What does it mean to love a fellow Jew? What does it mean to love oneself?
These are questions that close to 500 women will learn to answer later this month at the third annual Ahavas Yisrael Chabura Project event. It will take place Jan. 13 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and focus on “Ahavas Yisrael Starts At Home: The Art of Self-Care.”
“Loving a fellow Jew means loving yourself,” said Rivka Malka Perlman, who will be the event’s keynote speaker. “Sometimes you have to go inside yourself, be taking care of yourself, to be a good person.”
As such, the event, which, according to Danielle Sarah Storch, the brains behind the affair, draws women from across the Jewish spectrum — women with their hair covered, women in pants — will teach participants how to more properly care for themselves. Women will learn proper breath-ing techniques from a certified yoga instructor. There will be opportunities to stretch — and to fill up emotionally and spiritually, too.
In addition, participants will watch two short, inspiring films on the topic of Ahavas Yisrael, meet with local practitioners and self-care experts, enjoy light refreshments and receive a package of free prizes and other giveaways, including a handout with tips from nutritionists, massage therapists, chiropractors, financial planners and even event planners. All items will be geared toward helping Jewish Baltimore’s women care for themselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
“Because women are so strong, we are vulnerable,” said Perlman. “We are capable, technically, of handling everything that is not good for us. How do we stay balanced? God never asked us to do everything.”
Perlman, a mother of eight and the director of the WOW program for the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Living and Learning, said she does not believe that women truly can do everything, but rather that they are constantly trying to prove they are worthy — “We have a lot of quiet competitiveness.” In her life, she said, she has recognized that there is always a price to pay for pushing too hard. Perlman tries to pay attention to “where does Hashem want my efforts now” and to pull back when she needs to.
How does she practice Ahavas Yisrael, Jewish unity?
“I supercharge my interactions,” she said.
“We all have the capacity to fill each other’s reservoirs, even in just a quick meeting. I give 100 percent to whoever I am with. I put on a giant smile — for the person at the cash register, the mailman every time he drops off my mail. When we have Shabbos guests, we make signs for our guests so they know we are expecting them and we are excited for them,” said Perlman. “I go on the presumption that we are all kind of needy and we need each other to lift each other up.”
Jewish UnityAnd that is really the message of Jan. 13 — through women improving themselves, they can improve the world.
The Jewish Women’s Project for Ahavas Yisrael (AY Project) exists to create a worldwide awareness among Jewish women of their obligation to love and respect every Jew by reinforcing the knowledge that all Jews are connected and responsible for one another.
“This is a way to heal our community — Jewishly,” said Mindi Meira Blaxberg, who serves on the event committee and hosts one of 20 AY Project groups in the Baltimore area. These groups meet weekly for 20 minutes and follow pre-written lessons and materials that focus on the laws governing Jewish obligations in interpersonal relationships.
Blaxberg explained that there is a Jewish idea that all Jews are connected, that there is one soul divided into fractions — individuals.
“If I am having a fight with my neighbor, or my sister, or one of the people I work with … there is an inconsistency in the Jewish global soul,” she said.
Blaxberg explained that many women focus on differences among them, when they should be focusing on what brings them together. Through the 20-minute AY Project groups, women of all types come together.
“People are raised in different ways and may have different beliefs about how to serve God,” she said. “When we come together [we learn] none of us are apathetic about religion, we just have different interpretations.”
Blaxberg said that she has witnessed when personal things come out in these sessions, the walls come down, and “there is love that flows between us.”
Storch said she has seen with her own eyes how this can make a real difference.
“What can we do? There are women who say, ‘ I want to be part of the solution.’ The solution is Jewish unity,” said Storch. “To stop all of these hurricanes, the nuclear threats, the missiles, the hurting, we have to get together. A Jewish people reunited will have God’s protection and blessing.”