By Jenni Frazer for the JC, January 6 2017
“Our endgame”, says Lori Palatnik, “is to strengthen Jewish communities in the diaspora. And we do that by inspiring, educating and empowering women”.
Jewish communities throughout the world are used to seeing parades of dark-suited men engaging in earnest discussions about the future of the diaspora. But Ms Palatnik, a rabbi’s wife and one-time marketing executive based in Washington DC, has a different take on the issue.
She believes that since Judaism and Jewish tradition are transmitted through the home and thus through Jewish women, the focus needs to be on them. Accordingly, in 2009, she launched the grandly-titled Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), which has blossomed into a kind of Birthright for women, with eight or nine missions to Israel every year.
There are only two qualifying criteria to join a JWRP mission: the woman has to have children living at home under the age of 18, and “she cannot be Sabbath observant”, said Ms Palatnik. “In this way we reach women and families who, without this trip, could fall off the Jewish map.”
JWRP’s website says it is focusing on “crisis communities” and mentions France as well as the more expected countries of Eastern Europe. But Ms Palatnik concedes that JWRP had been in talks with the French community for over three years without finding an appropriate partner group.
JWRP has “155 partner organisations in 26 countries, from across the Jewish world”, says Ms Palatnik.
The partner organisations recommend the women to the central HQ; the trips to Israel cost the women only their air fares; and the trips themselves are a mixture of inspirational lectures and visits throughout the country, concluding with a gigantic Friday-night meal.
Mizrahi UK, led by Rabbi Andrew Shaw, worked with JWRP for the first time last year.
Rabbi Shaw said that 25 women from Hampstead Garden Suburb and Barnet Synagogue took part in the December JWRP mission, sourced by the respective rebbetzins. Asked if it were not counter-intuitive for a religious Zionist group to be actively seeking out women who were not Sabbath observant, Rabbi Shaw said he felt that Mizrahi’s outreach “had to encompass the entire Jewish world, and not just focus on a narrow core of people who are observant.”