Photo Credit: Jason Ciment

Walking into the Jewish National Fund’s Global JNF-USA annual celebration in Denver, Colorado, with my wife, I felt a mix of anticipation and solemnity. This wasn’t just another kumbaya event; it was a deep dive into the heart of what it means to be a supporter of Israel in today’s complex world.

The JNF has evolved far beyond its 260 million trees planted since 1901. We’re talking about a mammoth one-billion-dollar roadmap campaign to invest in life-changing educational, economic, cultural, and medical institutions across Israel’s north and south. They’re building dozens of cities in the Negev and Galil, and revolutionizing education with programs like the Alexander Muss High School. As a business owner and entrepreneur at heart, I was struck by the scale and vision of many of their bold initiatives.


But the October 7th massacre in Israel cast a long shadow, turning the conference agenda on its head. Instead of a celebration, all the plans in the works for 10 months pivoted to a hard-hitting discussion on the War in Gaza and its effects.

The Israel Expo was a microcosm of JNF’s impact. The ‘Special in Uniform’ program was a standout. Watching IDF soldiers with special needs sing in front of all the attendees at the opening ceremonies was inspiring and emotional. My wife’s private encounter and recording of one of these soldiers singing Hatikvah with her was a poignant moment that underscored the spirit of resilience and inclusivity that Israel stands for.

Outside the convention center, the atmosphere was charged with a palpable tension, a jarring contrast to the unity and purpose within. The enclosed walkway, initially set up between the hotel and the center for Shabbat observance, had transformed into a symbol of the security concerns we as a community are increasingly facing. This makeshift corridor, flanked by a robust police presence and a security fence, created a physical and psychological barrier between us and the protesters.

Running this gauntlet was an experience that left a deep imprint. The noise from the protesters was a cacophony of anger and hostility, a relentless barrage of anti-Israel sentiment that hit you like a wave. Each step through this walkway was accompanied by the unmistakable shouts and chants, their false accusations echoing off each other, creating a dissonant symphony that spoke of deep divisions and unremittent hatred. We were told numerous times, “Don’t engage, don’t look at them, and don’t record them, because they will splice anything you do or say and misrepresent you online.”

The presence of the police force, standing guard with a calm yet assertive demeanor, was reassuring, as well as a reminder of the times we live in. Their uniforms, the badges, and the equipment they carried were symbols of protection, a thin blue line that stood between order and chaos. Yet, the necessity of their presence was a sobering thought, a reminder that the ideals and beliefs we were here to celebrate and support were under threat, not just in distant lands but here, on the streets of Denver.

But it was a student’s story in one of the sessions that truly hit home. She spoke of her experience on her college campus – a scenario devoid of fences, police, or security. She painted a vivid picture of what many Jewish students face daily in high-school and college campuses across the country. The absence of any protective barrier in her experience was chilling. She walked through campus, exposed and vulnerable, facing a barrage of hatred and intimidation without the safeguards we had that day. Her story was a gut punch, a moving reminder of the fear and isolation that many young members of our community face in environments where they should feel safe and supported.

This contrast between our experience and hers was a powerful illustration of the broader challenges facing the Jewish community. It underscored the importance of gatherings like the JNF convention, not just as celebrations of achievements but as rallying points for awareness, solidarity, and action. It was a call to not only recognize but also to actively address the growing concerns of antisemitism and hostility that are becoming all too common in various spheres of our lives.

One of the more memorable moments of the convention came unexpectedly during davening. As we were getting ready for prayer, someone approached me, having noticed my name badge. He inquired if I was related to the Ciment family from Florida. His recognition of my family name instantly bridged the gap between strangers. He shared that he had grown up just a few doors down from my mother in Miami Beach. This revelation turned our conversation into a nostalgic journey, as we discovered mutual acquaintances and shared memories of a community that had shaped both our lives even though both of us had moved away as adults.

Later, when I mentioned this encounter to my mother, she told me his mother was known as Miss Subway, a beauty queen back in the day. She also told me that she used to keep a check ready to give to his mother for Maos Chitim donations for people in Israel when she would visit Miami Beach after having made Aliyah. In the midst of a convention focused on broader issues facing our community, this random personal connection was a poignant reminder of the individual stories and relationships that form the foundation of our collective experience.

Inside the convention, more sessions delved into the rising tide of antisemitism, especially in educational settings. The stories shared by students and educators were eye-opening. It was a call to arms for everyone there – our fight against anti-Semitism isn’t just about attending conventions; it’s about taking action in our communities and beyond.

