Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Jewish Federations of North America will hold its annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv this week.

The event has been marketed under the slogan “Israel and the Diaspora: We need to talk.” That slogan highlights the differences that divide Israelis and U.S. Jews.


Much has been written about that divide growing in recent years, for reasons ranging from politics to pluralism. Undoubtedly, there will be protests and acrimony regarding the venue and speakers.

But if GA delegates and their dissenters are looking for the antidote to the problem, they should look no further than the life of the great religious Zionist philanthropist Jack Nagel, who died last week, as he was approaching his 96th  birthday.

Jack was a Holocaust survivor born in Poland who came to the United States in the late 1940s and married his eishet chayil Gitta after only a few weeks of courtship 63 years ago. Their union gave birth to four children, over a dozen grandchildren and more than 10 great-grandchildren.

Their descendants care deeply about the State of Israel and its future and are involved in Jewish and pro-Israel causes. Their children are active in charities from Israel Bonds to NORPAC, from Amit and Emunah to AIPAC, from YULA high school to fire departments and July 4 chamber of commerce parades.

Pursuing the American dream, Jack built a successful construction company that developed more than 2000 homes in the L.A. area and today is immersed in every aspect of the real estate business in California. But to many, he was mostly known for his philanthropy.

In the U.S., Jack and Gitta have helped support Yeshiva University, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Jewish schools in LA, founding Yavneh Hebrew Academy. In Israel, they donated the Jewish Heritage Center at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and the Nagel Family Pediatric Pavilion at Shaare Zedek in Jerusalem. They were involved and honored by the many organizations his family is championing today. Jack and Gitta were awarded doctorates and certificates of recognition by a wide range of Jewish organizations.

Being a survivor inspired Jack to thrive and to give back. His entire family, except for one surviving sister, died during the Holocaust. He saw life as a gift, and he felt he clearly had a duty and responsibility to rebuild what was lost in Europe.

To that end, he was very involved in the Mizrachi World Movement, most particularly at the Religious Zionists of America, where he served as president for many years, spreading Torat Eretz Israel across the world and strengthening the bond between the international Jewish community and the State of Israel.

Jack was also always involved in the L.A. Jewish Federation and the United Jewish Appeal. He appreciated the greater Jewish community and the need to bring all Jews together, including both religious and secular.

He was a frequent visitor to Israel, coming last during the week of Yom Ha’atzmut, when Gitta was given a letter of distinction from Bar-Ilan. Despite his failing health, he considered leading the religious Zionist flag procession through Jerusalem.

For him, Israel was the place for Jews to live, and if not reside, then to support unquestionably.

Jack wasn’t known for getting involved in politics. When others were divisive, he was always the one who tried to bring people together, insisting that the next generation continue to appreciate the importance of the strong US-Israel relationship.

In the final analysis, Jack Nagel was a man of righteousness and integrity. Those attributes can help the delegates to the GA focus on what is truly important: The continued unity of the Jewish people in Israel and around the world.

May the memory of Jack Nagel truly be for a blessing.


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Martin Oliner is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He was appointed by former President Donald Trump as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at [email protected].