B’Nai Israel shares its synagogue grant with women of the community

by | Apr 19, 2013 | Other News

In June, 12 area Jewish women of diverse backgrounds and religious practices will leave Tidewater and head to Israel.

Once there, they’ll visit some of the country’s holiest sites, raft down the Jordan River, swim in the Dead Sea, ride camels, eat, drink, and bond with one another in the Jewish homeland.

The trip’s itinerary is similar to the hugely successful Taglit-Birthright Israel trips offered to college-aged and professional young adults, and, indeed, it has been dubbed, “Birthright for Moms.”

Like Birthright, the trip is heavily subsidized, costing the women who go a fraction of what a normal visit to Israel would cost: a $36 registration fee, money for tips and airfare.

The rest of the trip is paid for, subsidized by the non-profit Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and funds provided to B’nai Israel Congregation through the Synagogue-Federation Partnership Grant of the Tidewater Jewish community.

“When Harry [Graber, executive vicepresident of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater] provided B’nai with the option of receiving a synagogue grant, I thought of this trip immediately,” says Amy Lefcoe, who will lead the trip along with friend and fellow congregant, Leah Schwartz.

“I know the synagogue grants were intended for shuls to do outreach, but since B’nai has been doing that successfully for 15 years, we thought, ‘Let’s try something a little out of the box,’ and extend the grant to benefit women in the entire community, not just members of our shul.”

The JWRP was formed five years ago to create a Jewish women’s empowerment movement that inspires a renaissance of positive values. Criteria for going on a trip is that the women are Jewish and have children at home under the age of 18. Since its first trip four years ago, more than 2,000 women have traveled with the organization to Israel.

Although they asked JWRP if they could take 20 women, Lefcoe and Schwartz were told that in this first year of Tidewater’s participation, 10 would be the limit.

With that quota in mind, and trying to make the inaugural group as diverse as possible, the two leaders invited a select group of women to find out more and apply for the trip. They created the list from their work as Jewish educators, their affiliations with the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, the UJFT and other organizations.

“If we didn’t know the women personally, we reached out to others who did, including Women’s Cabinet director Amy Zelenka and the Young Adult Division’s Amy Weinstein,” Lefcoe says.

“We will have a great group going when we leave on June 30 for nine days, and when we come back, we’ll have a cohesive group that will make a difference in our community.”

Lefcoe is convinced that once the women who go on the trip return, there will be a buzz about it and—as in other cities—soon there will be a waiting list for future trips.

“It is such a positive thing that makes a huge difference in every community that has sent a group,” says Lefcoe.

Lefcoe cites JWRP follow-up studies that show women who come back from the trips become active in their shuls, in the Jewish community and on boards of Jewish organizations.

“They say that if you impact a Jewish woman, you impact her family. And if you impact her family, you impact her community. And if you impact the community, you can change the world. That’s what the JWRP is doing, and that’s what we’re convinced this trip will do here, too.”

Even though the trip is 100 percent subsidized, the JWRP requests that the sponsoring community raises a certain amount of money per woman. Lefcoe says knowing that those commitments would be covered through B’Nai Israel’s Synagogue- Federation Partnership grant– funded by the UJFT, the Tidewater Jewish Foundation and the Simon Family Foundation—convinced her and Schwartz to agree to lead the trip and, she hopes, forever change lives and strengthen the community.

by Laine M. Rutherford