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9.2.16 Issue

Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Editor, Jewish Press

A little over a year ago, Jenny Patterson moved from Northern California to Omaha, Nebraska, together with her husband Drew, Son Ryan (16) and daughter Julia (14). Jenny was born and raised in Chicago, completed her undergraduate work at Emory in Atlanta and her Master’s degree in social work at Smith’s College in Northampton, Massachusetts (about 2.5 hours west of Boston).

After 19 years in Mountain View, California (just down the street from Google), the Nebraska Medicine Center brought her husband to Omaha, where he is now the Vice Chairman in the Department of Anesthiology.

Realizing it’s not always easy to get to know a new community, she decided that one sure way to make new friends was to join the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), and travel to Israel with nine other women.

“Being immersed in a group of ten women traveling together, you get to know them really well, and really fast,” she said.

It was Jenny’s first time in Israel. She had wanted to go since high school, but had no concrete plans. When Jewish Federation of Omaha Director of Special Projects (and trip leader!) Louri Sullivan brought up the JWRP trip, Jenny was interested, the timing was right, and before she knew it she found herself on a plane to Tel Aviv.

“When I learned about the JWRP, I was immediately intrigued by the concept of traveling with other moms,” she said. “A trip with all women, from different cities, with women as trip leaders, I liked the idea. The women of JWRP have very strong leadership skills as it turned out — they really know how to make this experience meaningful. Through the learning sessions, combined with everything we saw, they were able to create very solid connections among the participants. Those sessions were practical and useful; they dealt with real life rather than theory alone.”

Jenny during dinner at Deck’s in Tiberias.

Jenny during dinner at Deck’s in Tiberias.

Jenny loved “just being in Israel,” she said. “The feeling of being ‘normal,’ as a Jewish woman, rather than the exception, was a beautiful experience.”

One of the questions the JWRP poses to participants is: what will you bring back? How will the experiences you have in Israel influence your very practical, daily life once you are back home?

“I’m bringing back small pieces at a time,” Jenny says, “rather than overwhelm my kids. I’ve showed them the trip video (they said it looked like camp!) and much of what I’ve learned about myself as a Jewish woman trickles through. Those small pieces make it, I think, easier to digest.”

One of the places Jenny visited with her Omaha sisters was Bet Elazraki, the Children’s Home in Netanya. Bet Elazraki was established in 1969 to serve 39 at-risk children and has since grown to take care of 250 children aged 0-18. The visit to Bet Elazraki stuck with her:

“Director Yehuda Kohn is the perfect illustration of how one man can make an enormous difference in the lives of children,” she said. “It was incredibly inspiring to meet with the children, and hear him talk about his passion. Having a social work background, this really spoke to me.”

The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Momentum Trip is an eight-day journey in Israel, connecting us to the land, to our Jewish values, and to each other. Since 2009, more than 7,300 women have participated. The JWRP trip is supported in part by the Jewish Federation of Omaha.

A recruitment event for the 2017 JWRP trip, featuring speaker Lori Palatnik, will be held Thursday, Sept. 22 at 11:45 a.m. at the Jewish Federation of Omaha’s Kripke Library. All those interested are welcome to attend. Please contact Louri Sullivan at 402.334.6485 or email her at for more information.