2016-04-27 / Local News

Local resident looking to take Birthright Israel to new heights


FAMILY: Wife Staci; children, Shari, 16, Gabrielle, 15, and Asher, 10

SYNAGOGUE: Temple Beth Sholom


FAVORITE VACATION SPOTS: Camp Ramah for Shabbat; Outer Banks, NC

FAVORITE SPORT: Playing tennis

FAVORITE HOT DRINK: 5 Roses Tea from South Africa

As a kid growing up in a close-knit South African Jewish community, Jonathan Boiskin aspired to become a day school teacher and share his love of Judaism with future generations.

But after uprooting some 12,000 miles away for grad school, Boiskin pivoted somewhat. At Brandeis University, he discovered his talents and interest in helping visionaries turn dreams for a better world into reality. In the process, he met his wife Staci, who stuck with her original plan to become a Jewish educator.

“I fell into it by mistake but I love being a fundraiser,” explained Boiskin, a longtime Cherry Hill resident who recently became chief development officer for Birthright Israel Foundation, the New York City-based fundraising arm for Birthright Israel. “What it’s about is helping people translate their passion into philanthropy.”

For the past two decades, Boiskin has been doing just that. Starting with his first post-grad school job in South Africa’s equivalent of Jewish Federation, he has worked for both religious and secular non-profits, helping them reach goals for scholarship funds, capital projects and donor relations.

Before being tapped by Birthright, Boiskin was most recently the chief development officer for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Prior to that, he worked for New York University Langone Medical Center, Rutgers University in Camden and New Brunswick, and Drexel University.

Locally, he served on the board at Temple Beth Sholom for several years before his work and the commuting to New York became too cumbersome. Additionally, the family has strong ties to Camp Ramah, where Staci works summers as a Judaic teacher. Their middle daughter Gabrielle is currently attending a high school semester in Israel with Ramah’s program.

Around the same time frame that Boiskin’s career was taking off, Birthright was experiencing a meteoric rise from the dream of a core group of philanthropists— designed to address the growing divide between young Jewish adults in the Diaspora and the land and people of Israel—to a movement. Over the last 16 years, Birthright Israel has provided free 10-day educational trips to Israel for more than 500,000 participants, ages 18-26.

As Boiskin sees it, this is a new and ambitious stage for Birthright, which has recently launched new trips more tailored to specific interests. Among these niche excursions, new offerings include: International trips with Jewish Russians, Argentineans and Brazilians; an “urban” focused trip with tours of the culinary world, graffiti/street art and markets; trips geared towards more Conservative/Orthodox Jews, a volunteer project—for those interested in social work and social issues and LGBTQ-friendly trips. In addition, abridged trips are already offered for young adults in the working world who may have trouble getting 10 days off from school or work.

“My goal is to raise the necessary funds to encourage the creativity and nimbleness our colleagues in Israel need to create these programs,” said Boiskin. “We know it’s well worth it because we know the impact already.”

Indeed, studies find that six to 11 years later, the experience continues to affect life choices and outlooks in terms of young Jewish adults’ connectedness to Israel, engagement in the Jewish community, and even whether or not they prefer to marry fellow Jews.

Boiskin is excited about traveling to Israel in June both for a company board meeting and for his own Birthright experiences.

“Jonathan has demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit that we are confident will keep inspiring the kind of philanthropic generosity that has been so central to Birthright Israel’s survival and success over the years,” said David Fisher, president of Birthright Israel Foundation. “Jonathan shares Birthright Israel Foundation’s core values: Respect, passion and the pursuit of excellence. We know he will not only help us grow our support of Birthright Israel but he will be a partner in making sure BRIF is the best place to work.” .

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