Under a beautiful Aspen sky on Tuesday, July 26th, Barbara and Michael Gamson hosted more than…
Birthright Israel Foundation had the pleasure of speaking with donors Sharon and Simon Mendelson about their philanthropy and love of Israel. Simon, the newly elected Chair of Birthright Israel Foundation’s Los Angeles Leadership Cabinet, looks forward to growing the network of supporters in his community. Sharon, whose mother is an 8th-generation Israeli, knows how special of a place Israel can hold in one’s heart and hopes others feel an investment in Birthright Israel is a worthwhile cause.
Together, the couple is on a mission to grow support for the program in their Los Angeles community. More so, they look forward to ensuring Birthright Israel is an experience available to all young Jewish adults, including their own three children.
Q&A with Sharon & Simon Mendelson
How did your involvement with Birthright Israel Foundation begin?
Simon Mendelson: “It began because we happened to be in a community of people who were already involved with Birthright Israel. Many of our close friends, including Laurie Blitzer, Tom Stern, and Stephen Siderow, hold or previously held leadership positions at the Foundation. When Sharon and I lived in NYC, Laurie and Stephen took us to many Birthright events. I remember all of these people talking about Birthright Israel with great passion.”
Tell us more about why you wanted to chair the Los Angeles Leadership Cabinet.
Simon Mendelson: “I really welcomed the opportunity to be involved, and I thought LA was a good place to start. Birthright Israel seemed like a great opportunity to use my background to help the organization grow. There is a lot of opportunity in LA for us, and of course, the product is very good. Birthright Israel’s impact is concrete and clear. We are fortunate to have passionate people on our LA cabinet and council that makes working on Birthright fun!”
You have a son going on a Birthright Israel trip soon. What do you hope he learns?
Sharon Mendelson: “I know Jonathan will appreciate learning about the history, and that alone will have a big impact on him.”
Simon Mendelson: “Jonathan visited Israel when he was a lot younger, and I think being able to go to Israel with his peers will really impact him. We really hope this kicks it up a notch for him in regard to his appreciation for Israel.”
Speaking of the younger generation, why do you believe is the most significant thing a young Jewish adult gains from this experience?
Sharon Mendelson: “I think it is the feeling of not being a minority. Personally, I really remember being In Israel on Yom Kippur, and it felt like the country shut down. There was no sense of having to explain what the day was. In Israel, you don’t have any self-consciousness about being Jewish — you cannot experience that anywhere else.”
Simon Mendelson: “I hope they gain an understanding of the situation in Israel and takeaway that it is more complex than what is portrayed. Birthright gives them a chance to understand Israel, both the pros and the cons. Most of all, the participants become more literate about the country and better understand the importance of the only Jewish state.”
Share with us why you two believe others should give to Birthright Israel Foundation.
Sharon Mendelson: “I think there are a lot of Jewish Americans who are not necessarily focused on Israel but who are still alarmed by the rise of antisemitism in the US and the position a lot of college students are taking on Israel. Birthright Israel gives a younger cohort of people the opportunity to actually go to Israel, get educated, and be knowledgeable in the face of anti-Israel sentiment. I think Birthright Israel’s mission can speak to a wide range of people, both those who support Israel and those who are more focused on Jewish continuity.”
Simon Mendelson: “I think some people do not give because they do not understand how Birthright Israel is funded. They think there is an endowment or the Israeli government pays. When people actually understand that the trip is funded by people like us and tens of thousands of others, they’ll step up. More so, as Sharon said, you read about the rise of antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred on college campuses, and Birthright is a concrete way to do something about it.”
How do you think the trip prepares young Jewish adults to be our future leaders?
Sharon Mendelson: “Birthright gives people the confidence to speak about Jewish issues — being there and seeing the country for themselves is huge. Jewish Americans do not really know Israel or how to address it, and I think educational programs like this one are very critical right now.”
Simon Mendelson: “The power of Birthright is that it impacts people at a critical time in their lives — the 18-26 age range, which is a young adult’s formative years. It’s when they become leaders and real adults who understand that they can make real change. The Birthright Israel cohort is our future.”