Led by and JInspire Queens & JHC of Queens/ LI
by Susie Garber
“It will be doubly special if you go now, “Rabbi Moshe Turk, Director of Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island, encouraged his wife as she was leaving in the midst of alarming news reports to lead a group of nonobservant women on a mission to Israel. The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project partners with many organizations such as these to bring non- observant women with children 18 or under on these life changing trips. A total of around 200 women from different Jewish organizations throughout North America participated in this trip.
Rebbetzin Sheva Turk, wife of Rabbi Moshe Turk, Co-Director of Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island, and Rebbetzin Brocha Portnoy, wife of Rabbi Naftoli Portnoy Co-Director of the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island and with Mrs. Debbi Portnoy were the city leaders for the Jewish Heritage Center of Queens and Long Island’s group. Mrs. Gold Fried and Mrs. Henny Kenigsberg were city leaders, representing JInspire of Queens. The two groups worked together and shared a bus on their tour in Israel. This year was especially challenging due to the situation in Eretz Yisroel. Although many women did cancel, there was still an impressive group that went and was immensely inspired.
Rebbetzin Turk noted, “It was truly doubly special. In Israel people stopped us on the street, recognized us as Americans and thanked us for being there. It was a life changing experience for us as well as for secular women we shepherded.”
Rebbetzin Turk and Rebbetzin Portnoy stressed that this trip to Israel was not merely a tour. There were daily Torah classes and creative and engaging experiences developed to deepen these women’s attachment to Torah, the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael. A major component of this particular trip was the theme of the unity of the Jewish people. These women are our sisters no matter what their current level of observance. The goal of the mission is for each woman to bring home her inspiration and excitement about Torah observance and to share with her family and her community. In fact, the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project has brought many thousands of women already on trips like this. The trip does not exist and work in a vacuum. The wome are handpicked from a pool of numerous applicants and are given a phenomenal Israel trip for little more than the cost of their airfare, but they must commit to almost a year of monthly meetings with these Kiruv organizations and to phone chavrusas for 45 minutes weekly to study Torah. This ensures that the inspiration of these trips does not dissipate with the passing of time.
The women were treated to many dynamic speakers and shiruim. One highlight was when two mothers spoke to the group, Racheli Frenkel, mother of Naftali Frenkel Hy”d and Mrs. Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in two different Israeli wars. The women were overwhelmed by the uplifting lessons for life that these two brave women shared. Mrs. Frenkel imparted how she sat down with her children after the recent tragedy and said, “We are going to have a happy family.”
The participants found the experience eye-opening. For most of these women, this was their first authentic Shabbos ever. For most of these participants, as well, this trip offered them a close glimpse at Torah observant women for the first time. Of course, they developed a great respect and real understanding of a community they never understood. One participant commented that she will never buy challah again. She plans to bake it every week. Another participant called after returning and told one of these rebbetzins that she is preparing her first ever Shabbos meal for her family. Some women spoke about extending their Shabbos observance. One woman took on lighting Shabbos candles.
The group toured Tiveria, Tzefas, Masada, Yam Hamelch, and Yerushalayim. B”H, they didn’t feel frightened or have to go into any bomb shelters during the trip. The leaders also acknowledged how this mission gave them a deeper appreciation for the land and people of Israel. When they toured, the found out that many of the tour guides had husbands or friends in Gaza fighting. The Kosel was empty. Rebbetzin Portnoy commented, “It was sad to be there and see it like this.” They visited an army base, Nevei Yair and they brought supplies for the soldiers and letters from the Queens’ community. They also packed special bags for soldiers at Nerova. When Rebbetzin Turk thanked one solider with tears in her eyes, he replied, “We see miracles every day and it is your tefillos that are doing it.”
The Israel trip is now over and the work of follow-up is now ongoing. JInspire of Queens is grateful to many women who put in tireless effort for this organization and for help behind the scenes for this trip. They are particularly grateful to Mrs. Tova Begun of Queens JInspire who has been a driving force in all of their trips. The Jewish Heritage Center also put in much effort to help make this trip a reality. The participants, as mentioned were required to sign up for follow up learning and programs after the trip. The city leaders of both organizations are already recruiting local community women as follow-up learning partners. Some follow up activities that are in the planning stages include: monthly get togethers and classes, erev Shabbos phone calls, monthly Challah baking and Yom Tov activities.
Information about future trips is available at JWRP.org. Anyone who would like to get involved locally or to donate to future trips likes this can contact