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Jewish Women's Renaissance Project Global Change Initiative

Jewish Women's Renaissance Project
Rockville, Maryland United States
Leadership team

Lori Palatnik, Founding Director
Ben Pery, Executive Director
Ruth Baars, Director of Programs and Leadership Development
Dr. Ronit Ziv-Kreger, Director of Education
Dana Sender-Mulla, Israel Program Director
Susan Kramer, Director of External Relations
Hillel Hurwitz, Director of Marketing and Communications
Amy Cantor, Director of Finance and Administration

Organization website
Prize category
National/International
Operational
5+ years
Target audience
Adults, Baby Boomers, Educators, Families, Interfaith, Jewish Professionals, Unaffiliated, Women & Girls
Categories
Advocacy, Children, Coexistence, Community Building, Experiential Learning, Family, Gender, Holocaust, Interfaith, Israel, Jewish Education, Leadership Development, Outreach & Engagement, Philanthropy, Professional Development, Ritual, Service & Volunteerism, Social Service, Spirituality, Text Study

JWRP's mission is "to empower women to change the world through Jewish values that transform ourselves, our families, and our communities".

JWRP’s three-part program includes:
• Momentum, an eight day, life-changing Israel journey for diverse women worldwide through the lens of Jewish values.
• Education, both pre- and post-trip, delivered by local Partner Organizations, with extensive support from JWRP.
• Community Involvement, locally and in Israel, solidifies women’s commitment to instilling and upholding Jewish values within their families and communities, engages them in local Jewish organizations, and increases charitable activities at home and abroad.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

All of JWRP’s teachings are rooted in Jewish wisdom that resonates with a large and diverse group of women. JWRP participants come from 26 different countries representing the full spectrum of Jewish denominations, from secular to Reform to Orthodox. Partner Organizations include synagogues, day schools, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, and outreach organizations. 200 women per trip and approximately 16 trips each year travel together on an inspirational Momentum trip to Israel as a compilation of small cohorts from local communities. This structure enables relationships to flourish through a shared Israel experience that sets the stage for collaborative outreach and community service projects in their home communities. Participants support and hold one another accountable as they explore ways to instill Jewish values and practices in their families and communities.

Women may arrive in Israel with little understanding of or familiarity with how Jewish values and teachings can impact their everyday lives. JWRP’s program educates and inspires participants to feel comfortable with their Judaism, open to growth, and committed to applying this new knowledge with their families and communities. The Israel experience, comradery with other women from the local communities, the birth of new relationships with women from around the world, and dynamic, inspiring Jewish education sessions coalesce as a unique, progressive, and inclusive program that has immediate and long-lasted impact far into the future. Examples of JWRP’s Jewish wisdom as part of the Momentum trip include:

Ethical Speech: Each trip begins with the class, “Gossip, Lies and Lessons,” where the women learn the Jewish laws of “lashon hora” in an inspiring and engaging way. This session also teaches the wisdom of “ayin tov,” seeing the good and judging situations and people favorably. Women receive an orange band engraved with the words “Don’t blame, don’t complain”. Each time they blame or complain, they practice an exercise to place the band on the other wrist, with the goal of completing the trip without switching the band. Usually one to fifteen women achieve this goal on each trip.

Marriage: There is a rich foundation of Jewish wisdom about marriage and relationships, and JWRP teaches the practical tools for applying these teachings. During this class, women work in pairs and text their partners about their feelings during this class. One woman texted her husband: “Thank you for marrying me.” He texted back: “Who has my wife’s phone?”

Following the marriage class, the group experiences a stunning Mikvah in Tsfat where they learn about this energizing mitzvah, through the lens of the Pirkei Avot teaching, “If I am not for myself, who am I for...?” The takeaway is to care for themselves first, so that they can be there for others. The Mikvah visit includes a presentation about women’s health, specifically the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can cause breast and ovarian cancer. A cancer survivor speaks and weaves in the importance of each woman taking care of herself, getting tested, and being proactive. Information packets are distributed and participants are encouraged to talk to their doctors.

