Family Turns to JNF to Memorialize Loved One

Jonathan Gitelman with his wife, Amy, and children, Lucas and Hannah (Provided)
Jonathan Gitelman with his wife, Amy, and children, Lucas and Hannah (Provided)

One Baltimore man looking to memorialize his son, the  father of his grandchildren, found his answer in the Jewish National Fund.

Baltimorean Jonathan Gitelman passed away last winter at the age of 46. He fought a long and courageous battle against leukemia, undergoing three bone marrow transplants in 63 months. So many transplants is unprecedented, and the marrow was donated twice by his mother and once by his son, Lucas.

In memory of Jonathan, his father, Joseph, started a fund-raising campaign through JNF to help raise money to plant trees in Israel and get his son’s name inscribed on the organization’s Wall of Eternal Life at American Independence Park in the Judean Hills.

According to Eric Narrow, JNF campaign manager for Baltimore and Delaware, “the Wall of Eternal Life was started in 2007 to provide people around the world with an  opportunity to memorialize loved ones in Israel. Typically, when you contribute to a nonprofit, gifts aren’t honored. If you raise $1,800 or more,  however, JNF plants a 360-tree memorial garden in honor of a loved one in Israel.”

According to its website, “JNF has evolved into a global environmental leader by planting more than 250 million trees, building over 240 reservoirs and dams, developing over 250,000 acres of land, creating more than 2,000 parks, providing the infrastructure for over 1,000 communities and connecting thousands of children and young adults to Israel and their heritage.”

It is a common misconception that each tree planted by JNF has a plaque identifying the individual that the tree memorializes. Narrow explained that rather than having so many individual plaques, the Wall serves as a central location where all loved ones who have had trees planted in their memories are honored.

To contribute to the Wall of Eternal Life, JNF helps the family that wants to memorialize a member of their family set up a Web page to fundraise and help them to choose where the donated money will go.

“It is wonderful because people who visit will see other people from their area who have been memorialized there, and it will continue to inspire people to contribute and help Israel,” said Narrow.

“With JNF, we like to help people connect with projects in Israel to allow them to feel that they have made an impact. When Joseph told me his son had been a baseball fanatic, I directed him toward Project Baseball,” he continued.

Project Baseball is a fund promoting youth baseball in Israel, and the program brings Israeli and Arab kids together. The initiative was started in 2007 by a group of American expats in Israel. JNF saw the project as an opportunity to use sports to promote peace, to allow the children of Americans in Israel to connect with their parents and roots and to bring Israeli and Arab youths more fun and friendly competition.

“Project Baseball has been going around introducing baseball to Israeli children; the problem was that they didn’t really have fields,” said Gitelman. “Through this initiative, JNF is helping to buy fields and equipment, and also hosting clinics. They have a bunch of teams and a few stadiums. Jonathan got heavily involved in coaching my grandson’s youth leagues. He just loved baseball from the time that he was a little kid. My wife and I thought that this was really ideal — if you’re going memorialize someone, you try to promote something they had a passion for.”

The memorial fund for Jonathan Gitelman was only started two weeks ago, but it has already raised more than 80 percent of the $5,000 goal.

“There are a lot of people who knew Jonathan who are donating,” said Gitelman. “We intend to go to Israel to visit the wall and the place where he will be memorialized.  If we raise a lot of money, they will potentially name a whole ball field in his name, or a dugout.”

“The memorial page will  remain up online for two years. Then, depending on how much money is raised, hopefully there will be more memorials that we can visibly see,” he continued. “When you do these things, you don’t really know the response you’ll get, but so far the response has been resounding.”

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