As the world confronts the constantly evolving and dynamic situation posed by the spread of COVID-19, our Federation joins the many other local Jewish organizations in making decisions about how we are going to support the community and operate in the weeks and months ahead. We had to make the unfortunate choice to postpone a planned joint trip to Israel with the Jewish Community Foundation. Our colleagues are making tough decisions every day. And yet we are buoyed by a recent Federation experience that was fortunate to take place just two weeks ago. Prior to the current environment and conversation about COVID-19, our Pauline Foster Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Institute and our Women’s Philanthropy Board organized a transformational Women’s Empowerment Mission to Israel. Below are reflections from that trip. During a time of such instability and concern, we feel fortunate to share the following words of inspiration and strength, which exemplify the power of Federation’s community of women leaders today.
Women’s Empowerment Mission Reflections
Last week, The Pauline Foster Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Institute graduates returned from a one-week, action-packed, and truly unforgettable Women’s Empowerment Mission to Israel. From Shabbat dinner with a local Survivor to gathering at the Kotel, it was a powerful experience for all.
Throughout the mission, participants met women from different backgrounds, faiths, and circumstance. Michal Barkai Brody, founder of Alma Preparatory Academy for Female Leadership, was one of many powerful encounters. Alma provides young women from underprivileged backgrounds across Israel with opportunities for leadership training before they enter the Israel Defense Forces. Alma, which seemed to us the clear answer to an obvious need, actually was a revolutionary idea! Michal spoke of her experience as an entrepreneur and innovator facing a constant and disappointing flood of closed doors and crippling challenges at every aspect of her journey. Her message, appropriately timed at the start of the mission, served as an anthem—a tribute to all the incredible women, the lives that they changed, and the power of making an unsupported choice. As we continued the mission, stronger and more connected, Michal and her journey to Alma never left us. Michal, and many of the women, ignored the hardships, the slammed doors, and made a choice. Lead by instinct and a healthy dose of chutzpah, they ignored the door and climbed through a nearby window instead. This concept appeared throughout the mission.
Countless meaningful encounters, incredible food, new friendships, and a beautiful ending in our partner region of Sha’ar HaNegev only scratch the surface of this mission. Participant and Israel first-timer, Laurie Hoshaw, shares her experience below:
Visiting Israel has been on my Bucket List since a planned trip was cancelled in 1974! That’s a long time to wait. I’ve changed, Israel has changed, and the world has changed! I left for Israel, excited, anticipatory and a little scared as rockets were flying at the time—my dreams were coming true!
Meeting all the extraordinary women and seeing Israel through their eyes was an incredibly eye opening experience. As talented guide, Lyana Rotstein, kept saying, look at this with open minds or with this hat on! Viewed in this way, seeing what each one of the women has accomplished was not only admirable but also overwhelming. They each saw a need, worked to solve it, and created a better way of life for many.
I do have to say that visiting the old city, was what I had been waiting for since 1974! The historical lessons were fascinating; I wish I had days to explore every section. Time at the Western Wall was emotional, I envisioned the joy my grandfather would have had being there, my father, my hero, was with me and I felt him guide me in my prayer as I touched the wall. I felt peace.
Yes, I’d like to go back to Israel, see things that we missed. I’d love more history. The sense I came away with though was that this was a once in a lifetime trip to see Israel through the eyes of women who have shaped their little corners of this constantly evolving country. I could go back many times over and see completely different scenes and places but nothing will compare to this experience. I lucked out on my 1st visit!
The fortuitous timing of the mission, incredible leadership, and dynamic itinerary beautifully punctuated the energy, brilliance, and power of women coming together to lead and connect. A sincere thank you to The Pauline Foster Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Institute task force, Silvana Christy, Judi Gottschalk, and Lisa Pearl for bringing a special blend of energy, passion, and warmth to this experience. Thank you, also, to the Foster Family for their generous financial support and vision—you made this trip possible! To all that attended, thank you. Our lives are forever enriched.