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Women see Israel ‘from the inside out’ on unique Federation mission

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The itenerary of Jewish Federation Women’s Mission 2017 included a graffiti art tour in Tel Aviv. Shown here are Phyllis Carozza (front row, from left), Lori Ravis, Diane Ravis, Marge Schlosberg, Diane Davidner, Beth Liss, Michele Kaplan and Janey Goodman. Back row: Federation’s Financial Resources Director Lisa Schifman, tour guide, Lisa Bernard, Sandi Fried, Federation President and CEO Dr. Helene Lotman, Jenny Isenberg, Lynn Poskin and Amy Ravis Furey.

A little over a year ago, Lisa Schifman, financial resource development director at Jewish Federation, approached me to chair a trip to Israel for the women of Kansas City. I was excited as I have seen the energy that mission trips bring back to a community.

We intended it to be a unique trip that any woman could join for a fabulous experience. I would say we hit the nail on the head: We connected with Israelis, experienced programs supported by Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and enjoyed art, jewelry and fantastic food along the way. 

Sixteen of us started the journey on April 25 in Tel Aviv. We had two first timers as well as those who had to use two hands to count their trips. Tel Aviv is a vibrant city, a city that never sleeps. It has a very different atmosphere from Jerusalem. We visited fashion design centers, toured the streets with a graffiti expert and ate great food. 

We also visited the Muslim house where BK Connect (a Federation program) money went to help a family that runs an emergency foster shelter for babies. The foster system in Israel is utilized after the last effort to keep a child in their community has failed and there is no hope of reunification. These youngest members of society live in the shelters until they are 6 years old, with up to seven other babies. The couple we met with were emotional in discussing the babies who arrive, some who have never experienced human touch or love. They also explained how they work through the difficulties to love each child. This was one of many in-home visits we made throughout the trip to connect with the women of Israel. 

“I loved seeing Israel from the inside out — meeting people in their homes and hearing their personal stories,” said trip participant Jenny Isenberg.  

Outside of the home visits, we learned about the various faces of Israel, the situation with the army in relation to nuclear weapons developments in Iran and North Korea, and what it’s like to report from Israel and the Middle East with NPR’s Linda Gradstein. We had fun visiting parts of Israel you normally wouldn’t see: Visits with Israeli fashion designers, a food tour through Machane Yehudah, and jewelry shopping at Yvel, which supports Ethiopian immigrants. We even took a self-defense class where we each broke a board with our bare hands!  

We planned the trip to coincide with Yom HaZikaron, a memorial to the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. We attended the MASA ceremony to honor the fallen (MASA offers full and partial-year volunteer internships in Israel for young adults). Twice on this day, in the evening and the next morning, the whole country comes to a halt while a siren blows for two minutes. In a country the size of Israel, everyone knows someone who has fallen victim. It is a solemn day. This ceremony began with six wreaths laid for the stories they shared. I was chosen to place a wreath to represent Kansas City and all Jewish Federations of North America. The stories were emotional as we learned how these young people lost their lives for the land they loved. 

The juxtaposition of Yom HaZikaron immediately followed by a day of joy, Yom HaAtzmaut, shows that after great sorrow, happiness can follow. And Israelis know happy. As night falls, everyone is outside celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem. Street vendors are selling inflatable hammers, hats and silly string, bands are playing, fireworks are shooting up in the sky and people are dancing. Israeli citizens of every age are enjoying themselves.

As trip participant Janey Goodman said, “Being in Israel during Yom HaZikaron and seeing the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut were both very meaningful and were highlights of this trip!”

The trip consensus was that a mission to Israel allows people to see where our dollars in Kansas City have an impact, as well as a total picture of the state of Israel. 

Michelle Kaplan, traveling with her daughter, Beth Liss, said, “One bonus of this Women’s Mission was to experience the universal strength and caring of women. Whether it be a Haredi woman with 11 children, an Israeli social worker with the help of an Arab mother rescuing at-risk babies in the middle of the night, or helping Lone Soldiers with no family in Israel; we witnessed the power of women in transforming Israeli society for the better. We experienced firsthand where our Federation dollars help. It was a joy to see.” 

Diane Ravis agreed, adding that the experience with her daughters and an incredible group of women made this a very special experience.

Diane Davidner said, “A mission trip allows time to see a country as a tourist, but allows you to dig deeper, to see the country as you couldn’t see it from stopping in the “highlight” places. A trip, in this case, through Federation, allows you to see the heart of Israel and the way that we, here in Kansas City, have helped that heart to grow and flourish.”