Body Image and Dignity: The class on body image focuses on how the media pressures and manipulates women and their daughters to strive for an unattainable level of perfection. This results in a false sense of self-image and possible dangers of anorexia, social competition, envy, and depression. The educator presents the Torah’s perspective on beauty - ideally from the inside out. Group discussions following the presentation ask participants to consider their own personal experiences and desires to make changes for themselves to be healthy and serve as dignified Jewish role models for their daughters.

Shabbat: In a world where people are always ‘plugged in’, JWRP presents the concept of “disconnecting in order to connect”. Educational themes impart the beauty of Shabbat and the opportunity to create a weekly oasis for women and their families. This is followed by a hands-on workshop on the mitzvah of making challah. Later, participants light Shabbat candles together, overlooking the Kotel, and they spend hours singing, dancing, eating, learning, and bonding. After returning to their hometowns, the women report back their own weekly gatherings, making challah and hosting each other’s families on Friday nights.

Israel: Touring the land, Momentum participants learn the historical, biblical, and modern-day significance of Israel. A stimulating workshop then educates the women on how to advocate for Israel when they return home. JWRP works in collaboration with Israel advocacy organizations to deepen this experience.

Upon discovering the “treasure chest” of Jewish life and values during the Israel trip, participants feel inspired to continue exploring and sharing this profound toolbox with others. After the trip, the goal of the JWRP year-long education and leadership development program is to fan the flames of this inspiration that participants experience in Israel, by involving the women in ongoing programs and Jewish growth.

Partner Organizations provide a robust curriculum created by JWRP, which includes Jewish and Israel educational programs and community social action events. The curriculum begins with three Pre-Trip meetings connecting the women to each other and introducing many of them to Israel for the very first time. The following year is then vital to nurturing a life-long journey beyond the trip. JWRP aims much higher than providing a sampling of Jewish ideas or basic Jewish literacy. Rather, JWRP’s education program is successful because it gives participants a deep feeling of connection and belonging. As they study Judaism together, participants learn that they are members of an eternal people with an essential mission in the world. They feel bonded to their local cohort and community as well as Jews all over the world. They feel a deep connection to the Land of Israel and see the State of Israel as an embodiment of Jewish values. Their connection to each other, their history, their land, and their community empowers them to hold each other accountable and to take action together.

JWRP recognizes that groups and communities can be very different, and courses that work
well for some groups will not be appropriate for others. The Education/Leadership Program gives local organizations the ability to customize the coursework and community offerings to best suit the needs of each unique cohort and local landscape. At the same time, JWRP program staff facilitate idea-sharing and provide continuing education to Partner Organization staff in teaching, leadership, and strategic planning best practices.

Below is a summary of the Partner Organization Education/Leadership Program Plan:
1) Partners submit the three pre-trip dates and itineraries 60 days prior to
the cohort’s departure.
2) Partners submit a JWRP Impact Plan 60 days prior to the cohort’s departure.
3) Partners must provide a learning opportunity every week and a
monthly program for the JWRP participants. Partners can meet this obligation by simply compiling a resource list of all local educational offerings across the spectrum of opportunities in the community.
4) Partners must submit quarterly spreadsheets detailing the monthly programs
and weekly classes conducted and the attendance at each event.
5) Partners must submit an Impact Report six months after the trip.
6) All Partners must satisfy the 12 JWRP Curriculum Requirements within one year
after the trip.

