By Erica Frederick
I just returned from Jerusalem where I had the privilege of participating in a strategic planning retreat for Project Kesher, comprised of 25 leaders from Russia and Ukraine who oversee its work in leadership development, Jewish education and renewal, social activism, economic empowerment, computer literacy and employment, and advocacy for women and girls.
These women came from a part of the world currently ravaged by war and dissension. Many have had a frightening year with friends and family called up for military service, others forced into refugee camps, and high unemployment and economic decline. Yet they joyfully greeted one another, because although they work together every day, they communicate through Skype and emails and have not seen one another in a number of years. They came together in Israel to share their vision, hopes, prayers and ideas for all PK activists who are living through such difficult times. They bravely put aside their political differences to plan for Project Kesher’s future because they know that it is the women of the region who can be peace-makers and advocates for a return to civil society. They were joined by 20 of their sisters who had made aliyah, and were active in Project Kesher Israel. They danced and sang, shared some tears and laughter, and of course shared a meal.
Each and every evening, women from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus walked together through the old city to the Western Wall. While there they prayed for peace and slipped messages into the wall from themselves and their friends back home.
Fortuitously, the meeting was held at the YMCA, located on King David Street in Jerusalem, and it was a wise choice. The YMCA has been serving the people of Jerusalem for 133 years, facilitating peaceful coexistence among its communities of Jews, Christians and Arabs. The board, staff and members of the Y reflect the diversity of the city and the mutual vision of “living together.” In fact, the Y was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 in recognition of its efforts to promote peace, understanding and dignity of humankind. Its current building, beautiful, majestic, yet welcoming was dedicated in 1933 by Lord Edwin Allenby at which he said: “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity can be fostered and developed.”
It was a perfect venue for Project Kesher’s meetings where we talked about tolerance and learned about conflict resolution with Rabbi Daniel Roth of Pardes. It was the perfect site for us to hold Shabbat services and Havdalah led by PK women who have come so far in learning the language of the prayer-book, and a special candle-lighting service in which the women shared warm and moving thoughts about their time together.
Erica Frederick is a passionate and results-oriented nonprofit executive with years of experience overseeing major fundraising initiatives for Jewish and secular organizations. She has traveled numerous times to Russia, Ukraine and Israel and is a strong advocate for global social change and the empowerment of women and girls.