Doryne Davis had been to Israel before, but "this was a trip like no other," said the Englewood resident of Jewish National Fund’s recent first-ever mission for women only. "It cut to the quick. They really got us laughing and crying from the moment we set out until the end. Regular tourists don’t go on trips like this."
Members of a panel on Israeli women’s experiences are Naama Etzion, a religious Jew from Gush Etzion; Suad Abu Siam, a Bedouin from the Negev; Talia Tzour; Shereen Jabaly, the Arab woman from Taybe; Orit Gazit, a secular marketing director from Hod Hasharon; and Maya Lavie, anchorwoman. On the floor are Mayan Shayovitz and Naomi Dukes, students from Mevasseret Zion.
Davis was one of 30 women from all over the United States who participated in JNF’s "Queen of Sheba Women’s Mission: Israel Through Tears and Laughter." The trip was designed as a once-in-a-life-time experience for women only no husbands, no kids, no boyfriends, just women experiencing life as their sisters do in Israel, seeing and feeling Israel through women’s eyes only.
Talia Tzour and her grandmother, whom she calls "Ema Deena," light Shabbat candles during the women’s mission.
"Where to begin?" asked Davis. "There is not a thing that I would change about our mission’s itinerary. I learned so much from each and every stop that we made along the way. With our female tour guide, Tanya, adding history to our locations and routes, I was fulfilled. It is a magical land and I can completely understand why the people of Medinat Yisrael live the way they do with intent and purpose and love for the land and each other."
"What stood out for me," said Gisele Ben-Dor of Englewood Cliffs, "was meeting the young families who are establishing new communities in the Negev. They are Zionism come alive. You can see it in their eyes, in their actions, and in how they speak about their priorities. It actually sent chills down my spine."
It’s hard to describe in words the emotional experience that the 30 women who participated in the mission had. The ingredients that went into our mission were a love for Israel, a love for our people, JNF as the bond between the land and the people, and women as a powerful source that moves the world. It seems this recipe worked.
A deep connection was created between the mission’s participants and the Israeli women they met, a connection that will remain with them all, forever. The connection was centered on identification, empathy, mutual history and roots and similar dreams of a better future, and was established during the warm and close meetings with Israeli women from all aspects of life.
We held a panel discussion, at which Israeli female soldiers, female residents who live on the Lebanese border and in the Negev desert, businesswomen, a bereaved mother, the only female president of an Israeli university, a female Holocaust survivor, a Bedouin woman, an Arab woman, a religious Jewish woman from Gush Etzion, and young students were more than happy to share their way of life with their American sisterhood in meetings and discussions, enabling them all from both sides of the ocean to look inside, ask questions, and understand.
The Bedouin woman was the highlight, as she opened with the fact the she is pregnant against her wish. Since she is so educated and active, her husband decided to punish her and married a second wife. They all live in the same house, with their children. She moved the audience and her friends on the panel, and it was no other then the religious settler from Gush Etzion who hugged her and wiped her tears while she told us her story.
Each one of them was asked to speak on three subjects: an experience that has shaped her life, her role as an Israeli mother, and her vision and wishes. It was amazing, as within one second the entire panel and the mission’s participants were all crying together, since each of the personal stories was very moving and touching.
It was amazing to see how, despite the distance and the differences, we are all similar and looking for the same things.
"Meeting these women was an amazing experience for me," wrote 18-year-old Ma’ayan Shayovitz in her high school’s journal, after participating in a roundtable discussion with the participants. "So many different worlds and perspectives in the same room and part of one conversation was fascinating. But what was most interesting was the realization that while we all may come from diverse places, at the end of the day, we all seek the same thing: peace and harmony. The feeling of sisterhood, which always seemed like a foreign notion to me, was palpable."
At night, the Queen of Sheba participants celebrated with delicious Israeli food, a private belly dancing lesson, and a sing-along evening, allowing them to bond in a different way.
The group, also accompanied by mission chairs Marci Robinson, Terri Katz, and JNF professional Diane Scar, traveled through JNF development projects all over the country, from the north to the south, emphasizing the major role JNF plays in building and developing the state of Israel for the Jewish people. And Friday night was spent with my family my grandmother, parents, and siblings.
The experience left a lasting impression on everyone and my parents can’t stop telling me how much they enjoyed it. Ema Deena my grandmother, who is 87 years old and lit candles with everyone told me she feels like another 10 years was added to her life because of their shared experience.
"In addition to what we all got out of the experience over there," said Robinson, "we also forged a bond that is staying with us over here. New Jersey had the largest delegation of women on this trip but we didn’t know each other; all that connected us was that we were Jewish and we were women. But we came back feeling like a family and now we have kept up the relationship and are looking to do more things together and keeping up the bond."
The ‘nd annual JNF Queen of Sheba mission to Israel will take place from March ‘0-‘9, ‘008. All are welcome (women only) to join the mission, during which the Queen of Sheba will meet Queen Esther for a huge costume party in honor of the Purim holiday. For information, please call me at (’01) 4’1-6600 or e-mail me at email@example.com
Talia Tzour is Jewish National Fund’s Israel emissary to New Jersey. She lives in Tenafly.