As we see the Jewish population of North American dwindling, everyone is looking for the next ‘big idea.’ What concept, project or program will create renewed excitement and commitment amongst Jews? What experience will motivate Jews to move their Judaism back to the top of their priority list for time, energy, and money?
A popular idea is to bring Jews back to their roots, back to Israel. Birthright encourages young people to visit Israel by offering them a free trip. Missions run by Federations and other Jewish organizations bring members of the community on subsidized trips to show them the Israel that their funds are helping to build and to foster stronger ties to their Jewish communities.
These are very successful trips, and do help those in the diaspora reconnect to their Judaism. But visionary Lori Palatnik and her team felt there was a gap in the Jewish community that was being reached out to in this way. Perhaps sending women already in their 30s and beyond, women already connected to families and Jewish communities, might give them the passion to return inspired and ready to share that inspiration with others. They would have the passion to take leadership roles both in their homes and in Jewish communal life. It might be a bit of a gamble, but a gamble that major philanthropists were prepared to underwrite. Thus, the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Mission (JWRP) to Israel became a reality.
The JWRP has partnered with outreach organizations in 40 cities to bring over 1,000 women a year, from places like Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia, St Louis, Toronto, Mexico City, Santiago, Chile and Johannesburg, South Africa. JET (Jewish Education through Torah) Ottawa participated in the original pilot mission in June 2009 and has been on board ever since.
On November 6th, 26 women from Ottawa will join 150 women from the US and Canada for this amazing experience. The lucky few, chosen from a much larger pool of applicants, form a group that includes, young mothers, single mothers, career women, retirees, Jews-by-birth and Jews-by-choice, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and completely unaffiliated.
In the midst of their enormously busy lives, filled with home and work, groceries, laundry, meal preparation, carpool, volunteer work, physical fitness and more, Jewish women ask themselves, “how can I ensure the future of the Jewish people? How can I ensure that my own children remain connected?” The answer, from deep within, gets drowned out by ringing cell phones and continuously refilling e- mail inboxes.
When the opportunity arose to go to Israel, many women have applied and argued determinedly that they should be chosen, because this trip would give them the tools and the passion to fulfill their roles as the link in this sacred chain of transmission from generation to generation.
As Dr Janice Singer, a scientist at the National Research Council shared in her application, “I grew up in an unaffiliated home with very little Jewish education. Since my children have been born, I have tried to make a Jewish home for them. For me it’s been little by little, year by year, learning more and more. The next step is a trip to Israel to bring that connection back to my children. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of my Jewish roots, the opportunity to make some good Jewish friends, and to connect more deeply with the wider Jewish community in Ottawa.”
Janice and the rest of the group will experience 10 days of travel, discussion and debate, from the Yam Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the Dead Sea. They will climb Masada, ride camels, braid Challah, and sing and dance at a pre-Shabbat concert with the “Surfer Rabbi” in the Old City of Jerusalem, within sight of the Western Wall. Throughout the trip, teacher and mentor, Lori Palatnik, will share her unique view of why Judaism speaks to the lives of highly intelligent, incredibly capable Jewish women in the 21st Century.
The 33 Ottawa women who participated in the 2009 and 2010 JWRP Mission are convinced that the mission to Israel and the ongoing follow up classes and Jewish experiences, have renewed their passion for Judaism and for Israel. That commitment and excitement rubs off on their families and friends, their children’s schools, their synagogues, the JCC and Federation. After all, Jewish women work so hard and do so much. Investing in Jewish mothers, is a great way to secure the Jewish Future.