From February 5-9, over 150 women from across North America, many of whom have never been to Israel, will be partaking in the third annual Heart to Heart mission. The Heart to Heart mission, organized by National Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federations of North America, will allow these women to hear from important politicians, philanthropists, businesswomen, athletes and many more inspiring women in Israel. The mission will give them the opportunity to explore the land of Israel, visit cultural sights and see first-hand the work being done overseas by The Federation’s partner agencies.
You have the chance to experience Israel by following six women from the Greater Washington community who have chosen to embark on this life-changing experience. Pictures, videos and stories will be shared by these women, giving you the chance to learn more about their trip.
The Heart to Heart Mission has come to an end, but the most vital responsibility of all of the participants is yet to come. Most of the women are back in their homes and communities by now, already sharing moving stories with friends and family members. The final day of the mission was Thursday, February 9th. I landed at JFK this morning feeling surprisingly rested and full of inspiration and excitement that I cannot wait to bring back to my community. It was truly a privilege to travel with my fellow JFGW community members, Susan Schor, Rhea Schwartz, Leslie Kaplan, Stefanie Sanders Levy and Margaret Goodman. Each of these women, along with other women on our bus (Bus #4) made the Heart to Heart mission an unforgettable experience. Each woman brought with her to Israel her own suitcase full of life experiences and moments - some sad, some happy and all a part of her life's journey as a woman, a philanthropist and a dedicated community member.
One of the most inspiring moments of the mission for me took place on the final day when we visited the Ben Yakir Youth Village. The Youth Village has been in existence for 37 years and is currently filled to capacity with a waiting list. Ben Yakir serves at-risk boys and the majority are second generation Olim from the FSU and Ethiopia. In fact, 77% of the boys are Ethiopian Israeli. They are at risk and come from low social economic neighborhoods and have had issues with their schools in their local communities. The boys are identified by welfare departments in communities and live at Ben Yakir by choice and only with the support of their families. They are in desperate need of confidence building and personal attention.
The boys live at the village during the week and visit their family every other week for Shabbat. Boys in grades 7-9 attend classes at the village, while boys in grades 10-12 attend school in a nearby village. The incredible professionals who work at Ben Yakir provide creative learning opportunities and a caring environment where the boys can thrive and ultimately be successful in their army service and in their lives.
We were lucky to be able to meet several boys and professionals during our time at Ben Yakir. The Youth Village has three social workers and staff and use animal therapy, art therapy, touch and movement therapy to work with the boys. Three boys performed a selection of music they had learned to play on the keyboard. We also had the opportunity to see the small farm that is located on the grounds of Ben Yakir—twenty boys care for animals on a daily basis there. They feed the animals and clean the cages. The boys benefit from this because they learn to help others through the process and working with the boys, the staff is able to reach them in ways they might not otherwise be able to. Many of the boys have felt judged and rejected throughout their lives. They do not feel judged by animals and feel a sense of pride, responsibility and fulfillment from their work.
There are five youth villages in Israel, all serving young boys and girls who desperately need this unique environment that will enable them to reach his or her own full potential and positively contribute to Israeli society.
Now it is my responsibility and the responsibility of all the women who participated on the Heart to Heart Mission to take all that we have experienced and share these stories in our community. I feel such a sense of pride about the impact of our gifts to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, locally in our community, in Israel and around the world!
Mandy Kaiser-Blueth, Manager, Women’s Philanthropy
Today's visit to Afula to learn about the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) program’s Springboard and Neurim, for Ethiopian teens and their families was thought-provoking, enlightening and uplifting. First, it made me focus on the different role the military plays in the US and Israel and how the culture of each country is affected. That led to the realization of the special significance of the JDC Neurim program. It is not just a "save a soul "activity, which could be accomplished with other types of tzedakah. Rather, this is a means of putting the imprimatur of the state of Israel on the Ethiopian teenager who would otherwise have been an outcast in society. It normalizes the teenager by allowing him or her to succeed in the great Israeli equalizer, the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The program provides support and gives them a chance to maximize their skills and talents. Federation's support for this program has made me even more proud to be a Federation supporter.
Rhea Schwartz, Heart to Heart mission participant
Please click here to learn about the Etgarim program from mission participant Leslie Kaplan.
Today we revisited our childhoods from kindergarten from making cookies to playing in the mud. We were guests in several gan (kindergarten) classrooms in Beit Shemesh and took part in a hands-on opportunity. We learned about sifryat pijama, the Israeli version of PJ Library. We interacted with the children, observed as they listened to a book that was provided to each classroom, as well as to each individual child to be shared with their families at home. The children made beautiful tefilat haderech (traveler’s prayer) key chains that they decorated with their own art work, as well as special handmade gifts to celebrate Tu B'Shvat.
Later, we were guests in the homes of several Beit Shemesh women who participate in the women's empowerment program. We were treated to delicious home cooked traditional Moroccan foods. We learned about each woman's personal story of aliyah and their life journey. We even learned how to make a special dessert ( Moroccan sugar cookies) under the watchful eye of our hostess. We are looking forward to receiving a copy of their new cookbook that is hot off the press and features stories and recipes of these special women. Please ask us more about it!
Needing to work off our filling lunch, we then traveled to the Vertigo Eco Arts Center where we participated in a bit of yoga, stretching and dance. The highlight of this site visit, however, was the chance to get our hands dirty making clay pots and bricks, yes bricks.
Back to school, back to basics in the classroom, the kitchen, nature and finally back to Tel Aviv tonight. Tomorrow we leave for the north and a Sefat experience.
Stefanie Sanders Levy, Greater Washington Women’s Philanthropy Board Member and National Women’s Philanthropy Board Member