By JIM FLETCHER, JPOST—
Daniella Rilov is all about making friends for Israel.
In fact, the new executive director for the America-Israel Friendship League (www.aifl.org) says that very thing in her new role, as she advances from her position as marketing director.
The New York City native also has deep roots in Israel, having grown up in Jerusalem. Her American mother and Israeli father gave her the best blend possible.
“I used to come to New York every summer as a child, so I felt America is in my heart,” she says today. “I always felt both Israeli and American, and I can identify with both working for the AIFL.”
The group is known for its efficient and multi-tasking staff and board, including Cassia Anthony, who coordinates the AIFL’s student-oriented YASE program (Youth Ambassador Student Exchange), Charlotte Frank, Uri Bar-Ner, and Ruby Shamir.
Because the AIFL is a non-partisan group dedicated to building bridges of friendship for Israel, Rilov is excited about the future. That includes working for the group’s chairman, Kenneth Bialkin.
“About a year ago when our previous director left, I assumed the position of associate executive director,” Rilov remembers. “I was very excited about this promotion, and very excited to work with Ken Bialkin, who is a very inspiring individual. His history, the things he did in his life for the Jewish people overall, for Israel, in so many aspects, help propel what we do.
“He has such an incredible insight, and I’m privileged to speak to him on a daily basis. He has an extraordinary vision for the organization. I am privileged to work closely with many of our board members who are extremely passionate about the state of Israel and constantly seek ways to strengthen the ties between the U.S. and Israel”
Indeed, a key piece of that vision is connecting with those counted as among Israel’s greatest friends: Christians. Specifically, those who identify as “Christian Zionists” provide much and varied support for the Jewish state. Rilov is particularly keen on building bridges in this community, and in fact, the AIFL has a long history—among the first to do so—in walking alongside Christians.
“The AIFL has been doing that since its inception (1971),” Rilov emphasizes. “The AIFL is in essence a 40 year-old start-up, and we try to reinvent ourselves all the time. We have targeted specific groups that came to Israel way before it was a common thing; Christians are a key element within that demographic. The idea of doing mission was not common but we did that in the early ‘70s. For the Christian community, we supported for example the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI), providing office space for its national headquarters here in New York City. We worked with National Conference of Churches at Seton Hall, to develop study tours for clergy.”
Among the key Christian leaders the AIFL has worked with is retired Presbyterian pastor, Dr. William Harter.
“Bill Harter has been instrumental in our guidance,” says Rilov. Bill Behrer has a lot of history with it, as well (Behrer has recently returned to the AIFL in an active role).”
Evangelicals are being courted by many groups, from center-left to center-right.
“We realized how much we needed to reach evangelical audiences,” Rilov reveals. In fact, the 2015 calendar will include specific, direct outreach to the evangelicals:
“We are planning to coordinate with pastor to hold seminars, focusing on 2015 to present those seminars in order to bring a dialogue about Israel. With AIFL being non-partisan, we have a huge advantage there.”
The AIFL’s emphasis with the evangelicals is a major priority for Rilov personally.
“It’s a wonderful community but needs to be nourished. We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas…we have to sustain it, feed it information.”
Rilov’s varied career serves her well in her new role. The personable New Yorker has a winning personality, yet also possesses the toughness required to get things done. A stint in the IDF polished that skill-set.
“When I went into the IDF, I became a commander for basic training for women. For about a year, the last year, I was in charge of cultural activities at the base. It was an interesting experience because you interact with a variety of people from many backgrounds. I grew up in a specific place in Jerusalem but this was a very big reality check for an 18 year-old to interact with people coming from smaller towns, with their varied issues, etc.”
Post-IDF, Rilov further developed her skills in dealing with people.
“After the army, I spent some time working, but went to the Hebrew University shortly after I finished my army service . I obtained a BA in sociology and East- Asian studies. I transferred to Tel Aviv University. At 25 I moved to New York with my husband.”
Her family influences also infuse Rilov’s work with deep meaning.
“I have two sons, 8 and 5, and we are very much connected with Israel; we speak Hebrew at home. We communicate with family in Israel a lot, and give as many Jewish values as we personally can.”
In today’s climate, both political and cultural, it is critical that Israel have friends in place who understand both big picture items and nuance. Rilov feels her experiences in both the U.S. and in Israel give her great hope for the future.
“I have to say, after I moved to the States, I feel like my connection to Israel has grown much stronger. Every morning I read the Israeli papers to see what’s going on, before I read the local paper. Music, theatre — I’m very much in the know about what’s going on in Israel.
“The fact that I got to work in an organization that is pro Israel, it’s huge for me. I see the need for how much support we need.”
Rilov realizes that a critical advantage her organization has is its emphasis away from the darker aspects (peace process, Islamic threat, etc.):
“I think with the AIFL, we feel that even from the foreign ministry in Israel, we’re not threatening in approaching organizations, specifically because we are non-partisan. We are all about making friends for Israel. Our attitude is, ‘Let’s talk about the beautiful things happening in Israel, let’s bring that to the forefront. Israel has so much to offer when visitors go there!’”