For a longtime Zionist like Alisa Murstein, 37, the Israel-Hamas war only strengthened her desire to protect Israel.
After growing up in Connecticut, Murstein moved to Maryland for college. Now, she works at the Jewish National Fund as the director of Maryland and Delaware.
Murstein and her husband, Jonathan Murstein, live in Baltimore with their two children and are members of Beth Tfiloh Congregation.
How would you describe your relationship with Judaism?
I am deeply committed to my Judaism. It’s all I know how to be. I lead my life under the fundamental Jewish values of derech eretz, tikkun olam, mitzvot and looking out for the well-being of others. These principles ground me, guide me and push me to be a better, kinder person every day. I am teaching my daughters to do the same because I want them to know what it means to be Jewish. I love that Judaism sets boundaries and enforces a healthy discipline in order to leave the world a better place. I owe my love of Judaism to my traditional upbringing, in a heavily rabbinic and Jewish educational family, along with my many years of Jewish day school at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Connecticut.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?
My favorite Jewish holiday is Rosh Hashanah. We start the year fresh and leave the past behind us as the shofar calls us to abandon our failures of the prior year. There’s a cleansing element to it that I really appreciate each year. Rosh Hashanah is the holiday most closely associated with reflecting upon God’s sovereignty. In a world that can seem beyond our control far too often, it’s nice to actually confront that head on and embrace the reality that much is truly out of our hands.
What do you do for work?
I work for the Jewish National Fund as the director of Maryland and Delaware. I am responsible for cultivating meaningful relationships among our Israel supporters, and connecting them more closely with their philanthropic visions in Israel. It is a tremendously rewarding position that drives a necessary change on any given day, especially in the aftermath of Oct. 7. JNF-USA was at the forefront of the evacuation efforts of over 70,000 residents from the north and south of the country and provided basic essentials to those individuals. We are ensuring the food security of the country and supplying tactical and fire equipment to those fighting on the frontlines. Over 150 bomb shelters have been constructed since the start of the war, with 250 more set for development.
Do you like working in the Jewish community?
There is no better place to work than in the Jewish community. I started my career at an organization called The Israel Project in Washington, D.C., then I set my sights on Israel where I worked amongst Israelis at an advertising agency for five months. When I came home to Baltimore, I worked for The Associated: [Jewish Federation of Baltimore] and then Beth Tfiloh [Congregation & Schools] before taking my current job at JNF-USA.
There is something powerful in knowing that you are part of that much larger mission. When you work in the Jewish community, you know that you are working towards a relatively common goal of building Jewish community and ensuring Jewish continuity. The byproduct of working in this industry is that you develop truly meaningful relationships with colleagues because you share the same passions and dreams for our future. I can honestly say that my former colleagues are genuine friends, and I take great pride in respecting and nurturing those relationships. Today, I continue to work with and collaborate with those individuals on different initiatives in my line of work.
Working in the Jewish community is part of my overall Jewish identity, and I love it.
How did you become involved with this work?
I started my career as a graphic designer for The Israel Project. The organization was responsible for delivering factual information about Israel to journalists, policy leaders and the general public. It was my job to illustrate the issues, geographic threats and high-level concepts through digital media. As someone who already considered themselves pro-Israel and Zionistic, I became more interested in the possibility of moving to Israel, which I did on a Masa program called Career Israel. It was a life-changing five months, as I was there during Operation Pillar of Defense. I promised myself that I would always advocate for Israel from that point on.
When I returned to Baltimore, I was heavily involved with the Young Leadership of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and subsequently was hired by The Associated as an Israel engagement associate to recruit young adults to go to Israel on various programs. After a few years, I was encouraged to consider fundraising, which I wound up doing for the next six years. It was only a matter of time before a fundraising position with JNF-USA became available. It seemed like the perfect blend of my love for Israel and my experience in fundraising.
Did you know you always wanted to do this work?
Nope. I was an art major at the University of Maryland, College Park, and I thought that one day I would pursue being an interior designer. As much as I consider home decorating to be a fun passion, it was never meant to be my career. It just goes to show that you never really know where life is going to take you.
What are some things you do for fun?
Anyone who knows me is aware of my Peloton obsession, and specifically Power Zone training. I truly love being active, whether it be outdoors on a hike or in a gym somewhere. Per my love of decorating, I tend to lose myself in the vast world of Facebook Marketplace. There is always something great to find. Mostly, I live for the small moments spent with my husband, family and friends.