Mary Magdalene was not a rehabilitated prostitute, but rather a woman of wealth and social status – maybe an older woman, perhaps a widow – not a love interest, but a confidante and a friend to Jesus.Thus said American biblical scholar and author Dr. Tina Wray at the second annual International Women’s Day Symposium at the Magdalena Institute in the town of Magdala last month.According to Wray, Mary Magdalene’s story paved the way for a more open type of egalitarian humanity to emerge throughout history that she believes contemporary women can still learn from.The symposium’s theme this year, “Women of Influence: Hope for Humanity,” showcased six guest speakers from different cultural and religious backgrounds who are leaders within their respective communities.Christian Arab social worker Daad Odeh, a family therapist from Kafr Yasif, read a poem in Arabic about the joy and pain of being a woman (called “I Am a Woman”), and then briefly described the inner workings and challenges of her job.British-born Israeli Lisa Miara explained that after losing her 19-year-old son in 1998 in a terrorist attack while he serving in the IDF, she began to ask herself, “How can I love my neighbor as I love myself?” Her search for the answer led her to establish the Springs of Hope Foundation to raise awareness of and assistance for victims of terrorism in the Middle East, victims of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and victims of Palestinian terrorism in Israel.She warned about the imminent threat of Shari’a law and how repressive it is to women. Khadra Al Sanah, representing the Beduin community, shed light on the patriarchal and male-oriented society that she was raised in. She shared how she pulled herself out of this society and started the Sidreh-Lakiya Negev Weaving Projects, putting Beduin women to work to sustain their families and communities.Genevieve Begue was dealt a rough hand. After enduring abusive parents and unhealthy relationships, she converted to Judaism and made aliya to Israel from France, hoping to turn her unfortunate circumstances into something positive.This led her to Jisr e-Zarka, to work with youth in one of the poorest Arab villages in Israel and become a positive role model to the children she works with.Dr. Faydra Shapiro moved to Israel from Canada with her family in order to “return to the Jewish homeland.” It was here that her academic pursuits shifted her research towards Christian and Jewish relations, in particular focusing on the ties that evangelical Christians have to the People of the Book. Through her work she became the director of the Galilee Center for Studies in Jewish-Christian relations. She shared her experience as a Jew, and explained how ultimately her research experience with Christians had surprised, challenged and encouraged her in her own process of personal and spiritual growth.The event, a celebration of tolerance and personal and collective strength, was held against the backdrop of the Sea of Galilee, clearly viewed from the recently built Duc In Altum (Latin for “launch into the deep”) Chapel.Following the symposium, the speakers were presented with the Magdala logo on a chain: a six-petaled rosette, based on the rosette carved on the top of the Magdala Stone, discovered in 2009 by archeologists during the excavation of the Migdal Synagogue in the Galilee, and dated to before the destruction of the Second Temple. The Magdala Stone is believed to be a three-dimensional representation of the Temple.Although a relatively new establishment, the institute is working to build a name for itself as a haven for women of many faiths to come together in a place of spiritual and psychological learning and healing.Institute director Jennifer Ristine reminded the 80 women in attendance – including diplomats and diplomat’s wives – to recognize and nurture their “feminine genius,” in order to positively influence their communities to be able to overcome challenges in the world.