talia Tzour, and JNF Vice President Bob Levine. Courtesy JNF

It’s all about rebranding Israel,” Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general of Israel in New York, told a gathering at Jill and Seffie Janowski’s home in Cresskill on Saturday night. The event, attended by some 60 guests, was a fundraiser to help restore the thousands of acres of the Carmel forests devastated by fire. Art for a silent auction was donated by artists from Ein Hod, a village damaged in the flames. The event was also a remembrance of those who fell defending the State and a celebration of its independence.

As she introduced the speakers for the evening, Talia Tzour, the Jewish National Fund emissary in Bergen County, said the week sandwiched between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut traces the history of Israel’s existence and survival. “This is the week of tears of sorrow for what we lost and tears of joy for what we have achieved.”

Among the guests were national JNF leaders CEO Russell Robinson and Vice President Bob Levine, a Teaneck resident, as well as Michael P. Feinman, zone director for the greater New York region. Robinson spoke of the famous “blue box” that sat in homes from Lublin to Prague, from New Jersey to Los Angeles, a message that was effective without the Internet, faxes, phones, or maps. JNF had promised to buy the land, dunam by dunam, and it did. To make that happen, Robinson said, people took money from their food budgets to invest in a 2,000-year-old dream, and that dream has come true.

Aharoni, a branding expert, has a long record of media-savvy service to the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, including a stint in New York City. Citing study after study, he said that 70 percent of Americans are suffering from Middle East conflict fatigue and view Tel Aviv as a concrete bunker. “Study participants could not define the interior design; there were no colors. There was not one description of an Israeli woman, only angry men who don’t want to let you in … an image that was strict and stern and not fun. Most cannot tell the difference between perpetrator and victim. They don’t care who is right or who is wrong, and that’s because for 45 years, all everyone ever talks about is the conflict…. No one talks about what Israel has to offer. It’s about brand positioning. If you do not define your value and identity to the world, your competition will define it for you…. The bottom line is that Israel must be attractive. If Israel will not communicate its offerings and assets worldwide, she will suffer the consequences.”

He cited the branding of Brazil. “The basic assumption about Brazil is [the] samba and Carnivale. But that’s not the reality. That ‘reality’ gap is worth billions of dollars to Brazil. The ‘reality’ gap concerning Israel is a liability. We need to build relationships with relevant audiences. My life’s mission is to tell those audiences what Israel has to offer.”

His strongest partner in this mission, he said, is the JNF.

Robinson said, “It’s about achievement, advancement, of our creative survival, about Israelis making differences in the world.” He cited what was happening in Beersheva, the central city in the Negev, whose population has grown from 95,000 to 210,000 in a few years, and he also listed water and beautification projects around the country.

“Rejoice in this miracle called Israel,” he said. “Celebrate her people, who are the innovators, the creators – often the first to help in times of global crisis. Stand up and be proud. Sixty three years later we have come far, but I believe the best is yet to come.”

Aharoni noted that Israelis are strong in arts and culture, winning several international awards for their contributions in cinema, dance, and the arts. Also, he said, Israel offers great food and award-winning wines, high fashion, innovative product design, interesting architecture, world class resorts, and extreme sports. And, Aharoni continued, more than 120 different ethnic groups living in harmony in Israel, and it is one of only two gay-friendly places in the entire region (Beirut is the other).

International aid programs and rescue operations, he said, like those carried out in the refugee camps during the war in the Balkans, assistance after the Japanese tsunami and the earthquakes in Haiti, are vitally important for Israel’s image. Such programs, he said, were inspired by Golda Meir, who, raised in America, was taught about tikkun olam. Tikkun, said Aharoni, was not previously on Israel’s agenda. And Israel is a leader in hi-tech and science. Right now, he added, Israel’s pioneering role in environmental concerns and energy, in water conservation, solar energy and sustainable agriculture – areas in which JNF is deeply involved – tops the list of stories that should be told.

Hostess Jill Janowski showed Robinson a JNF certificate her father had gotten for his bar mitzvah in 1949. Janowski also suggested that the JNF involve children by asking them to design tree certificates – a suggestion that Robinson was quick to accept. Later Robinson mentioned her father’s certificate as he presented her with a brand-new certificate for 18 trees in the Carmel, thereby linking the generations, he said, and a good portent for the future.

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