$1 million gift will enable more teens to visit Israel

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The Schultzes live in Menlo Park.

Schultz, who has visited Israel 14 times, explained that conversations with local educators, as well as studies by the Charles R. Bronfman Foundation and other organizations, have confirmed her beliefs.

"A trip to Israel with young people their own age is something they want to do, and can have a more lasting effect on Jewish identity than years of cheder [elementary school]."

"This is a powerful gift to the community," said Phyllis Cook, JCF endowment director. "The Schultzes' gift can touch the lives of every young person in our federation area who wants to go to Israel — particularly those without the financial means to get there on their own."

The JCF launched the Gift of Israel program a year ago to create a unique opportunity for every teen to spend meaningful time exploring his or her heritage and developing ties with the people of Israel. Under this program, a young person's family, the federation and participating congregations make annual contributions to a special savings account which will be used for an Israel experience in the young person's teen years.

The Janet A. Schultz Teens to Israel Fund will provide the JCF's contribution to potentially thousands of teens who participate in the new Gift of Israel savings plan.

"This is a partnership among families, synagogues and the federation with a shared goal of enhancing the Jewish identity of our children through an Israel experience," explained Russ Holdstein, chair of the federation's Gift of Israel committee.

Savings accounts can be set up by anyone when a child is born or anytime through grade seven. Family and friends may contribute to the account for birthdays, Chanukah or other special occasions, Holdstein explained. The JCF and synagogues — if the family is a member of a participating congregation — begin to contribute to the account in either grade 3 or grade 7, depending on when the account is opened.

Children who are not members of a participating congregation may also take advantage of Gift of Israel, as long as they are enrolled in a Jewish studies program. At this time, 13 local congregations served by the JCF have joined the plan, Holdstein said.

While financial status is not taken into account, Holdstein and Schultz both hope that when it comes time to spend the savings on the teen's Israel experience, those families with financial means will turn their federation contribution back to a scholarship fund for those without.

A lifelong Zionist, Schultz served as president of Hadassah when she lived in Akron, Ohio, and she strongly advocated for the establishment of the state of Israel. Even after 14 trips, the thrill of visiting Israel has not worn off, she said.

Schultz' voice filled with emotion as she recalled her first Israel visit in 1950, when the state was just two years old.

"We worked so ardently for it. There was a longing for it," she said. "When we got there everything was so wonderful." She and her husband visited with family members of Israeli friends from Akron and ate "an awful lot of eggplant," she laughed.

While nothing quite compares to that first trip, which she admits viewing through "rose-colored glasses," Schultz called her most recent visit, which included a side trip to Jordan, "utterly amazing." The enormous growth, the modernity of the country from its architecture to its technology and the sight of Russian- and Ethiopian-born olim and native Israelis side by side in their army uniforms reflect a strong, cosmopolitan state, she marveled.

"I didn't think I'd live to see a state of Israel," she recalled. "And now we're going to celebrate a 50th anniversary!"