JWRP Curriculum Guidance for Partners
I. My People (1 session): This lesson informs participants of the broader Jewish history.
II. My Family Stories (1 session): This teaches about biblical heroes and heroines such as Abraham and Ruth and activities to discover the various role models in Bereishit and their modern-day applications.
III. My Land (1 session): This lesson provides an overview of the history the land of Israel.
IV. Personal Growth, Prayer, Marriage, Parenting, Shabbat (4 sessions divided among any of these categories)
V. Holidays, Building Better Communities and World (2 sessions from either of these sections)
VI. Israel Engagement (2 sessions): These lessons inform participants on how to be better advocates for Israel.
VII. Leadership (1 session): This lesson looks to a variety of Jewish leaders such as Moses, Deborah, and Henrietta Szold to highlight the characteristics of leadership while also giving participants the skills to become strong Jewish leaders themselves.

Participant Testimonials:

Participant Anna Kodesch, who has visited Israel before on missions and as a family, says the (December 2014) Momentum trip was an opportunity to “remind myself who I am and what I believe in.” But she also brought a lot home. “It has brought more meaning to the things that we do in our family to celebrate our Judaism. Too often, we get caught up in the what, and not the how of the things we do; this trip gave me a chance to slow down and think about the hows for myself and how they relate to my family.” She calls it “a wonderful opportunity to grow as a person, independent of our children, spouses, etc., and to rekindle and strengthen our connection to our Judaism and spirituality.”

Going on her first organized tour, Naomi Leavitt wasn’t sure she’d like having every day and every activity planned for her. But she says she soon realized that this enabled her to be totally engaged “in what I was hearing, learning, seeing and understanding. I had to let go of my life as a mom, wife, educator, queen of the house, and just be me.”

Naomi was in Israel 13 years ago during her junior year abroad, but she says this trip was a “mind-blowing experience. “Of the women she shared the experience with, Naomi says, “We really are sisters in that we have started a journey together and are supporting one another now that we are back to the real world. I also made a bunch of connections to women in other cities and met ‘sisters’ from Portland who live in other cities. Being Jewish really does make the world a smaller and sweeter place.” Oregon Jewish Life, January 29, 2015

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

With the recognized decrease in Jewish identity and values throughout the world, the need for JWRP is increasingly urgent. Jewish education, which is not always meaningful to its students, ends for most people after their B’nai Mitzvah. As the major conveyor of Jewish identity, education, and long-term commitment, parents often do not have the ability or knowledge to effectively transmit Jewish values and instill strong Jewish identities among their children. This dynamic leaves a void in formative young adult years, resulting in a failure to impart how Jewish values can guide and positively manifest in adulthood.

JWRP focuses on engaging women with children under the age of 18 living at home, because JWRP believes that the mother is the most effective way to impact the family, since her decisions around home, school, and social activities so greatly influence the family’s directions. Women around the world are eager to participate because they rarely have the opportunity to focus on themselves in a way that also positively impacts the family at large.

JWRP has experienced rapid growth. In 2009, 300 women traveled with JWRP to Israel, embarking on a unique experience that launched the JWRP movement. By the end of 2016, 10,000 individuals in partnership with 155 organizations in 26 countries will have experienced this life-changing journey, returning home with a deep connection to Israel, renewed commitment to Jewish values, and tools to inspire their families and communities. In 2014, Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs partnered with JWRP, and as a contingency of this partnership, JWRP’s goal is to increase the number of trip participants by 70% in 2016-2017 combined - from 3,820 in 2014-2015 to 6,550 in 2016-2017. The waiting lists are growing every day.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

JWRP’s unique approach has immediate and sustained impact:
• JWRP Impacts Individuals Immediately and Continuously: Participants join women from the same community, share the Momentum Israel experience, and support each other’s continuing journey on their return, holding one another accountable.
• JWRP Boosts Existing Community Organizations: Momentum opens the door to involving new people with local organizations, those who may have distanced themselves from the Jewish community, and this leads to increased financial contributions and engagement. JWRP also brings together local community organizations to work collaboratively rather than competitively.
• JWRP Impacts Future Generations: Outreach on college campuses to Jewish young adults often happens too late to affect true change. JWRP has shown that mothers who involve their children in Jewish activities, organizations, and social groups at an early age instill Jewish values, culture, and behavior patterns that can last a lifetime.

