If she hadn’t broken her kneecap on a hiking trip in Arizona two years ago, Leslie Gurland might never have wound up in Israel this week as part of a team that is teaching yoga to the people of Ofakim.
“There was a lightning storm. I ran and I fell and fractured my patella,” she told NJ Jewish News an hour before leaving her home in West Caldwell for her trip to Israel on Nov. 5.
After the accident, a physical therapist urged her to take up yoga to aid in her recovery.
So she took up the practice in a big way, enrolling in classes at Lotus Yoga and Yoga Desha in Montclair and the Karuna Shala in Glen Ridge.
After acquiring its traditional physical and mental disciplines and skills, Gurland sought a way to combine her newfound interest with her ongoing commitment to Israel.
She contacted Amir Shacham, who directs Israel operations for United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. He suggested she bring a traveling instructional yoga mission to the Partnership 2000 community of Ofakim, whose residents, he said, would benefit greatly from a week of yoga instruction.
“Although there are a lot of yoga teachers in Israel, there aren’t a lot who go to Ofakim,” said Gurland.
One of her teachers in New Jersey had just returned from Ecuador. Another had visited Cambodia. “I said, ‘Why are you guys not going to Israel?’ and they said, ‘No one asked us. We’d love to go.’ That’s how it started.”
Gurland enlisted five friends to accompany her. Each member of the mission paid for his or her own plane ticket. They are staying in an apartment provided by MetroWest Partnership 2000.
During the week in Ofakim, the six visitors are demonstrating and guiding others in classes for children, teachers, workers, and senior citizens at a local school and a community center. They will also spend a day at a nearby air force base.
Gurland runs the Fairfield office of Tadik, an Israeli packaging firm, and she is using her managerial skills to coordinate the visit to Ofakim. But when it comes to yoga, she said, “I am not going to teach. I’ll assist.”
Gurland, who had been active in UJA MetroWest Campaign cabinet activities before the birth of her six-year-old son, plans to reengage after she returns home. She will serve as cochair of next spring’s community Israel Independence Day observance and celebration and serve on Partnership 2000 committees.
“Israel is my main interest,” she said. “I believe it is important to do service, and teaching yoga in Ofakim is a service project. But equally as important for me is creating a living bridge between Americans and Israelis. Nothing is more important than creating relationships,” Gurland said.