By Deb Silverthorn
Fourteen women, 14 ways to express magnificence — all in the same vein. Dallasites who recently returned from the 2013 Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project summer mission to Israel can’t say enough about their experiences, and their energy is beyond contagious. Unanimously, they hope to fill one or two busses, of 50 women each, to attend next summer.
“I now understand my connection to heritage, to who we are and to how we should live as Jews,” said trip participant Summer Pailet. “My family is now enjoying challahs that I bake, we have taken Shabbat to a new level, we’ve celebrated Havdallah on our patio. My own personal commitment to Judaism, and to the Jewish life I want to bring to my family, has been heightened to a level I never imagined.”
Joining Pailet in Israel were Hudy Abrams, Melissa Bernstein, Carolyn Braswell, Lisa Gerstenfeld, Ayelet Nesher-Haviv, Ilise Kohleriter, Laura Lacritz, Randi O’Brien, Cheri Shapiro, Julie Shrell, Leanne Svec, Devorah Zakon and Kim Zoller. Zoller and Lacritz, each traveling for a second mission with JWRP, worked as group madrichot or leaders.
“I love Israel, and I love Jewish women, and this is an unbelievably powerful way to connect,” said Abrams who, with Zakon, has led nearly 80 Dallas women in five years on JWRP tours. “Jewish women need to take a moment to immerse themselves and just ‘be.’ We all need this energy. Each time I go it’s an honor to see where their souls are.”
“I’ve been home a month and I’m still fueled by this journey,” said Pailet. “I’m so appreciative to Hudy and Rabbi Shlomo Abrams, and Devorah and Rabbi Nasanya Zakon, of DATA Far North Dallas and the Jewish Learning Center for their tireless efforts to connect us to our discovered inspirations. It’s in their merit that this opportunity exists for our community.”
“Jewish women were the leaders of the feminist movement that created social change, and we believe it is up to Jewish women to also lead a new social movement based on values,” said Lori Palatnik, JWRP co-founder. “Our mission is to create a Jewish women’s movement that inspires a renaissance of positive values that transforms ourselves, our families and our communities.”
Founders and followers of JWRP are married, single, older, younger, observant and non-observant women — a patchwork creating the quilt to warm the spirit of Jewish families. The T.A.G. (Transform and Grow) Missions to Israel, designed for women with children under the age of 18, are subsidized; participants are responsible for airfare, a few meals and spending money.
“We’ve found that many women returning home send their children to day schools, they’re getting involved in their synagogues, giving tzedakah, baking challah, and more are making trips to Israel with their families — seven of whom have made aliyah,” Palatnik said. She noted that close to 4,000 women have traveled on the program. More than 1,200 women from 13 countries attended this year.
“We’re humbled by how our organization has uplifted families and communities, “she said.
Zoller, who first made the JWRP trip three years ago, chose to return this summer as a leader. “This is a lot of pure enlightenment, without any proselytizing. It’s about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ you feel it, and how to bring it back to your family,” she said.
Zoller was inspired by a class taught by Rabbi Gavriel Friedman of Jerusalem, and hopes to host his visit to the Dallas community in October.
“The wisdom of the Torah belongs to all of us and through our travels, women are touring the land, learning what happened historically, bringing the land alive,” said Palatnik. “They take classes that provide wisdom for life. Everything we do with this project is special; every day is the best day and every moment is a blessing.”
Among the moments not to be forgotten were a gathering at the top of Masada — which included a naming ceremony for those participants without Hebrew names — and a visit to the Kfar Yeladim David orphanage, where the women helped raise $1,000 to purchase furniture for the facility. They shared Havdallah on a rooftop, the backdrop for a meeting with IDF soldiers and an opportunity to thank them for their service. They rode camels, kayaked on the Jordan River and floated in the Dead Sea. There were visits to Yad Vashem and the Aish HaTorah World Center, along with prayers and dancing at the Kotel.
The program shares the values of Jewish life, including humility, anger, joy, optimism, honesty, self-worth, kindness and gratitude. Classes included “Gossip, Lies & Lessons,” “The Kabbalah of Love,” “World Perfect,” “Why the Jews,” “Light Up Your Life — Here Comes Shabbat,” “Putting the ‘Jewish’ into Values,” “Shabbat: Heaven on Earth” and “Israel Advocacy: How You Can Make a Difference.”
As a teen, Shapiro would have loved to go to Israel and for many reasons, the opportunity didn’t come together. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor who lost most of his family and then much of his faith, Shapiro said that to finally get to visit the country — where Jews can be Jews no matter what, where she saw mezuzot on the doorposts of the hotels — was incredible.
“It wouldn’t be enough to go and ‘just see the sites’ again,” said Shapiro, who hopes to return as a leader in 2014. “I’ve had a blind love for Israel for all of my life and now my eyes are wide open. This trip gave me a clarity and connection that I never understood. It was a spiritual immersion.”
Braswell, who is “still feeling it,” left for Israel proud to be a Jewish mother; after returning home, she was proud to be a Jewish woman.
“As Jewish women we’re the light for our families, and JWRP, with no judgment at all, helped each of us to break down barriers and brighten our homes,” said Pailet. “This journey was Jewish life through a new lens.”
For more information, contact Hudy Abrams at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit jwrp.org.