By Teri Herbstman Appel
My life's work in the pro-Israel community began in my hometown with a prestigious black-tie event: the Israel Bonds Chicago Ambassador's Ball. I was just 17, and the experience was an eye-opening and exciting one. It's easy to forget in the era of COVID-19, in which we find ourselves home-bound, but events like these can leave a lasting impression. For me, it inaugurated a lifetime of service in Chicago's Jewish and pro-Israel community.
I grew up in a deeply pro-Israel household. My father, a cardiologist, as well as my mother, a teacher, were lifelong lay leaders with Israel Bonds in the Chicago area. From an early age, they instilled in me the value of always doing your part to protect and promote the Jewish state through activism, education, passion and leadership. These were fundamental life lessons that I took to heart.
I had the opportunity to put these lessons into practice during my first Israel Bonds delegation to Israel in 2014, organized to bring together a generation of rising pro-Israel leaders. I had visited Israel before, but I had never experienced a trip such as this. In Tel Aviv, we found ourselves navigating around the city on Segways, making unique discoveries, and forming fast friendships with others who, only days before, had been perfect strangers. To this day, we remain in touch with one another, and resolved to do our part to grow our networks in our communities. Many of us have become close friends, attending one another's weddings and visiting each other's cities.
And it wasn't just the young people who made an impression on one another. On the same trip, we had the opportunity to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at a private venue, which, for most of us, was a first. Seeing our enthusiasm, many of the senior Bonds leaders who were there with us gladly gave up their places so that younger people could be part of the event. It was a sign of respect and appreciation that we did not soon forget, and a living example of the concept of l'dor v'dor -"from generation to generation."
After the delegation, I formed a Chicago New Leadership chapter and was tapped to serve on Israel Bonds' National New Leadership Division-which works to get young people involved in investing in the Jewish state-and, in 2020, I became its co-chair. Drawing from the lessons of the delegation, I set about working to grow support among young people in cities where Israel Bonds was already active, and to expand into new cities with untapped potential. But the role was accompanied by a challenge: appointed in April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to find new ways of bringing people together without holding in-person events. So, together with my colleagues, I was determined to do just that.
Along with Bonds' representatives, I steadily grew our presence through a mix of outreach and virtual programming. Amidst the pandemic, we began holding online monthly Shabbat meetings via Zoom, which started with just 16 participants but quickly expanded to more than 100, and counting. For each event, we encouraged participants to #BringAFriend, and event after event, they did.
Beyond virtual Shabbats, we hosted an online event with renowned Israeli chef Michael Solomonov, dedicated to uniting young leaders and investors from around the country. There, we learned that Michael's brother, David, had been killed in action serving in the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) Golani Brigade. It deeply moved each of us, and we quickly got to work planning a tribute after the event. Several weeks later, we gathered virtually once again with Michael for an event where participants donated Israel bonds to the Friends of the IDF, in memory of his brother. It was a deeply emotional experience, both for him and those of us on the call.
Experiences like these and others remind all of us in New Leadership why we do what we do: to support the Jewish homeland, and to ensure its security and prosperity. Now, on the occasion of Israel Bonds' 70th anniversary, this determination is stronger than ever. For young people who grew up after many of the defining moments in Israel's history-from early statehood to wars and international crises-it can be all too easy to forget why this work remains vital. Now, as we reflect back on 70 years, with unprecedented challenges ahead, these lessons feel especially vivid and relevant.
Growing up, before Shabbat dinner, my father would always lead the family in singing Hatikvah , the Israeli national anthem. It was only later, when I spent Shabbat with friends, that I realized other families didn't do this; that this ritual was born of my parents' deep and abiding commitment to the Jewish state. Today, with my own family, we carry on this tradition. For young people poised to take the helm of a new generation of pro-Israel leadership, it is a reminder of what makes our work so worthwhile.
Teri Herbstman Appel is a voluntary National New Leadership co-chair for Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds. She lives in Chicago, IL.