‘Sheba’ Mission Explores Feminist Connections

erry Katz has been on several Hadassah trips to Israel, as well as missions through Israel Bonds, the American Society of the University of Haifa and Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.

In fact, the Bala Cynwyd resident has been to Israel so many times, she said that she's actually lost count.

Among all these, Katz, 69, described a recent Jewish National Fund excursion as "probably the most meaningful mission I've ever gone on."

The "Queen of Sheba Women's Mission," which took place May 26 though June 2, was designed to connect Jewish women from the United States with their Israeli counterparts.

To that end, the 30 participants — from New York, California, Illinois and Arizona, among others states — spent the week meeting female soldiers, tour guides, chefs, businesspeople and architects around the country.

One afternoon, for example, the women met Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's president, Rivka Carmi; another session introduced attendees to Bedouin and Arab Israeli women.

"We wanted to know, what is a women's life like in Israel?" explained Katz, who served as mission co-chair. "The trip allowed us to speak with women, and to see and hear how they felt."

Katz said she found it "powerful" that the visiting group consisted entirely of women. She said this factor promoted a level of kinship among participants, and a real sense of camaraderie.

"If women are with men, there's a glass wall that's put up," she said. "But being with other women makes people open up and reveal themselves emotionally. Women don't mind discussing problems with each other."

The encounters with the Israelis were extremely personal as well, according to Katz.

One Bedouin speaker relayed the agony she went through when her husband took a second wife. Earlier in the trip, Israeli Rosie Binamo talked about her son being killed by a suicide bomber.

"I think what I realized is that women are the same," said Katz. "We are all worried about our families, about providing for them and about their safety."

The schedule also allowed participants to see JNF projects, like the Aleh Negev Special-Needs School, a residential rehabilitation center for children, and to learn about ongoing agency initiatives, like the building of security roads in the north, which was pummeled by Hezbollah in last summer's war.

But the trip, which JNF plans to run again next year, was not tilted toward heavy topics alone. The group indulged themselves in a spa treatment the first night; later on, the women took part in wine-tastings, shopping, bird-watching and belly-dancing lessons. They spent Shabbat at the home of their Israeli tour guide, Talia Tzour, in Jerusalem.

"You know, you can go get on the bus and see something, and you can take pride in it," said Katz. "But for 25 or 30 of us to sit around and talk about intimate things and really let our hair down — that was a fabulous, fabulous thing."



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