“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
As I observed firsthand, this definition of leadership, as articulated by sixth President of the United States John Quincy Adams, certainly could have been applicable to the women and men from three continents who convened for the 2019 Israel Bonds International Leadership Conference, held November 14 – 17 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Conference Center in Phoenix.
Putting the words of Adams into the context of the conference, the assembled Bonds leaders have selflessly devoted themselves to inspiring others to join them in the ongoing fulfillment of a strong, proud Jewish state.
As conceived by Bonds President and CEO Israel Maimon, the conference was “a fitting tribute to the devoted global leadership that has made so many years of Israel Bonds achievements possible.”
Themed Perpetuating a Tradition of Leadership, the dedication of those in attendance spanned generations and countries, from young leaders in their twenties to individuals who have made Israel and Israel Bonds a vital aspect of their lives for decades.
Maimon reflected on this quintessential feature of Israel Bonds as he shared the experience of one of the first events he attended after becoming president & CEO. Hosted by the Halpern family in New Jersey, the event included Sam and Gladys Halpern, Holocaust survivors and early leaders of Israel Bonds; current Bonds leaders, son David and daughter-in-law Sharon; and Halpern grandchildren and great-grandchildren who were also active with Bonds.
“Four generations,” Maimon marveled. It enabled him, he explained, to truly appreciate the depth of emotion the Bonds enterprise engenders.
A Legacy Nearly 70 Years Strong
The Bonds legacy of leadership, as exemplified in Phoenix, encompasses nearly 70 years. It dates back to the organization’s earliest days, when the individuals who would become the founders of Israel Bonds journeyed to Jerusalem to hear David Ben-Gurion describe his vision for a bond issue that would engage the Diaspora in building, developing and sustaining the reborn Jewish nation.
The degree to which Ben-Gurion’s vision was embraced, and the extent to which it has grown and flourished over the ensuing decades, was on full and impressive display at the International Leadership Conference. It was striking to watch numerous attendees from different cities and countries take to the podium over the course of four days to offer heartfelt words on what Israel, and being a Bonds leader, personally meant to them.
Many cited traveling to Israel on a Bonds delegation as the catalyst for their involvement. Sebastian Hoffmann, a young leader from Berlin, was a member of the Bonds 70th anniversary delegation. He called his introduction to Israel and Israel Bonds “a fantastic, mind-blowing start.”
He added that New Leadership, the means through which the under-40 generation initially becomes active with Bonds, “is so important – it empowers young adults to spread their passion for Israel.”
Similarly, Howard L. Goldstein, who is now Bonds national chairman of the board but got his start through New Leadership, said, “It was Israel Bonds that opened my eyes to Israel, making me realize this extraordinary nation was meant to be an essential part of my life.”
Additionally, Bonds board member Bob Diener, founder of Hotels.com and co-founder and president of GetaRoom.com, cited his Jewish heritage and the Talmud as inspiration for his extensive Israel Bonds involvement.
An Overt Sense of Unity
Whatever reason prompted their involvement, the sense of unity among attendees was so overt that it compelled guest speakers to comment on the enthusiasm they were seeing. It began opening night, when keynote speaker Elan S. Carr, White House special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, inspired his audience by declaring, “You don’t have to wear a uniform to fight for the Jewish people.” Through Israel Bonds, he exhorted the crowd, “you are all soldiers for the State of Israel.”
Israel’s leading news anchor, Yonit Levi, remarked, “Support for Israel is very palpable in this room. My country owes you a great debt of gratitude.” And Major N, the first female helicopter pilot in the Israel Air Force, thanked the Bonds leaders for their “unconditional support of Israel. I know you will always have my back.”
If there was a common theme defining the Phoenix gathering, it was Am Yisrael Chai. As I discerned, the feeling of closeness to each other, and the shared commitment to Israel, was not presumptive, but tangible.
Moving the Mission Forward
Following four days of speakers, panel discussions, networking and a lively exchange of ideas, the International Leadership Conference adjourned. Participants bid each other farewell, returning home newly energized and eager to move the Bonds mission forward.
Sixty-nine years and two months earlier, the very first Israel Bonds conference also concluded. The closing statement in September 1950 read in part, “The full magnitude of the task of … consolidating Israel’s economy on a sound basis is far beyond any conception which the Jews of America have had.”
It has been nearly seven decades since Ben-Gurion’s challenge was accepted. Today, Israel is a nation transformed, assisted in no small measure by nearly $44 billion invested in Israel bonds, not only by the Jews of America, but Jewish communities throughout the world.
Had they been able to gaze into the future and see the collective devotion and resolve exhibited in Phoenix, the founders of Israel Bonds would have been amazed – and proud – of what their foresight and wisdom brought forth.