By Kristine Gross
Unlike most people active in the pro-Israel community, until recently I had never been to the Jewish state.
I converted to Judaism more than 40 years ago, and since then I’ve felt a deep personal and spiritual connection to Israel. My children have been before — for Birthright and a young men’s mission — and came back singing its praises.
That’s why, when the opportunity recently presented itself, I knew I had to jump at the chance to finally visit Israel for myself. What I saw there changed my perspective forever, for the better.
It all stemmed from my involvement with Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds. A few years ago, a friend invited me to co-chair a Bonds event with her in my native Philadelphia and, through that experience, I quickly and enthusiastically became involved with Bonds’ Women’s Division. Recently, as Bonds was organizing a Women’s Division delegation to Israel, I was honored to have the opportunity to participate, joining dozens of other women from around Philadelphia and the United States and Canada, on a trip that, for me, was decades in the making.
Upon arrival, I sensed that I wasn’t the only one entranced by the experience. Often, in the pro-Israel community, women are just as enthused about participating and showing leadership as others, but lack role models to look to as examples to follow. Not so during the delegation: There, we met daily with extraordinary women who were literally helping to change the world through their work on the ground. They serve as an example to live up to and a path to follow for those of us who were just as interested in making our mark through our efforts with Israel Bonds.
For example, there was Yehudit Abrams — herself a convert like me — who had made aliyah from her native Boise, Idaho, and founded MonitHer, a cutting-edge company that develops new breast cancer detection technologies. When we met with her in Jerusalem, Abrams spoke to us about how this technology was helping women not just in Israel, but worldwide. It was a theme we encountered throughout the trip: that the impact of the work being done in Israel didn’t just stay there, it had life-changing impacts across the globe.
Then there was Lt. Col. Dana Ben Ezra, a woman in charge of protecting Israel’s southern border, who we met with in Tzfat during our time there. Her task — protecting millions of Israelis from potential threats – was a daunting one, yet, her spirit stood resolute. In fact, Ben Ezra told us, having the opportunity to serve and lead as a woman was one of the many things that made Israel special, and something that is core to the identity of the Jewish state: everyone plays a part. She was certainly contributing hers, and it was an example we were honored to follow and learn from.
However, for those in Israel who were excluded from military service due to disability or disadvantage, there were other men and women taking the lead to ensure they could still realize their potential. We met with a group at the Ramat David Airbase that ran a camp called Special in Uniform, for Israeli youth who couldn’t serve in the military, putting their skills to work in other, no less essential tasks. These women recognized the intrinsic, indispensable value of all members of Israeli society, and were doing their part to tap into it.
For me, perhaps the most memorable experience came when the delegation visited the Kotel in Jerusalem. I, like so many others, had seen images of it throughout my life, but to experience the Wall firsthand was unequivocally more impactful. Suddenly, there among Jerusalem’s ancient structures, I was struck by the significance and permanence of so much of the work that we and the women we met were engaged in. It’s a feeling that stays with me every day, and I am sure it will forever.
Before long, the delegation was over, but the sense of community we built there is enduring. The group included a dozen women from Philadelphia, and we still keep in touch, sharing experiences and organizing further Israel Bonds events to build on what we learned from the delegation. Already, we’ve had Women’s Division members hold events with a local Jewish adoption and family care organization and host craft shows in support of the Jewish state. I anticipate many more of these events to come in the future.
Role models are important, and looking back on the delegation, there was no shortage of them. The women we met — like Abrams, Ben Ezra, and the people running Special in Uniform — showed that there’s an active role for every woman to play in supporting Israel, and that support transcends the benefit for not only the Jewish state, but all people.
As a convert who had never visited Israel before, these were deep, profound lessons that I find myself growing from in ways large and small each day, thanks to the delegation and the women we met there. I already can’t wait for my next visit.
Kristine Gross is an active member of Israel Bonds’ Women’s Division.