By Michelle Cohen
For Naomi Schachter, the decision to join the new Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project group was easy. “I loved the idea of women supporting women, and coming together as a group” to learn more about Israel, Judaism and how to find the best version of yourself, she said.
Schachter is joining the second cohort of the group in the Lehigh Valley, organized by the Jewish Federation, which currently features nine women. The group’s activities will commence with an eight-day trip to Israel this summer for Jewish moms to reconnect to Jewish values, build meaningful friendships and explore the history and meaning of the modern and biblical state. After the trip, the women continue their Jewish learning journey throughout the year here in the Lehigh Valley with 12 dynamic learning opportunities ranging from Israel advocacy to history and Jewish holidays.
Schachter will participate along with Dana Cohen, Emily Ford, Caren Lowrey, Allison Shimon, Rachel Shurman, Lora Vaknin, Kimberly Valuntas and Carol Wilson.
“We are pleased to have such a vibrant and committed group of moms participating in this second cohort of the JWRP trip to Israel,” said Jeri Zimmernan, assistant executive director of the Jewish Federation, who is organizing the trip on the Federation’s end. “We look forward to the year of learning that follows the trip, too.”
The trip has been dubbed a “Birthright” for mom, with all of the breathtaking and meaningful stops that one would expect from a trip to Israel, but at a different life stage where the focus is women’s unique roles in their families and communities. The trip includes a “Lady Naming” atop Masada, kayaking on the Jordan River, a tour of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, dancing around the Western Wall on Shabbat, a meaningful tour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, a hands-on volunteer project and more.
However, outside of the touring, the trip is an opportunity for moms to connect with one another and learn about core Jewish values that provide wisdom for timely and relevant subjects like marriage, parenting, work life balance, infusing the home with spirituality, dealing with personality types and learning practical strategies to live more Jewish lives, in a unique way each woman feels inspired by.
“I kind of know everyone in the group” already, said Schachter, who is an active volunteer in the community, but she looks forward to “getting to know people in a more real way, and to be who I am outside of being a wife and a mother. It’s an opportunity for women to reconnect with yourself as yourself, not as it relates to someone else.”
Schachter has traveled to Israel before, most recently for her son’s bar mitzvah, but she acknowledges that this sort of trip is very different. “To go back to Israel at a different stage in my life, as a mother and wife and somebody farther along on my own journey, and see Israel from my own perspective … it’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s something that we, as women, don’t get to do. As a rule, we are never alone. We are always with others or in relation to others, and this is an opportunity to take a journey of our own.”
“It’s like your own personal trek, like Eat Pray Love: The Jewish Edition!” she added with a laugh.
The official trip will begin on July 10, but Schachter and a few other women will be flying to Israel a few days early to acclimate to the time change. Now in the planning stages of the trip, she has decided on several goals for the eight days and beyond.
In addition to giving her husband and son Isaac time together, and a volunteer opportunity for Benjamin, who will be accompanying her to Israel, Schachter hopes “to experience Israel for myself, and feeling the power and energy of women is what I’m most excited about. I feel like just to be able to be there and see all these women coming together for the same general goal, which is to empower ourselves to be the leaders and facilitators that we are, to strengthen our commitment to ourselves, families, community and Israel, to do something outside of our comfort zone and to grow. It’s all about growth and becoming more of who you are and learning more about yourself, and pushing your limits.”
Schachter will be pushing metaphorical limits as well as physical ones; in anticipation of the heat in Israel, she sat in a sauna every day for two weeks. “This is an incredible opportunity for women, to show you how strong and capable you are,” she said.
Another goal of Schachter’s is to “connect with women all across the country and around the world, and see how we share the same goals. We all have similar issues and dreams. It really is about connecting, finding our similarities, learning from our differences, and growing.”
She is thankful for the program and the people like Beth Kushnick who brought the community together to help women experience this trip of a lifetime. “It really does make a difference,” she said.
Interested in learning more about trips to Israel? Contact the Jewish Federation at 610-821-5500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.