United Through Motherhood

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Two hundred Jewish mothers from nine countries descended on Baltimore for three days of leadership building and learning as part of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project’s third annual conference.

The women attended workshops and presentations at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown during the March 9-11 conference, which focused on building leadership qualities. According to JWRP co-founder Lori Palatnik of Rockville, the goal of the conference was to give participants “really concrete skills” such as public speaking, board management and the utilization of social media.


“We feel that if you inspire a woman, you inspire a family, and if you inspire enough families, you inspire a community,” said Palatnik, who was recently named to Hadassah’s annual list of Most Outstanding Jewish American Women of Our Time.

Two hundred Jewish mothers filled the Pearlstone Center in  Reisterstown for three days of learning and leadership training. (Photos provided)
Two hundred Jewish mothers filled the Pearlstone Center in
Reisterstown for three days of learning and leadership training. (Photos provided)

JWRP was founded in 2008 with the mission of empowering women to change the world through Jewish values. Its flagship program, the Momentum Trip, takes mothers to Israel for eight days. To date, more than 5,000 women from 17 countries have participated. The trips are conducted through a partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.

“One of the Jewish values we teach on the trip is to be responsible,” said Palatnik. Often, “we stand in the way of our own potential. Here, we help women reach their own potential.”

[pullquote]When I went on the trip I was so absolutely moved and inspired. I felt in touch with my roots, and I wanted to build more on that experience.[/pullquote]

Sitting in the Pearlstone conference room, where the Israeli movie “Beneath the Helmet” had been screened the night before, participants pored over thick binders full of follow-up curriculum, as presenters coached them through sample lesson plans, which are also available for members online. What JWRP leadership found, according to board president and co-founder Manette Mayberg of Silver Spring, is that city leaders wanted uniform content and additional guidance in crafting follow-up programming back home. (Mayberg is part of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes the Jewish Times.)

At the core of JWRP, said Mayberg, are three goals: first, to connect Jewish women to their Jewish legacy; second, to connect them to the land of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces; and third, to understand the communal responsibility they carry as a Jewish woman.

Those goals resonated with Adrienne Gold, a city leader from Toronto. At 40 years old with a husband, two sons and a successful fashion television show, she began studying and “fell in love with what is in our bones.” She left television, went to the Village Shul and became a teacher. She now leads three trips a year with JWRP and is one of the co-hosts of soon-to-debut “Momentum TV,” JWRP’s take on the popular daytime talk show “The View.”

“In every Jewish woman there is the potential to change the world,” she said. “You have to see her neshama like a coal and fan it.”

JWRP is an outreach organization, although Gold insists the approach is not to push a particular brand of Orthodoxy on participants.

“My goal is not to make you anything but more Jewishly identifying than before you left, whatever that looks like for you,” said Gold.

Edana Heller Desatnick, an executive coach and leadership consultant from New Jersey who gave the opening and closing remarks at the conference, found herself identifying more after her 2010 trip. Though she was active in leadership at her conservative synagogue, the mother of three admitted she didn’t have much religious knowledge.

Photo provided
Photo provided

“I really didn’t know anything. I’d never met an Orthodox person in my life,” she said. On the trip, “they spoke in such a beautiful way about heritage, what it means to be Jewish, to give back to Israel, and not in a guilt-driven way, but in a change-the-world tikkun olam way.”

The impact on her family was noticeable right away. They began lighting candles each Friday night and slowly incorporated more practices in their daily life. Her 15 year-old daughter will attend an Orthodox youth group camp in Israel this summer, and her 19-year-old daughter went on a Birthright Israel trip through Aish HaTorah. The older daughter will spend a semester studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Erin Chado of Baltimore, who describes herself as looking outwardly “more secular or Reform,” attended the conference to build on her experience from the Momentum Trip she took in December through the Etz Chaim Center in Park Heights. Looking around the room at the conference, she was impressed by “the sheer willpower that we have as women.”

“When I went on the trip I was so absolutely moved and inspired. I felt in touch with my roots, and I wanted to build more on that experience,” she said.

Chado, the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, said that she is constantly approached by other mothers inquiring about her experience.

“I tell them it’s a safe and exciting way to really connect with your Judaism. They will not only get a connection themselves with their religion, they’ll get a connection to other mothers,” she said. “For any woman who’s even thinking of it, don’t second guess. Do yourself and your family a favor and go.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

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