April 13, 2024
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The Matan Educator’s Mission to Israel

Delivering special care packages to female soldiers and chizuk concert.

It was a beautiful sight to behold. It was the beginning of the war, and many videos posted online were circulating showing Jewish groups from all over the world visiting army bases, showing support for the IDF’s chayalim. With concerts, barbecues and dancing galore, a feeling of unity began to permeate our nation. “Who is like the nation of Israel?” Watching various sects of Jewry come together in ways never seen before was (and is) very moving. Inspired by this fervor to lend support to those on the front lines, the leadership in Matan came together to brainstorm. It was the beginning of November. The war had not even been going on for a month and yet through thoughtful discussion, an idea emerged: “Let’s plan a mission specifically driven by women and for women.”

This has long been the mantra of Matan—the world’s largest advanced Torah learning center for women. With Rabbanit Malke Bina at its helm, Matan has always been a place for women to grow spiritually in their Torah learning. Its many programs have supported women in their quest of learning Torah. Matan’s Bellows Eshkolot Professional Development Educators’ Institute is one such example. Directed by Dr. Ariella Agatstein, the program is an opportunity for outstanding female Tanach teachers from North America and abroad to spend a year learning on Zoom with expert Tanach educators in Israel. With teachers such as Rabbanit Shani Taragin, the program’s educational director, as well as Dr. Yael Ziegler and many others, the program gives female Tanach educators the methodology and skills to transform their classrooms and communities. It was therefore clear that these were the women who would be perfect to participate in such a worthwhile and historical mission—to volunteer and hear from so many on the front lines and then to share the experience with their classrooms and communities.

Packing kits for female soldiers.

On November 19, with the generosity of the Walder Foundation, the Matan Eshkolot Educator’s Mission became a reality. Educators from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Israel began with a visit to the Kotel plaza, which was marked with a new addition—a memorial for those killed on October 7—a raw yet crucial reminder of the loss which occurred only a few weeks before. As Dr. Agatstein remarked, “This is the place where the first destruction, the churban, began, and this is where our rebuilding will soon begin as well.” From there, the women met at Rabbanit Bina’s house to hear the testimony of Moshe Shapiro, whose son, Aner, z”l, risked his life saving many others. While terrorists threw grenades into the safe area in which he and others were hiding, Aner successfully caught and threw back seven grenades. Ultimately, Aner was killed, and yet through Moshe’s words, his legacy lives on.

Over the next three days, the participants spent extensive time meeting with members of the Israeli press and hearing testimonies from many women who are currently serving on different “front lines.” They heard from mothers and children in Sderot, who have been displaced and are now residing in hotels in Jerusalem. They learned that many of these families are living without their fathers and husbands nearby, as many of the men have been called up on reserve duty. They learned of the traumatic experiences on October 7 and the questions that still loom as to what will be with their return home in the future. The participants also met with Noa Lewis, who serves as a member of the chevra kadisha of the Rabbanut Hatzva’it. With the utmost dignity, sensitivity and holiness, Noa, and others like her, spend their days preparing the bodies of female chayalot for burial. They met with high school students in Ofakim who described their experiences on October 7—one of whom lost her father, Denis Blanki, as he served on the police force of Sderot. Finally, they met with Yael Bitton, who in addition to her job, volunteers to organize her branch of Ha’Ogen, an organization throughout Israel that serves to help the many families who have spouses and parents called up to war.

The Eshkolot Educator’s Mission also focused on volunteering and service. Before coming to Israel, the educators raised money and purchased items to create care packages for 100 chayalot. They assembled and delivered these care packages in the Mishmar HaNegev base in the South, dancing and singing with chayalot and DJ Penina. One such chayelet was supposed to get married, but her wedding was postponed due to the war. They made and delivered focaccia from Meshek 48, delivered jelly donuts to army bases and spent a day farming in the South, helping tend to the fields that have largely been neglected since the start of the war. Finally, they visited the “Kikar Hachatufim,” “Hostage Square,” on the very evening when the media announced that the first hostages would be released.

At the conclusion of the trip, the participants met with Rachel Sharansky Danziger, helping them to process into writing the many moving, jarring and inspiring experiences in preparation for sharing them with their students and communities. The participants also continued to raise funds for the many causes they learned about on their visit, helping to further involve their communities in helping those in Israel.

Thanks to the success of the Eshkolot mission, Matan is organizing a women’s solidarity mission that will take place January 21-25. There will be special programming and learning opportunities with Matan’s stellar scholars. Please join us! Details and registration are on the Matan website.


Dr. Ariella Agatstein serves as the director of Matan’s Eshkolot Professional Development Fellowship. Before moving with her family to Israel, Dr. Agatstein was associate principal of Yeshivat Yavneh of Los Angeles. She received her doctorate in Jewish Educational leadership and for the last 20 years has taught Torah, lectured and held leadership positions in Jewish education all over the United States. She is an Eshkolot graduate.

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