The typical modern mother, so busy juggling all the responsibilities of raising children, running a home, and, often, keeping up with a demanding job, frequently finds that the last item on the priority list is taking care of herself.
Julie Farkas wants to take a crew of Bergen County moms away from all of that. A busy Bergenfield mother of three, Farkas knows firsthand that most mothers need some time off to recharge their batteries. But she hopes to recharge them spiritually as well.
She’s searching for a few good women who are deserving of a free trip to Israel through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), a non-profit group based in Washington, D.C., that aims to empower Jewish women.
|Julie Farkas Larry Farkas|
For nine days this summer, participants of the mission will travel across the Jewish state from Safed to Jerusalem. Among the items on the itinerary are floating in the Dead Sea, kayaking on the Jordan River, riding camels in the Judean desert, and visiting the Western Wall. But it’s not all fun in the sun: The women will attend Torah lectures, learn to make challah, and serve the poor in soup kitchens. They will also have the opportunity to be inspired by the women of Israel who are soldiers, business leaders. and politicians.
The JWRP-sponsored mission, dubbed Transform and Grow (T.A.G.), has taken 1,000 women worldwide to Israel in the three years since it launched the trips, which are mainly sponsored through private donations. (Women pay their airfare but everything else is free.)
JWRP leaders enlist non-affiliated Jewish women to travel on the missions in order to give them the opportunity to tour Israel, connect with other Jewish women from around the world, and discover how to bring Jewish values into their families and communities, said Lori Palatanik, JWRP director. “The goal is to inspire women in every way – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And if you inspire a woman, you inspire a family.”
The idea for a Bergen County mission was born six months ago, when Farkas attended a conference for women in Jewish outreach. She heard an intriguing presentation from Palatnik, who said she wanted to start a women’s movement to shift the values of the world. “They were going to bring women from all of the world to Israel for nine days for free and teach them about Jewish values and empower them, and thus through the women, we could change the world,” Farkas related. She was determined to bring the concept back home to help the women in her community.
A teacher at the Jewish Learning Experience and the Jewish Youth Encounter Program in Teaneck, Farkas loves teaching basic Judaism to those who want to connect to something meaningful. Organizing the trip for Bergen County residents, she said, is a natural extension of that.
She frequently invites strangers and neighbors to Friday night and Shabbat meals at her home, and said that over the years, she has been shocked to discover how many local women have never been to Israel and want to learn more about their Jewish heritage but lack the opportunity to do so.
“The Jewish people are the ones who gave the values to the world, and if we don’t teach our children what it means to be Jewish and what our values are, we can’t continue to be a light unto the other nations, which is our job,” she said. Farkas hopes that through the Israel trip, the women will become more determined to transmit Jewish values to their families, and more able, through education.
Unlike Birthright Israel and other missions like it, said Farkas, it’s not just about affecting one individual, it’s about affecting one person who will then bring Jewish values to her home, children, and community.
For more information and to apply to go on the mission, visit www.jwrp.org.