Bernice Friedman grew up in a family where giving was as inherent as breathing.
Prior to moving to Las Vegas from New York in 2007, she sat on the boards of the Jewish Braille Institute International, New Jewish Home, and the UJA-Federation of New York. She was also involved with the Educational Alliance, a 128-year-old institution serving the needs of New Yorkers.
Recently appointed to the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) National Board as Assistant Vice President of Planned Giving, Friedman has been involved with the local Las Vegas chapter since 2011, serving as chair of the Sapphire Society (JNF’s women’s major gift division) and Board President. She is a member of JNF’s Arava Task Force and Caravan for Democracy. She looks forward, in her national position, to furthering JNF’s mission of supporting and strengthening Israel’s infrastructure and growth. All of this continues the imperative of giving fostered in her early years.
To what do you attribute your dedication to being a community humanitarian?
The foundation was laid growing up. As a youngster, I saw my parent’s involvement with local synagogues and they were always helping others. Giving was expected. That, and learning. When I got home from school, the first thing my mother said was, “So, what did you learn today?” My own giving began soon after I graduated from college, once I had a job and some money of my own.
How has being a philanthropist affected your life?
I’m not comfortable being called a philanthropist. I think of philanthropists as people who give millions! I’m a donor… and I prefer to get directly involved with the effort I’m donating to rather than just writing a check. I like to be hands on.
That seems to hold true from your involvement with JNF. You started giving and participating at the local level here in Las Vegas and quickly joined the national ranks. Why JNF?
It’s an outstanding organization that supports Israel – on many levels. It’s a transparent organization that thrives and survives on the dedication and talents of its lay leadership. From the top on down… from CEO Russell Robinson to local lay leaders, board and task force members…every voice, every opinion counts.
What sort of voices are attracted to JNF?
Those who love Israel, the land, the people, the dream, the hope… those who want to see it developed through the inspiring programs and projects that JNF funds, plans and builds; those who want a place at the table where they can be directly involved in JNF decision making. And for donors – they have the option to designate where their money goes. JNF offers amazing trips to Israel. You can visit what you’ve contributed to!
Do any of the programs have a local impact here in Las Vegas?
Yes. JNF sponsors Tu B’Shevat (holiday commemorating the New Year for trees) programs in schools to teach kids the importance of trees. JNF is a sponsor of Birthright, which takes our local Jewish teens and young adults to Israel; JNF supports an English speaking high school in Israel– The Alexander Muss School – that teens can attend for a semester or a summer. I sit on the Caravan for Democracy committee, which sponsors trips to Israel for qualified non-Jewish young adults. One young man returned from a trip and spoke at our board meeting. He blew everyone away with the revelations he experienced.
Can you describe the impact that JNF has had in Israel?
The impact is great. JNF is building thousands of parks across Israel, making them inclusive for people with disabilities and special needs; they’re making the desert green through the planting of millions of trees; they’re realizing Ben-Gurion’s dream and developing the vast desert in the Negev, which makes up 60% of the state, which would otherwise not be a hospitable place to live; they’re bolstering Israel’s water supply through innovative arid agriculture techniques and funding over 240 reservoirs from recycled water; they restore historical landmarks; fund the building of kid friendly bomb shelters on playgrounds. The list goes on.
Is there a priority in your new national position?
I will be a part of a recent campaign called One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade. The goal is to develop a roadmap that will articulate and guide JNF’s values for new ventures.
Do you draw any similarities between water conservation awareness in Israel and the desert we live in here in Las Vegas?
Oh yes!!! I now take much shorter showers!
To become involved, or learn more about JNF’s programs in Las Vegas and Israel, please contact Deb Rochford, Executive Vice President, at email@example.com or 702.434.6505 x980.