Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, was joyously marked May 9 at the Jewish National Fund’s annual Women for Israel luncheon. The event at Chastain Horse Park in Buckhead commemorating Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence was free for 120 women donors who have given or expect to give at least $360 to JNF’s 2019 campaign.
Guest speaker was Donna Rosenthal, an award-winning journalist and author of “The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land.”
Luncheon chairperson Carole Salzberg, a member of JNF’s board of trustees and the WFI steering committee, said “Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel is always unique, but celebrating and supporting Israel here with JNF and such a great group of women, is also very special!”
At the event, volunteer Roni Wolk was recognized for her advocacy in providing services for people with special needs and disabilities in Israel. Greater Atlanta JNF Executive Director Beth Gluck introduced Wolk.
“Eight years ago, Roni knocked on my door to get involved. Since then, she has helped groom a generation of community leaders to connect with and maintain a strong Israel. Today, these women are stepping forward to join me in honoring her dedication at our annual Israel Independence Day event.”
Wolk serves as co-chair of JNF-USA’s Women for Israel and is a member of the group’s national board. She serves as a spokeswoman for the impact women have on creating positive changes for the land and people of Israel. Wolk found her own passion by chairing a national committee that helps provide more universally accessible paths, walkways and trails for people with disabilities, especially in Israel’s northern and southern regions, where fewer services are available.
Her focus includes not only children and adults with physical disabilities, but those with intellectual and emotional challenges. In accepting her award, she said, “What I give, I get back tenfold. I am especially proud of getting to know and help IDF soldiers with special needs.” Her husband and son stood in the back hallway to express their support and pride.
Roni and Alan Wolk also announced a matching challenge for Atlanta JNFers in which they will match new donations leading to new Chai Society ($1,800) members up to $9,000.
The couple’s decision to stimulate giving to JNF was offered in honor of Roni’s award and as an expression of their commitment to Women for Israel.
Guest speaker Rosenthal has written for The New York Times and The Washington Post, served as a reporter for The Jerusalem Post and Israel TV, and is a frequent guest on CNN, Fox and NPR.
In a national survey, Publishers Weekly named Rosenthal one of the top 10 speakers on Israel (the only female author). She began her speech by surveying Israeli audience members, gauging their age by the type of rifle they carried in their service, including Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel’s consul general to the Southeast U.S., and JNF Atlanta board member Aviva Postelnik.
Rosenthal spoke of Israelis’ universal love for JNF because it is “non-political.” She shared some amazing statistics such as 80 percent of U.S. Jews have never been to Israel; and the wealthiest Israelis per capita are Christian Arabs. The latter fact she shared at Harvard University with Arab students, whom she described as a polite and enrapt audience.
Rosenthal’s book was eventually published in China “after a year of seeking approval and making sure it did not insult Iran.” She also noted the knowledge gap of many who queried how Israel ranked in size compared to China. More than anything, she wanted her book to serve as a guide for journalists to understand the real Israeli people: “from black hats to glamorous female soldiers to the influx of Sephardim.” She mused, “If it’s not about Palestinian children getting hurt, it doesn’t get much press coverage these days.”
JNF supporter Eugene Cohn summed it up, “JNF takes care of building a modern Israel.”
Happy Birthday Israel at 71!