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Jewish National Fund-USA gathering in Denver to focus on reconstruction in wake of war in Israel

The Global Conference for Israel is expected to draw protests; organizers say the goals of the event haven't changed post-Oct. 7, but the overall tone has

When nearly 2,500 Israel supporters gather in Denver beginning tomorrow for Jewish National Fund-USA’s four-day Global Conference for Israel, the reconstruction of communities near the Gaza border destroyed in the Oct. 7 attacks will be front and center.

“Our tone has changed [in the aftermath of Oct. 7], but our goal hasn’t,” JNF-USA CEO Russell Robinson told eJewishPhilanthropy ahead of the conference, which will take place at the Colorado Convention Center. “Our goal has always been to bring people together, Zionists together, to talk about the beauty and representation, the work we all can do as a collective people for Israel, which is a uniter of the Jewish people.” 

“The tone has changed, from one of celebrating what we’ve achieved, to understanding what we’ve achieved but dealing with the reality of today,” Robinson continued.

He noted that the conference has pivoted in a variety of ways since Oct. 7. “We were expecting about 150 more Israelis to be here.”

“At JNF we say we don’t know the hallways of Knesset so well but we sure know the people on the streets [of southern Israel]. These people should have been there with us to celebrate our achievements and talk about visions and goals of tomorrow.” 

“It’s touching to hear some Israelis are still coming here because they want to stand with us,” Robinson said. 

Robinson said that JNF’s focus – which will be a theme of the conference – is rebuilding Israel “and Jews from everywhere around the world building on our ancestral soil.” 

“We’re working closely with the Israeli government [which has set up a reconstruction task force], but we also believe in leading, so we are working closely with kibbutzim and the regions [impacted by the attacks]. These are people we’ve been working with for decades. It’s reconstructing but also going to be a vision about how we’re going to turn that Israel envelope [near the Gaza border] into the envy of all of Israel.” 

A JNF-USA spokesperson told eJP that a “big announcement” will be unveiled at the conference on Sunday, which “will be a partnership encompassing numerous Israeli and Jewish charities.” Since Oct. 7, JNF-USA has supported the delivery of 150 bomb shelters in Israel’s north and south. Another 250 bomb shelters are planned, according to the spokesperson.  

Sol Lizerbram, president of JNF-USA, said in a statement to eJP that the conference will “honor the shared values that America and Israel hold dear, and we will recommit to achieving a brighter future for Israel and our entire world.”

“We will never ever let hate win and our light will continue to illuminate even the darkest of moments,” he continued. 

“Our Global Conference for Israel marks a moment in time of unprecedented Jewish unity, where thousands of supporters of the land and people of Israel will come together in solidarity and an unyielding determination to repair and rebuild the communities that were damaged by Hamas’ barbaric terror,” Lizerbram said, noting JNF-USA’s long-standing relationship with southern Israeli communities. 

“The people who were murdered, injured, and taken hostage were our friends, family, and colleagues. This is a deeply personal situation for us, which is also why we are determined to drive efforts, in partnership with many other organizations, to rebuild, repair, and renew the communities of the Western Negev.”

The conference is set to begin with remarks from Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who is Jewish. 

Among the dozens of planned session topics throughout the weekend include “The Weaponization of the UN Against Israel,” “Israel and the Media: Where Do We Stand, Why Does it Matter, and How Can We Share our Reality with the World?” and separate summits geared towards high school and college students, who are bearing the brunt of the rise in antisemitism. 

The Colorado Palestine Coalition is calling for the conference to be shut down due to Israel’s war with Hamas, though pro-Palestinian groups also opposed the event in August. Protests from several pro-Palestinian groups are expected to take place outside the event.

Colorado’s Jewish Community Relations Council condemned calls for JNF’s conference to be canceled. “We object to the way the Jewish National Fund has been portrayed,” JCRC said in a statement on Monday. “JNF supports all Israelis, no matter their background, faith, or politics. In a country where more than 20% of Israelis are not Jewish, JNF is a non-religious, non-political humanitarian NGO that serves all Israelis — Bedouins, Druze, Arabs, Palestinians, and other national, religious, and identity groups.”

The Denver Police Department said in a statement it is “well aware of the upcoming conference and is working with the organizers to ensure a safe event.”