By Deb Silverthorn
It has been 121 years since Jewish National Fund (JNF) began. Its dream and vision: to reestablish a homeland in Israel for the Jewish people. Russell F. Robinson, Jewish National Fund-USA chief executive officer, is traveling to Dallas to speak with Bob Weinfeld and to host the organization’s local Major Donor Appreciation Dinner. The events celebrate the 120 years of shelter by the organization: shelter by 260 million trees, shelter by dozens of programs, shelter by an unending spirit and the shelter of Zionist education.
Robinson’s conversations will be held at 1:45 p.m. Tueseday, Dec. 6, at The Legacy Midtown Park and at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, at The Legacy Willow Bend. They are open to the public. Later Wednesday, the Major Donor Appreciation Dinner will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Donors of more than $5,000 are invited to dinner at a private home.
“Russell is something else and I’m glad to welcome him ‘home,’” said Bob Weinfeld, thrilled to add Robinson to his list of more than 150 guests, over the years, to his “Getting to Know Your Neighbors, and Staff, and Rabbis, and Relatives of Residents, and …..” series. “He’s an outstanding man, an incredible supporter of Israel and of all things Jewish.
“We’re going to have Russell and Mark Kreditor on Tuesday, and then Russell with Mark Stromberg doing a book review of ‘My Promised Land’ by Ari Shavet. Me and these fantastic guys,” said Weinfeld, who in July received a certificate in honor of three “96th birthday” trees that Robinson had planted in Israel. “I hope people will come out and hear what they have to say. These are going to be a couple of great dates.”
Robinson, a native of El Paso, was raised at B’nai Zion Synagogue. He says growing up in a small Jewish community taught him the importance of sustaining what the Jewish people have built and always believing in tomorrow.
Robinson is the son of Ruth and Richard, of blessed memory, and brother of Ron (Stacy), Robert and Roger, who, with his wife, Rhonda, lives in Plano. Robinson is a Coronado High School and University of Texas at Austin graduate. His dedication to Jewish communal work came first as a lay leader, then director of the JCC camp in New Mexico and then director of El Paso’s JCC. He then spent seven years in Dallas, as assistant director, SW region, then vice president, of the United Jewish Appeal before moving to New York, brought on board as JNF-USA’s youngest ever CEO.
After 25 years at JNF’s helm, Robinson recently returned from the Jewish National Fund-USA 2022 National Conference in Boston, where he spent time with 1500 participants including 50 Southwest Region members from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
“I can trace my Jewish heritage back to the 1790s, among this country’s first settlers,” said Robinson, the husband of Marci and father of Sam and Aly. The Jerusalem Post has named him to its list of “50 Most Influential Jews” every year since 2016. “That lineage, that connection to our people, doesn’t — it can’t — end. I couldn’t be more excited about the young people joining our vision, making the difference every day.”
Jewish National Fund-USA’s presence in the Metroplex has been enhanced since Ellie Adelman became Dallas’ director, a homecoming she welcomed.
“This community cares and the next generation is coming through building relationships, connecting to Israel, becoming educated and engaged with thriving and bustling concern,” said Adelman, the daughter of Jane Solimani and Mordechai Solimani. Raised at Congregation Shearith Israel, she was a member of BBYO’s Wadel chapter and Young Judaea. Adelman graduated from Hillcrest High School and, after participating in Young Judaea’s Year Course gap year, she made aliyah and served in the IDF.
After she met her future husband, Peter Adelman, the couple returned to the States and moved to Dallas, where she worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas for three years before joining Jewish National Fund-USA. Now the mother of Ariella and Shira, she is honored to be serving Israel from home, engaging the community, building relationships and hosting Sip n Shmooze, Shabbat dinners and other events.
Jewish National Fund-USA’s programs center on community building in Israel’s north and south, connecting the next generation to Israel and developing infrastructure through programs that include forestry and green innovations, water solutions, community building, Zionist education and advocacy, research and development, the supporting of heritage sites and those living with disabilities and special needs.
“This is legacy work and it’s natural for me to want to carry on,” said Doug Stayman. His father, Myron, is a 30-year veteran of the organization and vice president of strategic relationships on JNF-USA’s national board of directors. Doug, his wife, Yvette, and Amy and Adam Fenster are co-chairs of Dallas’ Major Donor Appreciation Dinner.
“Donating to JNF-USA means I am able to have ownership over my giving and to choose from so many of the organization’s causes to support,” said Stayman. “We care about the trees, the water projects, the bomb shelters and more. The ability to direct my dollars is important.”
To that end, Doug and Yvette Stayman recently made a donation to Jewish National Fund-USA’s efforts to beautify bomb shelters and make them less threatening to children living along Gaza’s border. Their gift, in honor of their son Asher’s June 23 bar mitzvah, resulted in a shelter, painted with a Dallas Mavs theme. Through Jewish National Fund-USA, as a part of the organization’s Bar/Bat Remembrance Wall, Asher was also matched to Israel Ratajzer, of blessed memory, who perished in the Holocaust before he reached 13.
“We have 1,500 high school students on semester abroad in Israel and our fastest-growing supporters are between the ages of 22 and 40,” said Robinson. He noted the success of Dallas’ JNFuture Division, which in October engaged more than 60 young professionals. “We are happy to bring them together in the conversation that Israel is built on love and a passion. A place we aren’t saving — a place we are growing and living for.”