In a 2015 survey of 2009-2013, JWRP participants reported significant impacts of both the trip and education and leadership development programming:
• 76% of alumni remained involved with the organizations that brought them on the trip
• 98% encouraged family and friends to visit Israel since their trip
• 88% desire to return to Israel
• 79% increased feelings of personal connection to Israel
• 74% say that Israel is important to their Jewish identity
• 86% increased financial support of the Jewish community
• 77% increased their volunteerism

“Over three-quarters of respondents said that their trip had either a large or a “life-changing’ impact – 43% and 34% of respondents respectively. The latter statistic is especially impressive, as Dr. Meredith Woocher, Evaluation and Research Consultant, reports that there are few single experiences or events in Jewish organizational life that many people would identify as truly ‘life changing’.”

A snapshot of alumni from 2014 showed a number of significant changes in Jewish family life:
• 99% say that being Jewish is important to them
• 72% increased participation in adult Jewish learning classes
• 61% increased observance of Shabbat
• 84% increased their financial support of the Jewish community
• 81% increased their engagement and volunteerism in their local Jewish community
• 82% expressed desire to return to Israel
• 80% increased their feelings of personal connection to Israel
• 70% say that Israel is more important to their Jewish identity

The 2014 survey also showed increased Jewish activity for children
• 24% moved or planned to move their children to Jewish day schools
• 29% sent their teen on a trip to Israel
• 44% involved had children in Jewish youth groups
• 28% of participants’ children connected Jewishly at university

“The trip is remarkable…It still affects and influences me…It is literally life-changing. I would attend every year if I could.” Marc Goldsmith, Momentum 2015

Women participants whose husbands went on a Momentum trip conveyed significant improvements in their marriages and families:
• 100% say that it is easier for them to grow in their Judaism since their husbands returned from the trip
• 69% say that they feel closer as a couple since their husband’s trip
• 92% say that they bring more Judaism into their home
• 77% say that they care more about their children’s Jewish identity
• 92% say that their husband has increased his Jewish involvement
• 37% say that their marriage has improved
• 46% say that their husband is a better father
• 100% say that their husband wants to bring more Judaism into their home

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

The Momentum trip is just the beginning of a profound experience of connection, education and inspiration. Several factors rooted in JWRP’s applied Jewish wisdom have contributed to the extremely strong and sustained, short- and long-term impacts of this unique program:

1. Partnership and achdut/unity is a key aspect of the JWRP model. “Build on what unites us, not what divides us.” There are currently 155 Partner Organizations in 26 countries. Partners are responsible for recruiting participants for the trip, providing pre-trip education and orientation, and for delivering year-long post-trip education and meaningful, long-term opportunities for leadership and community involvement. JWRP believes that ‘if we work together, we can do so much more.’ Cities with multiple Partner Organizations oftentimes result in collaboration among partners as well. By creating a movement that makes it easy for women to take responsibility for change, JWRP is forging a new global Jewish model that has impacted more than 8,000 participants to date, with projections to grow the annual number by 70% to 6,550 in 2017.

2. Participants come from the same community, the individuals have a shared, profound experience in Israel, and then they return to the same community together. Post-trip programming is geographically easy, so the women can support one another in a shared Jewish journey going forward. Women who come together from the same community for the Momentum trip begin forming local cohorts in Israel that are fostered through ongoing programming, education, leadership development, and outreach when they return home. JWRP provides a focal point for women to inspire each other and hold one another accountable for the actions required to affect positive change in their families and communities.

3. JWRP’s primary target market, Jewish women who have children at home under the age of 18, reaches women who are at a critical stage of life. Giving women the wisdom to strengthen their Judaism, marriage, parenting, and self-growth, immediately impacts the entire family and lays the foundation for strong Jewish connections for future generations.