IWP Participants Find Inspiration, Empowerment, Community and Adventure in Israel

The Associated’s Inspired Women’s Project (IWP) group in Israel

When the plane touched down in Tel Aviv on that Sunday evening in October, the group of women travelling together as part of The Associated’s Inspired Women’s Project (IWP) were about to embark on an eight-day journey of a life time.

The uniquely female-focused trip was the culmination of a year-long program that brought together 23 women in our community who had been meeting monthly to explore personal growth, spirituality, Israel engagement and philanthropy, all through a female lens.

The trip included off-roading in the Golan Heights, nature hikes, a visit to Tsfat, the Artists’ Colony, food tours, wine tasting and Krav Maga training sessions just to name a few highlights. The women also had the opportunity to visit Baltimore’s partner city of Ashkelon and learn about the various programs and initiatives supported in part by The Associated.

Three of these amazing women, Lauren Ades, Julie Cohen and Emily Taylor recently shared their impressions and experiences and what inspires them to lead, give and take action.

Tell us a little bit about the Inspired Women’s Project and why you chose to get involved.

Emily: I’m all for meeting other women and learning more about myself and about others. Each month we meet as a group in different homes of people from our cohort and every meeting an inspirational speaker comes to talk with us.

Julie Cohen in Israel

Julie: I didn’t really know what to expect about the IWP. I knew many of the women in this cohort – some of them I am really close with. One of my hesitations about taking a trip to Israel with 20 plus women was wondering if everyone was going to get along. But I was so impressed how from our very first meeting we all found a way to connect even if we have differences in age, career, backgrounds, etc.

Lauren: I had participated in the National Young Leadership Cabinet from 2014 until 2020 and I missed travelling and learning with a select cohort. So, when I heard about the Inspired Women’s Project it really appealed to me because it offered both of those components.

Is there a particular speaker who made a lasting impression?

Emily: I remember Rabbi Jesse spoke to us about exploring how Judaism can look different for different people and kind of pushing the boundaries of what is considered stereotypical Judaism.

Lauren: I think one of the sessions that everybody particularly enjoyed was a session with Rabbi Jesse. I’ve known her for a long time and she’s a very spiritual person. I remember we were outside on Jennifer Millman’s porch and we were talking about setting our intentions for the trip.

And what’s this about an all-women’s trip to Israel?

Lauren Ades and Emily Taylor, IWP Israel trip

Emily: I didn’t really understand what a mission trip meant. But by the end of our travels, I realized how the experience was different. We weren’t going to famous landmarks around Israel. It was more about getting to know the people of Israel, which was a really interesting perspective because the only other time I’ve been to Israel was on a Birthright trip when I was 22.

Lauren: This trip was different and so meaningful because a lot of the things we did was through a female lens and spirituality was woven throughout. There was definitely another level of bonding that happened on the trip and on the bus and plane rides as the trip went on. I think everybody grew that much closer.

Julie: It was non-stop fun. We would always be laughing or getting to know each other or reflecting on our experiences. We would get back to the hotel at nine or ten o’clock at night and most of us would still sit up together and have a drink and talk and laugh. I got as much out of connecting with the other women as I did with the organized experiences.

Tell us about one of the organizations you visited that stood out the most.

Emily: I think the most impactful one for me was Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women who strive to achieve the right to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. We met with Rabbi Susan Silverman, Sarah Silverman’s sister, and none of us wanted that to stop the talk we were having with her. I learned a lot from her and gained a different perspective about how there’s space for all of us with different levels of Judaism.

Julie: All of them were amazing. We packed so many different experiences into one day and did a great job connecting the work that The Associated does with the places we visited. One of my favorites was the Mechina (pre-military) program on Kibbutz Sarid with JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel). It was very unique in that it was for young women who come from difficult backgrounds and are getting help preparing them for the military or whatever path in life. We met a young woman who used to be homeless and came off the streets, one who is gay and left home because she wasn’t accepted by her religious family. We got to sit around with these young women, hear their backstories and cook pita over a fire.

Favorite food on the trip?

Unanimously – falafel. There’s no such thing as too much falafel. AND the breakfasts – all of the cheeses and the veggies and the eggs and the breads and the salads and the coffee.

Cultural takeaways?

Emily: It was shocking to learn that every single person living in Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah, located on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, at all times needed to be 15 seconds away from the closest bomb shelter.

Lauren: When I think about where we traveled – we went from the Gaza border where we saw guns pointed into Israel and to the Syrian border and again, saw guns pointed into Israel. It was just so interesting going to the Peace Wall and hearing from the people that live there. That every night they clear a path to the bomb shelter. I can’t imagine living like that. But I think that kind of shows the resiliency of the Israeli people.

Julie: Our tour guide throughout the trip was amazing because she was so knowledgeable and fun and relatable and did a great job teaching us about Israeli history and the different borders in a way that we could understand. She was a great educator and wasn’t just sticking to a script. So, as we had questions or thoughts come up about politics or LGBTQ issues in Israel for example, she would answer them all.

As a member of the Inspired Women’s Project, what inspires you?

Emily: Meaningful conversations, meeting other women and hearing their story, learning from them and growing together.

Julie: As a genetic counselor in pediatrics and rare disease, I care for kids and families who are going through such difficult diagnoses and struggles both related to the medical condition and also just general life. Seeing how families adapt and cope to those adversities is what gives me inspiration. I think that’s why I was so taken with the women from the Mechina (pre-military) program who found strength even in difficult circumstances.

Lauren: I have always had a deep sense of wanting to give back. It’s inspiring and meaningful to me to see first-hand the impact of our dollars through The Associated – our dollars helped, for example, fund the Ethiopian Absorption Center in Ashkelon that provides temporary living quarters and resources for new immigrants.

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The Associated is a home for everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community. We offer several email lists to help people find a community, engage with their peers and support Jewish journeys around the world.

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