For the fourth time in five years, the Charlotte Torah Center sponsored a one of a kind women’s trip to Israel. It was part of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), an international organization dedicating to empowering women in every area of their lives. We left on June 26th and met up with over 400 women from 25 cities throughout North America and South Africa. All of us were a bit nervous about leaving our husbands and children at home. Would they survive without us for nine days? As for us, we were traveling 6,000 miles away to a foreign country that, according to the news and much social media, is a hotbed of peril and unrest. Why were we embarking on this journey? Would we discover about our homeland—and ourselves? The JWRP mission is bold and unambiguous: “To empower women to change the world through Jewish values that transform ourselves, our families and our communities.” We all embraced and ultimately experienced it firsthand.

Although the trip was eight days, it is hard to believe how much we were able to accomplish in that time. In addition to the “must-see” places — the Western Wall, Masada, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem — we also went to Independence Hall, the place where Israel’s Declaration of Independence was signed. Hundreds of women sang Hatikva; there was not a dry eye in the group. We met with selfless young men and women about to enter military service in the IDF. We were in awe of the sacrifices they were making to defend their country. It was a particularly emotion moment for some, especially those who had children of the same age as these soon to be soldiers. Their pride for the Jewish homeland was palpable.

Excellent, thought provoking presentations, which gave religious and historical context, preceded each location we visited. Although each woman had her own personal experience, we all discovered the incredible inner beauty of Israel and her people. Our tour bus was an amalgamation of women from various cities as well as accomplished Israeli women who had retired from the IDF. They shared their lives with us and were interested in viewing Israel from our perspective—and we from theirs. Although we were different in country, culture, language, we bonded with them as women and mothers.

The goal of these trips is to transform Jewish mothers through deepening their connection to Israel and Judaism in general; what better place in the world is there to do this than the epicenter of the Jewish people for thousands of years–the Kotel (Western Wall). Two women in our group never had a Bat Mitzvah and this was the time and place to do it. After the ceremony, each of them spoke about their personal connection to being Jewish, the significance of their Hebrew names, and what mitzvah project they took upon themselves. It was a powerful and uniting experience.

The fifth day of the trip was dedicated to an enriching and meaningful experience; we volunteered at Shalva, free, non-denominational  facility that helps 850 special needs people each week. They provide 224,400 hours of therapy annually to infants and adults. Shalva is a leader in nonconventional support of the disabled. They have a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility, featuring  butterflies as its theme. They view those entrusted to them as caterpillars who enter their cocoon. Professional and compassionate care are the hallmarks that enable their clientele to exit their cocoons, stretch their wings, and become exquisite beings. We had the great pleasure of dancing with the young people at Shalva. The gift they imparted was priceless—they seemed to have a pure love and joy of life; it caused us to think about ours. While there are many remarkable landmarks in Israel, this modern facility testifies to the bright, hopeful, and innovative world which Israel works hard to create. To us Shalva was a microcosm of what Israel stands for – peace, harmony, and innovation through Jewish values in a Jewish state.

We feel privileged to be part of the growing number of Jewish women who have had the opportunity to have this one in a lifetime experience, which celebrates women and focuses on their inner strength and ability to transform the community in which they live.

(For trip information, please contact sara@charlottetorahcenter.com)

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