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Mar 25, 2024

In Solidarity With Israel: The Country and the Women Who Live There

In front of the Knesset

“Even though we have kept in close contact with our recipient organizations since October 7, nothing is as healing as an in-person hug,” said Greater Miami Jewish Federation Women’s Amutot Initiative  Committee Chair Ilene Kossman, who participated in last week’s Women’s Amutot Initiative Study Trip and Solidarity Mission to Israel, March 17-21. The group spent five days meeting with Israelis and hearing their stories in the aftermath of October 7 and visiting many Federation-funded nonprofits to see the impact of our community’s generosity. “The genuine interest and knowledge of our Mission participants were appreciated by each grantee and the Israelis we visited, many of whom shared their personal testimonies,” observed Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee Chair Tracey Spiegelman.

A poster hung in Hostages Square

While the trip included sites memorializing the atrocities of the Hamas terrorist attacks, such as the Tribe of Nova Music Festival massacre, Kibbutz Kfar Aza and Hostages Square, the group spent much of their time meeting with beneficiaries of the Women's Amutot Initiative and Israel and Overseas grants through the Annual Greater Miami Jewish Federation/UJA Campaign and sharing their individual support. Recalled Spiegelman, “We approached each meeting with grantees as well as survivors with sensitivity and hugs.”

Meeting with MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (standing, center) and Orit Sulitzeanu, CEO of Association of Rape Crisis Centers (seated, second from left)

At the Knesset, the group met with Orit Sulitzeanu, CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, and Member of Knesset (MK) Pnina Tamano-Shata, Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, to hear about the work being done to assist women who experienced gender-based violence. Also in Jerusalem, they enjoyed a working lunch at La Ofek with young Ethiopian-Israel women who are participating in a preparatory program for becoming nursing students. They also met with representatives from the Jerusalem College of Technology, which trains 20 percent of all women studying computer science in Israel.

Lunch with young Ethiopian-Israeli women in the La Ofek Nursing Preparatory Program at Hadassah Hospital

In Tel Aviv, stops included Yozmot Atid, which helps underprivileged women start and develop small businesses; Olim Beyahad, assisting Ethiopian-Israeli university graduates to enter the workforce and Tech Career for young Ethiopian-Israelis aspiring to high-tech careers.

Making friends in the Equalizer Program in Yerucham

Traveling south, Mission participants visited the Maslan Rape Crisis Center in Be’er Sheva, where they heard about the important efforts of this organization, working with victims of October 7 sexual violence, those who witnessed acts of sexual violence, women who were triggered by these events and women and children evacuees to hotels who have experienced sexual violence since their temporary relocation. The visit south included Yerucham, Miami's Partnership city, where the group was able to thank former Mayor Tal Ohana for her support and partnership and visit Atid Bamidbar, which works to strengthen the human and cultural foundation for development in the Negev. The group also lunched with Mayor Nili Aharon; met Ariel Pollock Star, the entrepreneur who started Lehem Zeh (which celebrates culture and tradition through baking and was pivotal in establishing a public kitchen for the 150 families that were evacuated to Yerucham) and learned about the Equalizer Program, which equips teenage girls with skills to better their future through sports and educational activities. It is funded through the Annual Federation/UJA Campaign and is a recipient of Israel Emergency Funds for its work with child evacuees in Yerucham.

Visiting with Mayor of Yerucham Nili Aharon (second from right)

Kossman is particularly proud of a forum held at the beginning of the Mission that brought together grantees of the Women's Amutot Initiative to address protecting women against gender-based violence. “It was extremely valuable to have everyone in the same room to collaborate and to hear each other speak,” Kossman said. “My question to everyone was, ‘What was your most pressing challenge since October 7 and what success have you had?'” She found the Israelis had a new appreciation of Jews outside of Israel. “They never understood before how important the Diaspora is and further, that what happens in Israel affects the Diaspora.”

At the Women’s Spirit Bridal Boutique

One of the organizations that participated in the forum relayed a story that Kossman found especially moving. Women’s Spirit, which provides women with solutions to break the cycle of domestic abuse, has a bridal boutique that sells new and gently used wedding gowns donated by Israeli designers. A week before October 7, a bride-to-be had purchased a gown but was tragically murdered at the Tribe of Nova Music Festival. Her mother re-donated the gown to be sold. Another bride-to-be bought it, with full knowledge of its history, to wear not only for herself but for the young woman who didn’t live to see her wedding day. “I was thinking how hopeful that was,” said Kossman, “and how it demonstrates the resilience of these women.”

Spiegelman summed up the Women’s Amutot Initiative Study Trip and Solidarity Mission as “a seamless journey curated to grow our love of Israel and its people, our passion for the work and our understanding of the impact of our grants and allocations.” Kossman concurred, adding, “We were constantly amazed by the resolve of the Israeli women and the important role that women have played in uniting, strengthening and healing Israeli society since October 7. Thankfully, our Federation has long recognized that providing support and opportunities for women improves the lives of all Israelis.”

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