It was one of the modern-era’s greatest luminaries, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who said, “leaders are led by their vision of the future, and it is this that inspires others.” For Boston philanthropist and volunteer, Rhonda Forman, a recent trip to Israel filled her with such a deep sense of inspiration that she now hopes to share her experiences and motivate Boston’s Jewish community to deepen their support for two special initiatives in the Negev and Galilee.
It could be argued that Forman is a Jewish leader in more ways than one. Although she currently serves as Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) Women for Israel Chair in New England, her involvement with the organization and its affiliates in Israel goes well beyond the scope of her title. For example, Forman recently spent time volunteering at Jewish National Fund-USA’s affiliate ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village and the Ronald S. Lauder Employment Center.
Forman’s volunteer work first began on a JNF-USA President’s Mission to the Negev. While she had been involved with the organization as a donor for many years, this was her first chance to see projects firsthand and understand the human impact of the organization’s work in Israel. She was drawn most to the rehabilitation village’s work: “I have been blessed to know and love members of my family who have special needs and the connection to ADI Negev was natural,” reflected Forman. “I wanted to do more than give money. I wanted to get my ‘hands dirty’.”
The rehabilitation village supported by JNF-USA is a home in the Negev for over 150 children and young adults with severe disabilities and medical issues. The village becomes a family system for the residents, offering a wide range of services to cater to medical issues and social needs. JNF-USA has been a strategic partner and avid supporter of the village for over 15 years as part of its broader philanthropic support for people with disabilities in Israel.
With a professional background in early childhood education, Forman expected to be placed as a kindergarten volunteer when first volunteering several years ago. She learned Hebrew and got ready to work with the kids but instead found herself with the incredibly rewarding experience of working in one of the residential homes. She reflects on how quickly she fell in love with her work at the rehabilitation village, saying, “it was just like my calling.” She returned again in early 2020 to work in the same residential home with the same residents and helped the other volunteers bridge the language gap.
Forman’s experience with the rehabilitation village has made her one of their most involved volunteers, and she has an immense amount of pride in the organization’s work. “ADI Negev has always been the most rewarding thing I do. Walking in there, year after year, and them recognizing you, and one little boy shouting with joy across the room when he sees me, ‘Rhonda, I love you,’ things like that just melt my heart.”
Reflecting on the volunteer work she does in Israel, Forman explains that becoming a hands-on worker has changed her perspective. “By being at Adi Negev, I’m on the inside. I’m there on the ground. I go to JNF-USA task force meetings. I give presentations at board meetings for our chapter in Boston. Ultimately, I’m able to provide updates from being there ‘on the ground’ which you simply can’t convey through emails and photos. The care and the love that is felt and is given to the residents is so authentic and I’m able to express that to everyone back home.”
In addition to JNF-USA’s support for people with disabilities in Israel, the organization has also invested heavily in job creation, through its Lauder Employment Center that now has two locations – one in the Negev and the other in the Galilee.
During her time in Israel, Forman also began volunteering at the employment center by helping executives on their English fluency while giving business pitches. In fact, she now has expanded her volunteering to work with everyone from the CEO to the directors of every division.
While Forman’s work at the rehabilitation village is her true passion, she feels the work of JNF-USA’s Lauder Employment Center is incredibly important in the regions being served. “The Lauder Employment Center in Akko has different goals than the center in Beer Sheva because of the economic situation up in the Galilee: the lack of housing, lack of high-tech industry, all of that. By creating job opportunities and a career support system, the center is empowering young professionals throughout the region.”
And Forman’s work has not only benefited all who have worked with her – it has also taught her about Israel through first-hand experiences. “Through the Lauder Employment Center, I really got to understand how in the United States, we all have communities. We have our Jewish communities, we are connected through our synagogues, we’re connected through our Jewish schools. In Israel, everybody’s Jewish. So how do they make communities? That’s a big part of what the center does. They work on making people feel like they belong to something. That’s a very foreign concept to an American.”
Upon returning from her third trip to Israel this past November, Forman took pause to reflect on her experiences. From the work she undertook with the rehabilitation village and employment center, she believes it has made her a stronger Jewish leader, and she plans on bringing all she has learned back home to Boston with just one goal: to inspire her community to deepen their support for the land and people of Israel, and to perhaps even volunteer at one of JNF-USA’s special projects in the Negev or Galilee.
For more information on how to support Jewish National Fund-USA or volunteer in Israel, email JNF-USA Executive Director, New England and the Capital Region, Sara Hefez at email@example.com or call 617.423.0999 x811