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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bergen Women Tour Israel on JWRP Trip

When it comes to visiting Israel, it’s never a good time to go and it’s always a good time to go. For 400 Jewish mothers from the US, Canada, Russia and Israel, the week of October 19 was the perfect time to go.

That’s when the JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program) trip participants, including myself, met up in Israel for eight days of a Jewish journey which included touring, lectures, socializing, eating and a much-needed chance for introspection of our own Jewish and family values.

The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program “seeks to inspire women to transform themselves, their families and their communities” through highly subsidized trips to Israel. They also sponsor trips for Jewish fathers.

The Bergen County delegation, led by city leaders Julie Farkas of Bergenfield and Dena Levie, Esther Friedman and Andrea Portal of Teaneck, had 20 participants. For many of us, it was our first visit to Israel.

Before joining the other city groups for the first night in Tiberias, the Bergen women traveled to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s sister city of Nahariya, the northernmost coastal city in Israel. They visited some historic sites and then met with the residents of a group home for teenage girls. The Federation supports the group home which is in a residential part of the city.

After touring Nahariya’s Medical Center of the Galilee and their state-of-the-art underground attack-proof emergency and surgery center, we traveled to Tiberias to join the other cities for the kickoff of the JWRP week.

The trip is both a physical and spiritual journey through Israel. Besides touring Tsfat, Masada, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem and Jerusalem, riding camels at Eretz Beresheit and praying at the Kotel, the women participated in discussions and lectures. Lecture topics ranged from marriage, gossip and how to determine personality types, to a presentation by Stand With Us on how to recognize anti-Semitic groups on college campuses and on how to draw extra meaning from lighting Shabbat candles.

The trip was a much-needed chance for busy mothers to step back and look at their lives with the beauty and meaning of Israel as the background.

We slowed down on Shabbat and celebrated with a candlelighting ceremony and dancing in the outdoor amphitheater at the Jerusalem Inbal Hotel, followed by a Shabbat dinner in the hotel.

While observing Shabbat, each city was invited to a local Jerusalem family’s house for lunch. All the host families lived within walking distance of the hotel. The families were part of a program called “Shabbat of a Lifetime.” The program matches local Jerusalem hosts with tourists and tour groups so that they can spend Shabbat dinner or lunch together and get to know what it’s like to live in Israel.

After Shabbat, the mothers were treated to a special spa night at the Akoya Spa at the Hanei Yoav hot springs. Akoya Spa has natural sulphur hot-spring pools as well as traditional hot tubs.

After enjoying the spa, the group moved on to a wedding-like gala at the adjoining party facility. We danced to a live band playing Israeli music, and feasted on a bountiful dinner and dessert buffet.

By the end of the eight-day trip, everyone was exhausted but renewed at the same time. At the Bergen trip reunion on November 30, each participant shared the same sentiment—that we all felt a deep connection with Israel and started to bring some new Jewish traditions into our family routines. We also realized the special bond we have with each other that can only come from going through the same life-changing JWRP Israel experience together.

By Janet Freitag

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