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Women Meeting Women, Forging Connections – Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Professional Women's Mission to Israel

This past June, 12 women from Cleveland’s Jewish community participated in the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s first Professional Women's Mission to Israel. The week-long trip was the first mission from Cleveland to bring professional women together. The itinerary included visits with Israeli professional women such as Ester Levanon, CEO of the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange and also several cultural excursions.

The Cleveland mission in the Cardo

"This trip has made us so much more intelligent about what is going on and better able to represent Israel and the professional women of Israel," said Ilana Isakov Katz, marketing director for SS&G, one of the largest accounting firms in the U.S.

While visiting Israel's Supreme Court building, the women gained a taste of the complexity of Israeli life. Sitting in briefly on a Supreme Court hearing, the group learned of a five-year-old boy living in the Gaza strip who wanted to visit his father in the West Bank, a domestic situation showcasing the political complexities of Israeli life. The group of women was well suited to the tour and subsequent discussion. Top professionals in their field, entrepreneurs and executives, the twelve women engaged with the subject material directly and thoughtfully.

For two of the twelve participants, it was their first time ever in Israel. For most of the others, it was the first time as adults that they were investing time to get to know the country. Architect Cornelia Hodgson had not been to Israel in many years, and she spoke of the exciting newness the trip offered, "I didn't know what to expect – a friend invited me and I've seen so many different things already. But this trip really opened my eyes."

Visiting the Supreme Court

Ilana, who has been on several missions, appreciated the blend of participants. "I always enjoy seeing people connect with the land and the people, especially people who are coming for their first time. When someone says, ‘I've never really connected with Israel before now,’ it’s remarkable and gives me goose bumps."

"I am with inspiring people, seeing inspiring things, doing inspiring things," said Heidi Goldstein, an environmental lawyer. Since the content of the trip was shaped by the participants' own interests, the diversity of the group allowed everyone to experience a variety of activities, each of which molded the trip. "Everyone's experience is a variation on one theme," added Heidi.  "I hope everyone takes back a personal experience that will provide a meaningful connection to the work we are doing both here and back in Cleveland."

Hedy Milgrom, Vice President, Endowments and Development, of the Jewish Federation, together with mission co-chairs Andrea Kanter Grodin, Chief Operation Officer, South Pointe Hospital, Nan Cohen, Founder and CEO of Creekside Financial Advisors, and Patricia Rubin, Director, Assurance Services Department at SS&G, proclaimed their happiness at the mission's success.  Hedy said, "This mission has been fantastic on every level. It has given us an opportunity to learn things about ourselves and with the full support of the Cleveland Federation, we were able to put together this unique program."

 

Touring the Old City

 The sense of closeness felt at sharing their experiences also provided a link between Cleveland and Israel. Lauren Rock, President and CEO of Montefiore, an agency that provides healthcare and senior living, acknowledged, "This trip is about women bonding.  We have a broad range of focus including business, social service and across the board examples of women's leadership. Being here gives us an opportunity to see what our counterparts do. We can also see what our Federation has funded. Compared with what we saw ten years ago when the Parents with Children Together program (PACT), was just getting started, it's very gratifying."

For Sarah Gabinet, a highlight was meeting with Joanna Landau, CEO of Kinetis, a nonprofit educational organization established to promote the recognition of Israel's image as a creative and innovative hub.  "It was phenomenal and she is so dynamic. Learning how fellow Americans' approaches to Israel have changed because of a different way to message what Israel is, appeals to us."  She also mentioned that meeting women who participate in ISHA, a project of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland to improve Israeli women's health, "was fascinating. I've never had any contact with Bedouin women before. This way we really heard what their lives are like. As a lawyer who practices family law, this really appealed to me."

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman, co-founder of Your Teen Media, is an entrepreneur and found many relatable experiences during the mission. "Being with a mission like this is like being with a mini community of women. There's also a disconnection with our current life and we are connecting through the perspectives of other women."

The group was able to tackle, hands-on, the challenges faced by Israeli civil society. Meeting with Susan Weiss, the group heard about marriage and divorce in the Israeli court system. Ilana Isakov-Katz commented, "It's both fascinating and infuriating to learn about the ongoing issues of the agunot [women refused a religious divorce by their husbands].  I'm very glad to hear there are people protecting human rights. In this country, there are a lot of amazing women doing amazing things."

The trip was able to build up the women's intellectual and spiritual resources and strengthen their connection to Israel. "I don't want it to end. You can feel so close to your Judaism here, it's ridiculous!" admitted one participant.

Ilana Isakov-Katz summarized the week, to the agreement of the group. "It's been like a PhD! I've learned so much this week! It's hard for me to understand why these types of missions have not happened before, and I hope we can be an inspiration for other communities to do a similar mission. We also look forward to providing an opportunity for women who weren’t able to join us this time to participate in the next professional women’s mission in the near future.”