If the restroom lines in Israel seem shorter and the tourism economy takes a slight dip, it’s because yesterday marks the end of the JWRP fall trip season. Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (alternatively and affectionally called Jewish Women Running to Pee) brings up to 450 women from around the world per week for the summer and fall season. That’s over 16,000 Jewish women to date since the program was founded in 2009. It’s becoming a revolution, with women vying for a spot from one of the local partner agencies. And for good reason.
Inspire a mother –> she’ll inspire her family–>they’ll inspire a community–>we’ll change the world. It starts with women.
It was my tremendous privilege and honor to help lead our Northshore Chicago group again this year, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the chance to give and for all that I received. It’s impossible to describe a trip that was so impactful and meaningful in words, so I’ll just share a few nuggets that I want to always remember.
- Lighting a menorah: Chanukah is literally wafting through air now in Israel with the most incredible doughnuts at every bakery. And figuratively, I couldn’t help but compare our experience to lighting a menorah. Moments, big and small, throughout the week felt like we were lighting up one another’s souls. Just one of many conversations I had with a new friend encompasses the power of this experience: While on a bathroom stop (obviously!), I overheard a conversation where one woman explained that prayer is only for dire times, like life and death. I couldn’t help but pounce. Prayer is for any and every moment that we need something–no matter how seemingly insignificant. We are a people that struggles with God, and prayer is our direct telephone line. She later admitted to taking those words to heart and talked to God for the first time in 20 years. And she hasn’t stopped since.
- The wonder of the Israeli people: When it comes to natural resources in Israel, there is little more than Israeli brainpower. And there is no better place to witness it than in Tel Aviv. What was a vast terrain of sand dunes in my grandparents’ lives, today is a hub of innovation second only to Silicon Valley. The Israeli brilliance and strength has brought the meaning of being a light unto the Nations to a whole level we could never have imagined a few decades ago.
- Celebrating Shabbat: I learned to love Shabbat as a child at my Reform Jewish summer camp, but not everyone was fortunate to attend Jewish camp. We lit Shabbat candles overlooking the Kotel, and for many women in my group it was their first time ever lighting. How incredible and powerful to witness! From there, we headed to the Kotel to dance alongside women from around the world, including Jewish mothers from Turkey. We were led by Israeli female soldiers, who danced and sang Kabbalat Shabbat songs with M-16s slung across their backs. Is their any better testament to their love of life than dancing with joy and hope, in spite of the burden they carry on their young shoulders?
- Judging favorably: Judging another favorably is ideal in theory but difficult in practice. But spending a week bonding with women in a setting that’s more like camp than anything else makes it real. In only a few days, we went from learning one another’s names to glimpsing their souls. We saw one another at our most vulnerable states and realized more than ever the complexity of every woman. There is no better way to erase the assumptions of a first impression.
- A sister’s always got your back: Hectic days and sleepless nights led to a lot of uninhibited giggling. The capstone of it all was around 1AM on our last night. I had returned to Jerusalem from the final banquet with some of my group before our 5AM flight because I couldn’t resist the opportunity to daven one more time at the Kotel. I took my opportunity to stand right at the wall and focused hard on the ma’ariv prayer and added my own personal prayers. At some point, I felt something drop on my head, but I assumed that it must have been one of the folded prayers stuffed into the Wall’s cracks above me. Later, while packing up our suitcase, my friend asked what’s on my head. I knew before I reached up that it was pigeon poop from the birds that nest in the nooks and crannies above the wall. All I could do was throw my filthy hand in the air as a rolled onto my back hysterically laughing. I knew that every women in the room would run to wipe my hand and clean me up with the hand wipes every mother carries. Ten days ago, I hardly knew these women, and today, I have 33 new sisters who always have my back.
A trip to Israel is always a trip of a lifetime. But there is nothing like the international movement that is JWRP. A FREE (!) trip is likely leaving from your city next summer and fall. Do everything you can to try to get on one: Apply Now!
And in case you’re still not convinced, just go for the food. The trip will still do it’s job.