JERUSALEM — From the moment she arrived in Israel to the moment she left 10 days later, Adria Glass of Ocean experienced a magic she said she had never felt before.
During a tour of an ancient synagogue in Tzefat on her second day in Israel, Glass said, she sat down to have a one-on-one chat with God about her challenges. Her daughter was born with autism 14 years ago. Her son, now eight, also has the disorder.
Glass recalled that she barely got out the word “Hashem” when a Beatles tune started buzzing on her cell phone: “Help, I need somebody. Help, not just anybody….”
“We all have our own connection to Hashem in our own way,” said Glass, a professional singer. “He connected to me through music because that’s my way.”
Glass was one of 192 women from across the United States who participated in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project journey to Israel from June 30 to July 9. Thirteen women from Monmouth and 14 from Middlesex counties took part in the program, through Torah Links, an Orthodox-run outreach organization with branches in both counties.
Established in 2008, JWRP is a women’s movement that strives to inspire positive values to empower women of all backgrounds. The group’s goal is to bring 10,000 women to Israel each year on a highly subsidized tour of Israel that includes a series of lectures at Aish HaTorah World Center in Jerusalem.
Like Glass, Sheri Chalnick of Freehold said visiting Jerusalem triggered a visceral reaction. Nine months before the trip, she underwent a double mastectomy, just weeks after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she told NJJN.
“When I saw the Kotel and was walking toward it I couldn’t even breathe I was crying so much,” Chalnick said. “I guess I hadn’t let it out yet. I feel privileged and blessed that God put Torah Links and this JWRP trip into my life. I was physically fine when I left New Jersey for Israel. Now I am spiritually and emotionally fine as well.”
Like many women on the trip, Chalnick said she grew up with no connection to her Jewish identity. That changed abruptly at age 14 when some non-Jewish friends gave her a birthday cake that said “Happy Birthday to Our Jewish Friend.” The peculiar inscription inspired her to explore her roots. A year later, she initiated her family’s first Passover seder and has been connecting with her faith ever since and instilling it in her three children.
“I know that what I bring back to my children from this trip to Israel will be priceless. My goal is to bring them here with me to connect with their homeland too,” Chalnick said.
Monmouth County JWRP participants were accompanied by Toby Oratz and Shulamis Schreiber, both of Monmouth Torah Links in Morganville.
‘We all became sisters’
JWRP enabled participant Bonnie Torrado of East Brunswick to be the first person in many generations of her family to visit Israel. “Before we left New Jersey I was told that I would feel instantly connected and at home in Israel,” Torrado said. “I didn’t really believe it at the time, but by the second day here I am definitely living it. I can’t wait to bring back these experiences and share them with my family.”
Torrado is on the leadership committee of Jewish Women of East Brunswick, a new Middlesex Torah Links initiative that has similar principles as JWRP’s but on a local community level, said Chani Gross. Gross and Shaindy Landau, both of Torah Links, served as “city leaders” of the Middlesex JWRP group.
For Tracy Fink of East Brunswick, the trip represented a spiritual journey full of opposites. “The whole trip is a juxtaposition of modern and old, happy and sad, dancing and crying. One minute we are in a temple on top of the world [Masada], the next minute we are floating on the Dead Sea,” she said. “We all became sisters here and have connected on such a deep level.”
Although she had a religious upbringing and attended two years of college in Israel, Shelly Talmud of East Brunswick said JWRP inspired her like no other experience she’s had before.
“The classes were amazing. Every speaker has blown us away. Part of me wants to stay and learn some more with these people who are so understanding and welcoming,” said Talmud, whose oldest son is a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces. “Many families in Jerusalem opened up their homes for us for a seudat shlishit meal. As we were walking back to the hotel, we were invited into yet another family’s apartment. It was such an interesting and meaningful experience.”