Mehitza at Teleki Ter shul 390.
(photo credit: Molly Gellert)
Two years ago, when Women of Reform Judaism of Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, Arizona, was still morphing from a sisterhood that did a lot of cooking and baking to one with a more educational, spiritual and social action focus, we joined a new WRJ twinning program that we hoped might fulfill a portion of that goal. Joining with the women of Kehillat Emet VeShalom in Nahariya, we launched what has become an incredibly successful intercontinental friendship.
Now, many of our members have relatives or friends in Israel and visit often.
There were opportunities for Temple trips or Federation missions. Somehow, despite my thoroughly Jewish upbringing, I never felt the pull.
But then, last spring, this enticing invitation appeared in my inbox. WRJ, celebrating its Centennial, was going to Israel. Another member of my WRJ chapter had never gone, either. At the last minute, we decided that this trip was going to be too unusual to miss.
This was not just the usual touristy trip. The itinerary included a special educational seminar at Hebrew Union College, and lunch with the rabbinical and cantorial students. At the Hotline for Migrant Workers, we heard about gender issues as they affect the migrant worker experience. We were inspired by speaking with young men and women at an Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism mechinah project in Jaffa.
When we celebrated Rosh Hodesh with Women of the Wall, the police formed a human barrier to shield our combined group of about 100 women.
And as we traversed the country, we were amazed at how much Israel looks like Southern Arizona. Of course, we have the Grand Canyon, but Israel has Mitzpe Ramon. And nothing in Arizona can match the exuberance we found at Kibbutz Lotan near Eilat.
And then, joining WRJ Israel’s annual meeting, with lots of hugs and tears, we finally met nine of the women from our twin in Nahariya.
How incredible to pair the faces with the names, to take pictures together, and to detail our amazing two-year history with everyone in the room: Making their recipes, following their lead by decorating a chair for Gilad Schalit, planning simultaneous holiday and Shabbat celebrations – how did so much sisterhood happen so quickly? Back in Tucson, we prepared a Power- Point presentation of our trip, planned a brunch, sent out an email invitation to the congregation, and hosted almost 50 women. And then 30 more women who had not been able to attend for whatever reason wanted an encore.
The conclusion? For starters, our joint Twinning Program has been recognized with the prestigious WRJ 2011-2013 Gold Or Ami award. For my congregation, I know there has been a more balanced exposure to the Israel beyond the headlines – a sense of the biblical majesty certainly, but also Israel’s continuing journey toward more gender equality in both public and religious spheres, and the march toward more empowerment of women. My new blog, Israeli Moments, will appear on the WRJ page of our Temple website, continuing the process with updates and personal anecdotes.
All because we were smart enough to recognize the possibilities of twinning, lucky enough to be living with easy accessibility and connectivity to each other, when miles mean nothing (well, they still haven’t figured out how to make the flight shorter).
For me, I have seen and absorbed the pulse of Israel. It took a mere two weeks for that to happen. I know what coming home feels like; it defies description with mere words. And best of all, now we all have sisters in Israel.
The author has lived in Tucson, Arizona, for nine years. She is a member of Temple Emanu-El, where she has served on the board of directors. She is a former president of WRJ of Temple Emanu-El and is a member of its steering committee.