Three years ago this month, a small post appeared on the CJP website: 

Join National Women’s Philanthropy of JFNA for Heart2Heart: A Women’s Mission to Israel, this February 2010. Pack your bag and share your heart and Israel with women from across the US.

Something about this invitation immediately moved me, unlike other enticements I had seen before. Was it the natural lure of “just for women,” or the comprehensive five day program, manageable for both family and work? Perhaps it was a response to the recurring gnawing feeling I realized I had been having: I was missing out on the Israel experience.

To be sure, it had become privately embarrassing to work as a professional in the Jewish community knowing I had not been to Israel in 37 years! Back then, I participated in the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)’s teen tour – seven weeks in the summer of ’72 – when I was 16. I had few memories of that trip, mostly negative ones of meals with dry schnitzel, lousy bathrooms, and long bus rides to ancient ruins. What was it about today’s Israel that excited my colleagues and friends? I felt the sudden urge to find out.

I had hesitations and concerns about this upcoming adventure: My husband Steve and I had always supported CJP, but what was “Women’s Philanthropy” and who was involved? I knew no one going on the trip, and I had not traveled alone for 24 years. And, the scariest reason of all? I was afraid to fly! 

At the time, a fulfilling yet exhausting year as the development manager of a Jewish non-profit was coming to an end. It seemed like a good time for a vacation. I asked my boss, a frequent traveler to Israel, who encouraged me to go, as did Steve. The trip was very reasonable, including the pledge for a minimum gift, so I decided I would pay for it myself. Two days later, I had the distinct honor of being the last woman to sign up and, like Moses at Mt. Sinai, naïve and unaware of what was to come, I said, Heneni, Here I am.

Heart2Heart changed my life.

The Shabbat morning after I returned, I felt compelled to go to synagogue. My rabbi, Wes Gardenswartz, heard I had been in Israel, so he offered an aliyah and asked me to say a few words to the congregation about my experience. As I spoke in front of the Torah, intense feelings began to well up inside of me, and I wept uncontrollably. The time change notwithstanding, I realized then that I was forever transformed, and forever grateful.

In ways both personal and professional, I am a different person today because that initial journey challenged me to strengthen my confidence and ability to “go with the flow” in whatever situation I find myself. My life is enriched by what I have learned about myself in the company of Israeli and American women. I even traveled alone one year and thoroughly enjoyed it! I have brought new and old friends who have loved H2H as much as I have and it has brought us closer together. Last year, I nurtured a 16 member Boston contingent (together with Caryn Lazaroff, CJP WP Director, and Ann Levin, then WP president) that visited CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection, a very special day of humble feelings and moving testaments to the power of caring communities.

As one of the few independent development professionals on these trips, I’ve seen firsthand what moves a donor, and what she looks for in a cause, teaching me that love of purpose is the first step to supporting a project. And I have met the most extraordinary, diverse, kind and warm women, of all ages and backgrounds: professionals, mothers, devoted Zionists, some who donate and volunteer every day of the year, and some who had never heard of “federation.”

Much like the youngsters called “10/2’s” who live for ten months just to go to sleep away camp for two, I am that “51/1” who waits all year for the privilege to participate in this mission. The three weeks I’ve spent in Israel these last three years are etched in my mind and inform my daily life. I willingly share my impressions of our Israeli sisters and brothers, and remember that I and my fellow travelers have made a difference in the lives of people just like us, as we visit the programs and projects our communities support.

I always cared about Israel, but now it is truly part of my soul. For instance, whenever I recount the poignant story of the young female IDF soldier, who traveled on my bus two years ago, and said as we drove her home at the end of a long day and night of magical, meaningful moments, “I always knew I had to do my service for my country; I never knew I was doing it for all of you, too,” I weep tears of true understanding of what Israel and its people mean to me. Yes, I often cry tears of joy and memory in my life…but Israel and these very special missions have the power to overwhelm me with emotion. It’s extraordinary, and you can’t buy that anywhere.

Heart2Heart also offers a unique and rare opportunity for women. One week out of our busy year of taking care of our families, our homes, our public lives; a single week, when we, ourselves, are taken care of: where we go, what we do, when we eat, is all arranged for us. It is a gift of pure freedom and joy, to share time in Israel in an easy and rewarding way via extraordinary venues, with intelligent, imaginative and invigorating people. The Tel Aviv hotel experience is perfect. Even our tour guides, now my friends too, are remarkable women, and they have left an indelible and distinct impression on me.

And here’s the most amazing discovery of all:

Last year, I realized that my trip in the ‘70s (and the one you may have gone on then, too) was the “Dead Tour.” What do I mean? In those days, you saw the Cave of Machpelah (the tomb of the Patriarchs), the Dead Sea, where the crucified Jesus had laid in state, and cemetery after cemetery of dead heroes. Perhaps this is why I never established a connection. Today you visit living, breathing Israel, while you interact with its people and feel its energy: the skyscrapers and the sages; the industry and the incredible restaurants with delicious, perfectly flavored offerings (not a schnitzel in sight!); the politics and the plethora of shopping, art galleries, music venues; and of course, all the wondrous beauty of the Mediterranean, the Carmel Mountains, and the vegetation now watered in the Negev. You are filled much like a vessel is with wine, with excitement, alluring sounds and sights you could never imagine. And the food, oh, the food – from Machana Yehuda (the market in Jerusalem) to the trendiest restaurants, to a Druze home, to an enormous Bedouin tent, somewhere in the South, resplendent with colorful floor pillows, kosher dinner…and belly dancing. Of course, what happens in a Bedouin tent stays in a Bedouin tent!

Remember when I said I didn’t know what Women’s Philanthropy was? Today, I give an annual gift in my own name to CJP and I am a member of the WP board of directors.

I was one of the first to register for this year’s Heart2Heart4.  You have just a few more days to say, Heneni, Here I am. Come with me and be transformed.  I look forward to seeing you in Eretz Israel. Shalom!

Here is the Heart2Heart Link:

 For more of my impressions of Israel and Heart2Heart:

After the first trip:

After the second:

And a post I recently wrote on this blog:

PSS H2H1 was originally envisioned, organized and executed with the help of Dani Weinstein, development professional who first worked in the New York office of Women’s Philanthropy of JFNA, and who we are blessed to now have as Young Adult Director here at CJP!

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