As with many events, speakers for public events were secured long before the devastation of Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
The Jewish National Fund’s Woman’s function on Oct. 24 at the Distillery of Modern Art in Chamblee, was one such event, featuring a Russian dissident. No apologies needed, as both the message and messenger were even more poignant and on target than ever.
Event co-chair Jill Asreal addressed the crowd, “Since we planned this, the world has changed, and Israel is united to stand against Hamas.”
A somber young Israeli, Matan Moshe, who is currently living in Atlanta in the Shinshin program for a year of volunteer work after graduating high school and before serving in the IDF, led the Prayer for Israel and Hatikvah. Later in the program, the featured guest speaker, Marina Furman, was hailed as the “modern Natan Scharansky,” and delivered a heart rendering string of events, from her childhood in Ukraine to her current position with JNF.
President of the Jewish National Fund-USA Atlanta Board of Directors Mark Kopkin told the AJT, “The JNF women are the most active and the backbone for us. Here, locally, they contribute 48 percent of our campaign gifts compared to 25 percent nationally.”
Sponsor Karen Senft bases her JNF devotion on being raised to contribute. She and her brothers will be honored at the Annual JNF Breakfast for Dinner Event in early 2024 and said, “We saw our parents give, and we carry on the tradition of supporting ‘our people.’”
Samantha Weidenbaum, member of the Jewish National Fund-USA Atlanta Board of Directors, and who serves on the Atlanta Women For Israel Steering Committee, introduced the small but mighty Furman. She was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, and became a refusenik at the age of 18, and spent the next 10 years fighting to convince the Soviet government to give Russian Jews permission to immigrate to Israel.
In 1986, she married Lev Furman, a prominent underground Hebrew teacher in Leningrad. In March of 1987, their first child, Aliyah, was born in spite of a KGB attempt to murder Furman during childbirth. She and her family were featured in the CNN Headline article, “Defying the KGB: How a forgotten movement freed a people.” Furman has also published articles in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. Still involved in the American Jewish world, she currently serves as the Executive Director of Jewish National Fund in Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.
Furman told of her tortured childhood as a Jew in Ukraine, where despite winning a poetry contest, she was challenged that “a Jew could actually write that.”
On through perilous family journeys to France, Babayar (where a massive Jewish slaughter occurred), and Kiev, where her grandfather compelled her to be strong and tolerate pain. At 19, she fought against the Soviet Union and escaped, “one battle after another. Our tiny group of 600 refusniks were scared but hopeful, with the desire to be free amidst constant setbacks…until a spark united where the USSR needed grain, and Gorbachev let 1,000,000 Soviet Jews leave.”
For 10 years, she was in charge of resettling these Jews in Israel. She stated, “It is unbelievable that no one was ever homeless. These Russians were everywhere – playing violins in the streets…even when back here in the U.S., I cannot stop crying. I came to the U.S. to raise more money. Collective trauma never goes away.”
Furman noted that her daughter currently serves as a police officer in the U.S. “I feel proud to be part of JNF. I worked for the Israeli government for 10 years and understand the bureaucracy. The JNF is amazing and can change geography. Writing a check (to the JNF) is a small price to pay. Above all, we cannot feel depressed. Never give up hope!”
Jackie Goldstein, Sapphire Society Chair JNF USA, presented Weidenbaum and Asrael orchids in recognition of their dedication and stated, “Hope requires action, and we will come back even stronger!”
JNF’s next Women for Israel event will be held on the evening of Jan. 23, 2024, with the topic of Zionist Education on Campus, helping promote pro-Israel discourse at colleges.