The Jewish National Fund held its annual event at The Rockleigh in Rockleigh, New Jersey, on May 7. Rather than the usual local breakfast venue, they opted to dream bigger, turning it into a regional gathering for both Bergen and Rockland Counties. It took the form of a lavish brunch in an elegant setting, and included a well-known keynote speaker. The strategy paid off, with the event attracting over 300 attendees.
Rabbi Zev Goldberg of the Young Israel of Fort Lee began the proceedings. He spoke of the covenant of destiny and work performed by the JNF each day. He said that the JNF understands that “Our role is to transform Jewish fate into Jewish destiny.” He then launched into a very moving story that occurred about the time the Jewish State was being formed, and was meant to represent the ideals of the JNF. It is worth repeating in part.
Chaim Shapiro survived multiple concentration camp internments, but his wife and children were another matter. He lost his partner and seven of their eight children in the war. After several years in DP camps, he and his son, Baruch, made it to Israel in 1948. His son decided to volunteer in the war effort. Despite a lack of previous training, Baruch distinguished himself and even received a medal for bravery under fire. All was well until the day Chaim looked out of his apartment window and saw an Israeli delegation approaching. They didn’t have to say a word.
The military funeral took place on Mount Herzl. It was attended by hundreds of mourners, most of whom hadn’t even known Baruch. As his coffin was being lowered into the ground, his father began to sing. People were concerned that Chaim had finally been broken, but were amazed to learn it was quite the opposite. Chaim explained that he had lost over 70 relatives in a little over a year and couldn’t even mourn them. There were no graves and he had no idea why they had to die. But at least he knew why his son died. “He died so we can have a home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and he has a grave on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. And that is not a reason to cry. It is a reason to sing.”
Rabbi Alex Friedman of Temple Emanu-El in Closter reminded the gathering that JNF has been around since 1901, founded by Herzl himself. He played a short video showing the range of activities the organization is involved in, and made the appeal to “Join us as we build a nation.”
Next up was Bob Weiss, JNF Makor member. He reminisced about the organization’s stamps, issued when he was growing up, and stated that 250 million trees have been planted by the JNF since Israel’s inception, transforming it from a once barren desert. He explained that JNF always works with local partners in Israel, “funding them, monitoring them and then getting out of the way.” He reminded the audience that the organization is neither political nor government affiliated.
The keynote speaker was Joe Hyams, CEO of Honest Reporting. British-born and now living in Beit Shemesh, Hyams’ career had been in advertising. He began his address by posing the question he had asked himself when evaluating Israel’s public relations effort. “Why do we look so bad in the news, and why do we look so awful in making our case?” He spoke of how the opposition uses psychological tricks to influence people, much the same way marketers do to get people to buy their products. Israel meanwhile was using a cerebral approach. “Everything was accurate, but no one cared,” he explained. He went on to say that it doesn’t matter if what you say is true, if people don’t believe it. He said he realized that the people of Israel had lost their own story, but that things have changed dramatically over the past 10 years as Israel adjusts and makes its appeals more emotionally based.
Hyams said his organization has 180,000 online readers. His team realized that half the journalists arriving in Israel have preconceived notions that are negative, and look for stories to confirm their beliefs. What Honest Reporting did was not just invite them into conflict zones, but show the good stuff. Case in point recently was the Syrian border. Buses of reporters were brought there to see Israeli soldiers treating Syrian children wounded in that country’s conflict. When Syrian mothers began kissing Israeli soldiers, nothing needed to be said. “We need the world to see the true face of Israel, the humanity of its people.” He said that it’s now more difficult for Palestinians to pull the wool over the eyes of reporters, like when they claimed there was a massacre in Jenin and planted teddy bears in the rubble to maximize the effect. He does, however, expect an onslaught from the PLO given the upcoming 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
Hyams closed with two quotes to underscore the strategies Israel must continue to use in the fight for people’s hearts and minds. Both were from advertising industry titans. David Ogilvy once said, “If you do something great and didn’t tell anyone about it, you didn’t do it.” The other statement came from Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, on what you need to keep in mind if you want someone to buy into your story. “Think not about what you want to say, but what you want to happen.”
By Robert Isler
Robert Isler is a marketing researcher and a senior content writer who lives in Fair Lawn. He can be reached at [email protected]