By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org
In the morning, 29 leading female entertainers and media professionals from North America explored the magical alleyways of Tzfat through the lenses of mysticism, art and Jewish history. Later, they visited Israeli doctors treating wounded Syrian refugees. In the middle of the afternoon, they tasted the award-winning product of Israel’s Carmel Winery. By the evening, they enjoyed dinner in the 1868 historical stone restaurant in Jerusalem.
And it all happened in just their second day in Israel.
The Israel trips organized by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) are often referred to as “Birthright for moms.” But this particular trip carried some extra gravitas. From Nov. 27-Dec. 4, visitors described by JWRP as “Media Magnets” connected to Israel’s media professionals and showcased their experiences for combined audiences of more than 10 million followers on their social media pages and blogs.
“Our Media Magnets are strong, savvy Jewish women who millions of people turn to for their insights each day,” said Adrienne Gold Davis, the Media Magnets trip leader. “The JWRP is thrilled to be bringing these incredible women to Israel, and helping both them and their fans connect to Jewish values and make the world a better place.”
The trip, which was hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, underscored the Jewish state’s diversity, revealing a picture that goes far beyond what mainstream media often depict the Jewish state to be—ridden with conflict, religion extremism and camels. The JWRP group experienced an authentic Israeli Shabbat with locals, partied on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Avenue, met with innovators working on inventions for people with disabilities and heard from Innovation Africa about Israel’s humanitarian efforts on that continent.
Trip participants quickly realized that Israel is a land of dichotomies that can often be complex and confusing, but ultimately effects positive change in the world, said Emma Waverman, one of the visitors.
Waverman—a food, lifestyle and parenting writer—was visiting Israel for the first time and was excited to see “the modern side” of the country.
“Even those who don’t agree with the [Israeli] government told me I’d love Israel, because while it’s loud and tough, and people push you, Israelis are also vibrant, wonderful people, and the first ones to offer help,” she told JNS.org.
“It’s so beautiful,” she continued. “Israel is a land of dichotomies, with people figuring out how to live together, how to merge so many different cultures, and enjoy their life, freedom and the bounty of what this part of the world offers.”
For Waverman, the trip highlighted the importance of understanding what the Jewish people have gone through during the course of history and “what to do with that.”
“We must bring light into the world. That’s something I take very seriously because I’m Jewish,” she said, referring to the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
During the past year and a half, Waverman and her family in Toronto have supported a Syrian refugee family as part of a Canadian private sponsorship program, paying for their rent and teaching them how to manage day-to-day life in Canada.
“It’s the most Jewish thing I’ve ever done,” Waverman said.
Erin Schrode, another participant on the JWRP tour, is an environmental activist, social entrepreneur and writer who ran for Congress at age 25. After growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in an environment where “AIPAC was a dirty word and you couldn’t be an environmental activist or pro-human rights without being anti-Israel,” she was surprised and thrilled to find the “land of contradictions” that is Israel.
Before “Birthright for moms,” she took part in an official Birthright trip at age 19, discovering that Israel is “a land of things that I hold dear in environmentalism, like algae, solar energy, biofuels, biotech, cherry tomatoes and greenhouses in the desert,” as well as a strong track record of accepting asylum-seekers and promoting democracy and freedom.
“It blew my mind,” she told JNS.org. “I was struck by the narrative that wasn’t being portrayed to environmental activists and like-minded liberals. We don’t only survive, we thrive. Israel is brazen, and bold, and beautiful.”
“On this trip, I heard stories of the IDF and Israeli doctors caring for Syrians who said, ‘We don’t know which side they were fighting for, but I will treat them anyway’, and to me it made sense—that’s incumbent upon us as the Jewish people. We care for those in need,” said Schrode.
She added, “Someone stepped up. Someone took the Syrians across the border—enemy territory. Someone said, ‘Never again, not on our watch.’ It shouldn’t be shocking but yet it is. Israel is fulfilling a mitzvah by saving fellow human beings.”
Schrode has solidified her identity as a “progressive, pro-Israel Jewish activist” despite her former belief that “you can’t be pro-Israel with a left, Democratic upbringing.”
After she started identifying as pro-Israel, Schrode said that “the first backlash was from the left, including one person who said that going to Israel was like spitting on the grave of a Palestinian child.” Then came the neo-Nazis. But her self-expression was undeterred.
“I think about the values I want to instill in the world, and the magic and connection of Israel, and being Jewish has to be a part of it. So it took me 19 years to discover it, but I’m here now,” she said.
Waverman and Schrode both praised the tour for providing them with the space to think about complex issues and discuss them with other Jewish women who work in the media.
“What a gift to create the headspace to grapple with identity—my identity as a Jewish woman has never mattered more than now,” said Schrode. “So now, we have to decide what we are going to do with that identification and where to go from here.”