About 40 women from the Toronto area will share a life-altering experience in Israel this November, forging emotional bonds with one another as well as spiritual ties to Judaism.
They will go to Israel through a program called Birthright for Moms, organized by Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP). The project was founded in 2008 by a group of women who were concerned about deteriorating societal and familial mores. Their solution was to position Jewish women as the leaders of an innovative social movement based on reinforcing core Jewish values.
JWRP partners with various organizations in running these Birthright-style trips to Israel. The upcoming trip, scheduled for Nov. 17 to 27, is the first to be co-organized with JWRP and the Toronto branch of Jinspire (Jinspire.org), a network of laypeople who share their knowledge of Judaism with those who have had less exposure to it.
Jinspire is the largest collaborator of JWRP, said Rabbi Simcha Barnett of Jinspire, with plans to send 225 women to Israel in 2013 from its various North American branches.
The difference between Jinspire groups and others is that laypeople – not rabbinic leaders – manage the trips and are therefore more approachable to the participants, he said. “The beauty is that real people from the community are leading these trips. They are volunteers and have so much to share.”
Lisa Kuba of Syosset, N.Y., returned from a Jinspire trip in early May. “You learn about Judaism, you learn about yourself,” she said. “The trip teaches you how to be a better you.”
Because the trip is targeted at women with children 18 years old or younger, it is likely that their own individual growth will affect an entire Jewish family.
“The idea is that women are the engine of any family, especially in terms of spirituality,” said Rabbi Barnett. “We believe Jewish women and mothers make a real difference in this world.”
The trip is an opportunity for busy moms to reinvigorate, refresh and reconnect with themselves. The goal of the program is to inspire personal growth and intensify the participants’ spirituality.
Still inspired from her Jinspire trip this past December, Alyssa Glazer of Plainview, N.Y., said she appreciated the fact that the trip provided an opportunity for the women to concentrate on themselves. As wives and mothers, women are usually focused on their husbands, children and homes, she added, but the program in Israel provided a distraction from that.
“We focused on ourselves in a very growth-oriented way, learning to be our optimal selves,” Glazer said. “Ultimately, though, I brought what I learned spiritually into my home, my parenting and the way I approach my life in general.”
Participants are enthusiastic about the transformative experience. One woman described it as a gift – for herself as an individual, to her family as a mother, and to her husband as a wife.
The jam-packed, high-end trip is highly subsidized: participants pay only for airfare and minor sundry expenses. The days are filled with cross-country touring, inspiring seminars, a stirring Shabbat experience in Jerusalem and meaningful bonding experiences for the women. Since everyone is a mother, the participants are at similar stages in life so that they can easily relate to one another.
After a Jinspire branch has organized a trip to Israel, its programs fill up quickly, since participants return home raving to their friends and relatives about their incredible experiences, Rabbi Barnett said. JWRP’s trips have been so popular that it is now offering a men’s program.
Jinspire Toronto intends to establish a mentorship program after the November trip for participants who want to learn more about Judaism.
An integral aspect of the trip is that the women share the experience as a group and return home to their community bonded as “sisters.”
“You really feel a bond with everyone,” said Kuba. “It’s a sisterhood. We feel like we’ve known each other forever.”