As I studied my face in the mirror, I was grateful that the Jerusalem morning light was kind. I had slept lightly all night, being awakened every few hours by imaginary voices uttering my name, and was worried that harsh dark circles beneath my eyes would reveal my exhaustion. But no. The blue eyes that stared back at me were clear and the familiar complexion did not reveal the fatigue I felt within.
* * *
When I first learned that I’d be coordinating and helping lead a weeklong mission to Israel for women, I was apprehensive. First of all, I am not the type who even does “girls weekends” away. But more to the point, I much prefer to perfume myself with testosterone than estrogen. I couldn’t resist the opportunity, however, to educate a group of Jewish women from Atlanta about the challenges faced and choices made by various groups of women who make their lives in Israel. In addition, it was important for the travelers to better understand the ways in which dollars raised by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta are used to improve lives and communities.
And so, for the past five days, I had the privilege of exposing thirty-seven women to the very different and personal stories of others. Highlights ranged from women raising children along the border of Israel and Gaza to Arab- and Jewish-Israeli women working side-by-side in the Sindyanna olive oil factory. Miri Eisin talked about being a mother and a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, and the current military state of affairs. Galit Reisman introduced us to the world of fashion in Tel Aviv. Naomi Ragen discussed her evolution as an author who writes about injustices against women in some ultra-Orthodox communities. Dege shared tales of her perilous journey from Ethiopia to Yokneam and subsequent path towards embracing traditional forms of Ethiopian dance. Michal Ken-Tor spoke of her road to becoming a Reform rabbi in Megiddo. Young Israeli woman answered questions and talked about preparing for and serving in the army. Nadia Matar expressed views of living in a settlement of Gush Etzion. We laughed, cried, questioned, danced, sang, shopped, and much more.
This week our female guide (the great Michal Granot), female speakers, and female participants explored the intricate and complex choices we make daily as we seek to improve ourselves, as well as the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors. We listened and learned, even if we didn’t fully comprehend or agree. I believe we each will leave with a deeper appreciation and a more expanded view of each other, our community, our country, and our people.
As for me, I too am better off for reaching outside my own comfort zones. I learned to love and appreciate the hearts of other women — kindred spirits — in ways I never imagined were possible.
I must confess though…the steadfast male bus driver, serious (and cute) male security guards, and ever-flowing strong dark coffee were welcome diversions along the way.