By Betsey Freedman
It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few weeks since I was on the Heart to Heart Mission for women. This was a national women’s philanthropy mission sponsored by Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
I heard from passionate speakers and saw how Israelis are contributing to making a difference in their own communities. As we arrived, we sang songs and danced with Israelis. We heard a lively Israeli Army band at dinner in a Jaffa Nightclub. We had a briefing with Major Avital Lebowitz, Head of the Israel Defense Force International Media Branch, on the first night of the mission. These were great highlights for me and this was only the first day!
On the mission, we observed Israel’s unique culture, fashion and food by participating in workshops with local artists in the Tel Aviv area. In northern Israel, we visited a winery and learned about the burgeoning Israeli wine industry. We dined with philanthropic Israeli Lions of Judah. We visited their homes, located throughout Israel.
We met with women in the top of their fields who are business leaders and CEO’s. And we met with other inspiring women like Oriel Gaula, the first ever wheelchair bound IDF Officer. We had breakfast with Oriel who shared with us how she and many others benefit from our philanthropic dollars at schools throughout Israel.
Another highlight was a visit to a classroom benefiting from the PJ library program in Israel known as “Sifriat Pajama.” We spent a morning in a nursery school in Beit Shemesh that gave special emphasis to empowering women.
While I was in Israel, I spent a day with the representatives from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), known in Israel as the Joint. As a new ambassador in their organization, I spent time in Tel Aviv seeing the amazing work being done with at-risk boys and girls. They run programs that have been able to change and improve the lives of local improvised and virtually homeless teenagers in Tel Aviv. JDC works with these youth to turn their lives around, bringing them into the mainstream, helping them to serve in the Israeli army and ensuring that they are not outcasts. I spent time with Elliot Goldstein one of the senior JDC executives in Israel. The work is incredible.
Meeting 150 other women from all over the United States whose lives and contributions and views are similar to my own, created a total inspirational week for me in Israel.
Betsey Freedman is the chairman of Global Needs Committee of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.