My Nest Is Not So Empty
“Inspire a woman, you inspire a family. Inspire families, you inspire a community. Inspire communities, you change the world.”
– JWRP Maxim
In the September issue of DAVID, I wrote about my “Empty Nest.” For twenty-four glorious years, my life and home were filled with the welcomed trials, tribulations and traditions of family - especially my three wonderful children. The youngest of them, however (twin daughters) had just left for college and a gap year of study abroad. My eldest (son) has been making us proud post-college as an Officer in the United States Navy, training to fly in preparation for service to his country and the cause of freedom.
I suddenly found my coveted and much nurtured nest quiet and untenably empty. As a single mother, I imagined the vacuum to be especially profound.
Not one to allow a down moment to linger unnecessarily, I bounded at an opportunity to replenish my nest with some 450 women - Moms - from six countries and embark upon an eight-day renaissance journey to Israel.
The trip, aptly named MOMentum, is the flagship program of The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) - an organization founded in 2008 by eight Jewish women from different walks of life, affiliations and ages. Their goal: to engender a deep, eternal connection to Israel, as well as a profound kinship with other women, find a heart filled with eternal Jewish values, and the self confidence to embrace the importance of who we are as women in the world.
While more than 100 partner organizations recruit women on behalf of JWRP, I joined the Las Vegas contingent, which is sponsored by Young Israel-Aish. We were ten women strong: seven participants plus two city leaders - Rebbetzin Helene Wyne and Renee Goldman - and a Madrich (group leader), Shana Paige.
I had no idea what to expect from the trip, but I knew I needed to experience whatever messages MOMentum aimed to deliver. I knew I needed to hear…to be reminded…that, as a woman and a mother, I am imbued with G-d given abilities that are vital, unique and incontrovertible in G-d’s eyes, even in my darkest hours; that my nest is never really empty; I’m never really alone; and, above all, my worth is great.
In a fable entitled Woman, by an unknown author, an Indian Yoga Master expounds on the virtues of women and the doubts many of them share:
Once upon a time, whilst G-d was creating woman, he was working overtime on the 6th day. An angel approached and said “Why spend so much time on that one?”
The Lord answered “Have you not seen all of the specifications I have to meet in order to shape her? She must be washable but not made of plastic; have more than 200 simultaneously moving parts, all of which must be replaceable; function on all kinds of food; able to embrace several children’s needs at the same time and give hugs that can heal anything from a bruised knee to a broken heart; and she must do all of this with only two hands.”
“Only two hands…impossible!” said the angel. “And this is the standard model? Too much work for one day, Lord. Wait until tomorrow to complete her.”
“I will not,” said the Lord. “I am too close to completing this creation, which will be the favorite of my heart.”
The angel came nearer and touched the woman. “But you have made her so soft, Lord.”
“She is soft,” the Lord replied. “But I have also made her strong. You can’t imagine what she can endure and overcome.”
“Can she think?” asked the angel.
“Not only can she think, she can reason and negotiate,” said the Lord.
The angel touched the woman’s cheek. “Lord, it seems this creation is leaking! You have put too many burdens on her!”
“She is not leaking…it’s a tear,” the Lord corrected the angel.
“What’s it for?” asked the angel.
“Tears are her way of expressing her grief, doubts, love, joy, loneliness, suffering, pride and prayer,” the Lord assured.
This made a big impression on the angel. “Lord, you are a genius! You thought of everything. The woman is indeed marvelous!”
“Indeed she is!” the Lord responded. “Woman has strengths that amaze man. She cures herself when sick and she can work 18-hour days. She can handle trouble and carry heavy burdens. She smiles when she feels like screaming. She sings when she feels like crying. She cries when she is happy and laughs when she is afraid.”
“She fights for what she believes in and stands up against injustice. NO is not an option when she sees a better way. She gives of herself so her family can thrive. Her love is unconditional.”
“She cries when her children are victorious. She is happy when her friends do well. She is glad when she hears news of a birth or wedding. Her heart is shattered at the loss of a loved one. She finds the strength to carry on in the face of adversity and she knows that a kiss and a hug can heal a broken heart.”
“There is only one thing wrong with her,” said the Lord. “SHE FORGETS WHAT SHE IS WORTH.”
Not so on MOMentum, which is entirely focused on recalling women to their purpose, vast abilities and worth through the ancient wisdoms of Torah (Old Testament) and trips to relevant and enlightening contemporary, historical and biblical sights throughout Israel.
Organized bus loads of new best friends - laughing, singing, hugging, swaying and sometimes complaining - toured highlights at the Sea of Galilee and the mystical city of Tsfat in the north of Israel and Masada and the Dead Sea en route to the south.
In Tel Aviv-Yafo, we strolled the culturally provocative sights, sounds and smells of the shuk (open air market); witnessed groundbreaking theatre of the blind and deaf at The Nalaga’at Center; and relived May 14, 1948 at Independence Hall, in the very room where Prime Minister David Ben Gurion profoundly declared the new state of Israel just hours before the tiny country was attacked by armies of Arab enemies.
In Jerusalem, we sang and danced at the Kotel (the Western Wall). At One Family we baked rugelach and cheese bourekas – and cried profusely - with mothers who received knocks on their doors in the middle of the night announcing the loss of their young sons and daughters to terrorist attacks and war.
Each day we gathered together to eat great food, share intimate stories, dance at every opportunity, and traverse the many silken worn stone paths of our ancestors - reminding us that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves; each of us an important link in the historic chain of time and destiny.
Renowned speakers Nili Couzens, Adrienne Gold, and Rabbi Gavriel Friedman (Rav Gav) inspired us daily through Torah lessons told with humor, depth, passion and personal anecdotes.
We were encouraged to seek truth rather than fight to be right; to embrace humility and to judge favorably; to strive to give our children all we never learned rather than buy them all we never had.
We learned that the opposite of pain is not pleasure but rather the lack of pain. Often the most pleasurable moments in life are accompanied by effusive pain.
We understood that our children are not our possessions but souls belonging to G-d and entrusted to us to teach them the ways of the world so they can best accomplish their journeys in the physical world according to who they are and not necessarily who we want them to be.
Women are the nurturers; the givers of life, healing, light, love, and hope. Giving is our greatest commodity.
The words of Holocaust survivor Pearl Benisch were shared in one of the program talks. In her book, To Vanquish the Dragon, she writes, “Imagine a world where your only possession is a dirty, bruised raspberry. Now imagine a world where you give it away.”
Benisch and her sister were in a concentration camp. Benisch gave her dying sister the only morsel of sustenance she had.
#ItStartsWithWomen is JWRP’s vision to empower women through knowing and living the values of Judaism that serve to first transform us, then our families, our communities and thus the world.
Over 10,000 women have thus far been impacted through JWRP, since its beginning. It’s now well on its way to becoming a movement whose time has come and whose message and purpose is needed.
In my world, #ItStartsWithMe. My nest may be – for now – physically empty, but it is emotionally full with the love I give and receive from my children, and with the camaraderie of the many wonderful sisters I share my life’s mission with as a woman and a mom.