Reading Israel's Story - Heart to Heart's Women's Mission
On February 5-9th 2012, Jewish Federation of North America's philanthropic women's group, Heart to Heart, brought its third mission to Israel. 150 women from across the United States, the group was the largest since the mission's conception, with participants from 21 Federations. Heart to Heart's goal is to engage participants in first-hand experiences from a woman's perspective. Jan Schwartz, of the Boston Federation, reflected on Heart to Heart's unique focus; "I think it's really wonderful to travel with all these women. I love the camaraderie between us, the Jewish Agency, JFNA, and the soldiers."
The trip included visits to Jewish Federation supported projects, and meetings with women from a range of social and cultural backgrounds. Many women increase their participation in Jewish philanthropy following their return from Heart to Heart missions. Participant Laura Shulman Brochstein, from the North Shore Federation, explains; "I wanted to bring Israel to my community. People in my community don’t know enough about Israel."
"What inspires you?" and "What can you take from Israel to your community?" were stimulating questions asked by Alison Garber, Associate Director of Women's Philanthropy, and Kimberlee Fish, Senior Director of National Women's Philanthropy.
"Now you are each an ambassador and are responsible for bringing Israel to your community," said Kimberlee. "Your job begins when you get home, to be an advocate for Israel. JFNA can help you fulfill your dreams for your local community, that’s what we are here for." Alison and Kimberlee hope the time in Israel has motivated each woman to relate their Israel experiences back to their Federations, whether at a board meeting about Israel or simply through participation in Federation activities.
Amanda Clayman, a participant from the North Shore Federation, felt this trip was an opportunity to play a role in reinvigorating her Jewish community, making Israel a bigger priority. Amanda is one of many women who has visited Israel before; "I thought if I could come and educate myself and see what's going on, I would be able to bring that energy back to my community. It's been ten years since my last visit to Israel, and it's amazing to see what progress has been made. Whenever I'm here, I always have a great connection with Israelis."
One highlight from this trip was a first-ever visit to the Sifriyat Pijama program, a literacy enrichment program modeled on Harold Grinspoon Foundation's P.J. Library program in North America. Started three years ago, Sifriyat Pijama is a unique program which engages students in reading readiness and literacy appreciation while focusing on Jewish values. During the school year, children, mostly from low socio-economic backgrounds with lower educational opportunities, are introduced to nine high-quality books which they would otherwise not be exposed to. The teachers initiate activities in and around the books, reinforcing values of tolerance and cooperation, while stressing the importance of reading as a family.
The books intend to teach values which can be correlated to all levels of religious and secular life. The selection committee works to create a dialogue which both promotes literacy and maintains a delicate balance between religion, culture, education, and society. Sifriyat Pijama aims to unite all sectors of Israeli society, a notion vital to Israel's civil progression, by enhancing Israelis’ affinity to Jewish values by engaging with books from a Jewish perspective. The books are distributed to the children in partnership with the Ministry of Education.
Teachers play a huge role in the programs' success as they present the book, engage in follow up activities, as well as encouraging parental involvement. Each book contains a parent guide with suggestions of activities and discussion for parents to enjoy with their children.
On arriving in Beit Shemesh, the women were divided up into groups of 15-20 and each group visited a different pre-school classroom. The teacher read a storybook while a Sifriyat Pijama staff member translated to the Heart to Heart women, sitting among the children. Later, the children and women all participated in an arts and crafts activity which mirrored the story. Finally, the students sang Tu B'Shvat songs and gave the women parting gifts of traditional fruit. Laura Shulman Brochstein, thought the visit to Sifriyat Pijama was a wonderful experience. "I have little kids; most of these women have kids, and are familiar with the US version of the program, so the connection is there."
Sifriyat Pijama's Director of Operations, Neta Shapira, reports that 71% of parents are reading more to their children as a result of the program. 120,000 students, 40% of kindergartens nationwide, participate in the program, making it the largest literacy preparation program in Israel. Amanda Clayman's ten year old and seven year old are both participants in the US version, "PJ Library." "My children love the program. My ten year old just 'graduated' from the program and received a PJ Library camp grant of $1,000."
The Sifriyat Pijama visit was one of many stimulating visits throughout the mission. Amanda reflected "When I see programs such as these, I feel that my time and efforts are paying off. I can see that we are making a difference in these children's lives, as well as impacting Israeli society through education."
Participants spoke of life-changing experiences in Israel, stories which resonated with others on personal, emotional and spiritual levels, heart to heart. "Israel has terrible PR, about women and in general," explained participant, Jan Schwartz. "You come here, you meet people, spend time with them in their homes and see their lives, and you see that they are living life just as we are."
Tikva Schein and Jessica Ariff
Tikva Schein and Jessica Ariff
Heart to Heart mission participants share the reading experience
Children show their Sifriyat Pijama gift
Story time with Heart to Heart
A world of books to discover