With a quiet Shabbat afternoon, Lynn and I finally have time to relax a bit and collect our thoughts about our past few days together. Yesterday (Friday) was another incredibly full day. Our Thursday overnight stay was in Jaffa, which we spent at Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, the Reform center that serves as a congregation, hotel, education center and adjunct to Beit Daniel, our flagship congregation in Tel Aviv. Visiting with the leadership of the congregation, we learned about their growing programs and membership in Jaffa, their adult educational programs, their extensive conversion program and their Mother-Daughter B’not Mitzvah program, funded in part with a grant from WRJ. They are justifiably proud of their Tikkun Olam Program, which brings post-college youth to Israel for a year of learning, volunteer work, travel, and immersion into Israeli life.
Our Jaffa excursion continued on Friday morning with a visit to Mechina, the Reform Movement’s “gap year” program for Israeli youth who defer army service for a year for a post-high school service-learning experience. In recent years, the program has expanded to include youth from Reform communities around the world. Over the years, WRJ has been a supporter of this program through YES Fund allocations. More than fifty young adults live together in a large house in Old Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish community. They spend their days learning about Jewish values from a progressive perspective and volunteering in the local community, primarily serving vulnerable populations in the Arab sector. They choose their own volunteer projects, providing assistance to the elderly, the poor, and at-risk school children. Their evenings are spent learning how to organize their lives through house committees for shopping/cooking, cleaning, programs and social activities. At the end of the year, the Israeli youth go into the military, more mature and forever shaped by this unique and powerful experience. We had the opportunity to meet privately with a group of young women who were from all over Israel, North America and Europe. Some were raised in Reform congregations and/or had been involved in our Reform youth programs, while others were new to Reform. Yet all shared a progressive ideology that led them to this experience and a willingness to challenge themselves in the most fundamental ways. They proudly asserted how this experience had already changed the way they look at Israeli life and how sharing their new perspectives extended beyond the Mechina participants to influence their friends and families as well. Since we were with a group of young women, Lynn, Resa, and I were able to discuss how valuable it can be for women to come together as change agents. We encouraged them to find power in their relationships with one another. In seeking to improve the world, we assured them, they would be STRONGER TOGETHER. Shortly after our visit, Lynn received a lovely email note from Alissa, a young Italian participant from our WUPJ congregation in Milan. With the subject line, “Connecting the World,” she wrote: It was great having you over to our Mechina today, and I wanted to thank you on behalf of all of us for sharing with us about yourselves, your work within the Reform community, and about your life. It was inspiring and enlightening at the same time. Your objective to bring women together from all over the world is definitely one to think about and take part in... I have only one last thing to say: girl power!! :-)