Drawing from my experience at the Republican Jewish Coalition, this time I brought aged bourbon to the convention. Sharing a good drink easily opened doors to meeting new people. It was a small act that fostered a sense of camaraderie and community among us especially when I could share a drink with the CEO of JNF as he passed by our table Friday night or a drink at Shabbat lunch with the Makovsky family, a long-standing Denver family.

We had a few more personal encounters at the convention that were equally enriching. At Shabbat dinner, we found ourselves seated with a diverse group, including a Reform Rabbi, a lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, and a remarkable couple from Washington D.C., Eliezer Halbfinger and Alyza Lewin.

Alyza is the founder of the nonprofit Brandeis Center which has been conducting research, education and legal advocacy to combat anti-Semitism on college and university campuses. In short, she sues educational institutions for violating things like Title VI. Alyza’s work at the Brandeis Center quite simply took center stage for me.

Throughout our dinner, she helped us understand how her work empowers students by training them to understand their legal rights. She also educates administrators on best practices to combat racism and anti-Semitism on campus. In short, she is a modern-day, mild-mannered warrior fighting valiantly against what I call the “terrorism of the textbook” which is a battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation.

This insidious form of indoctrination, spreading through educational institutions, is potentially more dangerous than any physical terrorist threat like bombs, bullets, or brutalities. She is battling a covert war of ideologies in our educational institutions and her efforts in legal advocacy and education to combat this silent enemy are a masterclass in proactive engagement, a stark reminder of the power of standing up for what’s right.

Alyza’s insights into what I also think of as the “Doctrine Deception” in our educational systems were particularly eye-opening. Bari Weiss’ recent revelations of over $12 billion in investments aimed at undermining the very fabric of American education and values was alarming. This covert war, waged in classrooms and lecture halls, is a form of terrorism that’s been largely overlooked. Her work is not just a fight for Jewish students and Israel’s standing in the world stage; it’s a crusade for the integrity of education and the preservation of democratic values.

The presence of notable and highly articulate personalities like Michael Oren and Ido Aharoni added considerable depth and perspective to the event. Their speeches were not just informative; they were inspiring, reigniting a collective passion for Israel and our shared heritage.

A noteworthy speaker was a young woman who took us back to her 18-year-old self, a young girl compelled by a deep sense of purpose to make Aliyah to Israel, despite not yet speaking Hebrew. Her story was not just about the challenges she faced, but about a commitment that shaped her entire life. She spoke of a mentor who played a pivotal role in her journey, guiding her through a belated bat-mitzvah, a symbol of her integration into Israeli society. This mentor, who became a cornerstone of her life in Israel, was tragically lost in a terrorist attack many years before, leaving a devastating and lasting impact on her.

In her quest to find meaning over the years since the tragedy, she became a support to others touched by terrorism. This journey of empathy and solidarity led her to mourn Rose Lubin, a 20-year-old lone soldier from Atlanta, whose life was taken during a terrorist attack in the Old City in early November. Rose was more than a soldier; she was a model of courage, determination, and joy, a young woman whose strength, bravery, and unnatural modesty earned her the revered title of ‘Lioness’ in Israel, a term of the highest honor in Israel. To me though, Rose was family, my cousin’s daughter, a vibrant and inspiring figure whose untimely passing left a void in our hearts.

Now, as I pen these final words from thousands of feet in the air, returning from Rose’s 30-day Shloshim in Atlanta, where the community and the larger family gathered to honor Rose, I can’t help but reflect on the bigger picture of the convention. October 7th and its aftermath aren’t just a story of loss and mourning; these weeks have been a testament to the indomitable spirit of our brothers and sisters, both in Israel and across the globe.

The Global JNF-USA conference, where everyday heroes are also celebrated, was the perfect backdrop for this last story. In our Jewish hearts, the connection to Israel is a web of close-knit ties, often just two or three degrees apart. It’s a powerful, emotional bond that unites us, a tribute to our collective resilience and unwavering spirit.

Despite the protests outside, the feeling was that we are more determined than ever. This wasn’t just a celebration of the JNF’s great work; it was a rallying point and a profound experience that helped reinforce my family’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish community. Supporting Israel and combating anti-Semitism is an ever-evolving challenge. It’s about being adaptable, proactive, and united in our efforts. As my wife and I left the convention, we took with us a reminder that our support for Israel is not just a matter of policy or politics; it’s a matter of heart and soul.

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Jason Ciment lives in Los Angeles with his wife and four children. He runs a website development and digital marketing agency (