ISRAEL21c bids farewell to Pearl Lerner Kane

The best part of fundraising is raising friends, says Pearl Lerner Kane.

Kane’s Connecticut-based PLK Consulting Group has guided ISRAEL21c’s growth for 19 years.

Although her professional relationship with us is now coming to an end, the impact she has had and the friends she has raised along the way are everlasting.

“While she probably liked all of her clients, I feel like she liked ISRAEL21c a little more,” says president Amy Friedkin.

Indeed, Kane admits that in his work with a variety of nonprofits, including 75 Jewish day schools, ISRAEL21c stood out.

“I was so invested in the mission, and developed a close relationship with Amy and [Israel Director] Nicky [Blackburn] and all other members of the organization. It became an anchor for me and my practice and absorbed a lot of my energy and interest over the years,” she says.

Pearl Lerner Kane, left, and Israeli director of ISRAEL21c Nicky Blackburn.

ISRAEL21c was started in 2001 by Tigo Energy CEO Zvi Alon and Benhamou Global Ventures founder Eric Benhamou.

In 2003, philanthropists Charles and Andrea Bronfman agreed to host a fundraiser for ISRAEL21c at their Manhattan home. Kane was hired to organize the event, and subsequently was asked to continue building the relationships that began there.

“And that’s what I did, on a project basis. Over the years I have written numerous fundraising appeals and helped develop the board and provided advice. It just grew and grew,” says Kane.

Unusual, but it worked

The economic downturn of 2008 led to the departure of the executive director of ISRAEL21c and the future of the organization seemed uncertain.

“The council asked me to do a feasibility study to determine if the Jewish world found value in what we were doing and assess whether we should continue,” Kane recalls.

“I interviewed 18 or 20 professional and volunteer leaders, and the results were astounding. No one said to close the door. Everyone from the CEO of StandWithUs to Israel’s Consul General in New York has said that we absolutely should continue because this viewpoint is essential in Israel’s defense space.

Kane embarked on raising a significant amount of foundation grants. She and Friedkin, who had recently taken over as chairman, jointly filled the shoes of executive director for the next 12 years.

“It was an unusual way to run an organization, but it worked,” Kane says.

“Pearl has been invaluable to me during the financial crisis,” Friedkin says. “She really helped us plan our future, worked with us on a range of options and gave us great advice on our choices. And then she stepped back and let the board make those decisions. She always wanted us to think strategically so that everything we do is aligned with our mission.

Kane says, “I think that kind of positive journalism is so important in such a negative and divided world. The relationship between Amy and I has really propelled the work we’ve done and everything we’ve accomplished.

She also maintained a warm relationship with the ISRAEL21c Board of Directors.

“Pearl, like his name, is a precious gem, whose passion for ISRAEL21c is unparalleled,” says Jonathan Baruch, Board Member.

“But what I love most about Pearl is the value she places on family and friendship. To hear her talk about her children, her grandchildren, her husband, her Amy and so many others with a sense of warmth, joy and kindness is something I will always cherish,” Baruch says.

He adds that Kane built our digital ambassador program with great passion.

The Digital Ambassador program is born

This successful social media engagement program, launched in 2014, is the result of discussions with potential donors.

“They were always asking what we were doing for the students. “They are suffering on campus with anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and you have to do something,” they told me.

“So the Schusterman Foundation gave us a grant, and I led focus groups at Hillel campus chapters across the United States. I asked the students if they thought they could incorporate the message of ‘Israel positive’ to support their advocacy for Israel,” Kane explains.

On every campus, from Emory, Georgia to Berkeley, California, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

Kane chose Rachel Poulin Minchen of the University of Arizona, a member of the first cohort of Digital Ambassadors, to coordinate the program from 2018 to 2021.

“That phone call from Pearl offering me the job of coordinator changed my life,” says Minchen, now a newlywed who is studying full-time in Jerusalem.

ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin with Digital Ambassadors Jeremy Rosenberg, Marcella Bluth and Digital Ambassadors Coordinator Rachel Poulin at the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

“Pearl was truly a visionary in so many ways and amazing as a boss and as a mentor. She was interested not only in my success in my position, but also in my success in embarking on a new journey in the marketplace. work straight out of college,” Minchen said.

“She made sure my voice was heard and it was an environment I really felt part of. She supported my ideas and helped me bring them to life, which immediately allowed me to play a major role in the organization and that made me so happy.

Former Digital Ambassadors now number over 300 across North America. The new program coordinator, Emily Kaplan, is also a former digital ambassador.

Gone but still there

In the fall of 2020, after being diagnosed with a rare autoinflammatory disease, Kane conducted a search for a new CEO. Jason Harris accepted this role a year ago.

Pearl Lerner Kane created ISRAEL21c's Digital Ambassadors program.  Photo by Nicky Blackburn

Pearl Lerner Kane created ISRAEL21c’s Digital Ambassadors program. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

“I am no longer accepting labor-intensive clients, although I will continue to coach executive directors, boards and development staff as requested,” says Kane, noting that his business of consultancy began in 1994.

She hopes to spend more time performing and studying music — she started taking voice lessons in high school — and with her husband, Paul, a longtime executive in the Jewish communal world. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.

“It’s time for me to say I’m gone, but I’m still here,” she said. “The faith, trust and respect that have been given to me over all these years at ISRAEL21c have meant so much professionally and personally to me that it is hard to put into words.”

“Working with Pearl over the past few years has been a great pleasure. She has been one of our most passionate advocates, constantly making us think about what we do and how best to do it,” Nicky Blackburn said. “His contribution will be greatly missed and we look forward to continuing the friendship that has been forged here.”

Jonathan Baruch had no trouble articulating these parting words: “Pearl, thank you, we love you, we’ll miss you, and on a personal note, I think you’re damn awesome!”

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