One hundred eighty women from communities across the city and the valley gathered at the Olympic Collection on November 8th to honor Chana Heller, Director of the Jewish Women’s Initiative (JWI,) a division of Aish Los Angeles. JWI was founded by Heller and Associate Director, Sharon Shenker, in 2010, to educate and inspire Jewish Moms to bring the beauty, joy and relevance of Judaism to their homes and communities. The fundraising event was chaired by Dr. Susan Berman, Lisa Kodimer, Carolyn Ormond and Stacy Tilliss, who are “deeply committed to the mission, the vision and the enduring vision enduring spirit of the JWI”.
“We started the JWI after returning from a pilot trip to Israel with Lori Palatnik, Founding Director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. We realized that Jewish Moms are powerhouses and are being totally underserved”, explained Heller. “We spend so much of our community resources on our kids, but whether or not Judaism happens in the home is usually up to Mom. We have found that Jewish moms are thirsty to be the best role models they can be for their families, to connect their kids to Judaism and Israel and to explore their own spirituality.“
In just over 5 years, JWI has built a community of over 250 women who learn and socialize on a regular basis.” The sisterhood and support system that have developed in the JWI are a great tribute to the loving and relatable approach of the JWI staff and teachers”, explained Ormond. The JWI resonates with women from all streams of Judaism. Their members hail from over 25 Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist synagogues, as well as women who are unaffiliated.
“Our education as women usually ends with the Bat Mitzvah or confirmation”, says Kodimer. “JWI speaks to us where we are at now, as women looking to understand Judaism on a deeper level and to be there for one another in the process”. Kodimer started the JWI Care and Concern Committee to help members in times of need.
The JWI Just returned last month from their 6th Annual Momentum Moms Trip to Israel. “The Israel Trip is the party favor,” quipped Tilliss, who was chosen to return as a madricha on her second trip. “The real party happens in LA after we return and deepen the wonderful bonds that began there”.
The JWI partners with the JWRP to take Jewish Moms on an annual, highly-subsidized trip to Israel which, according to Dr. Susan Berman, COO of the Help Group, is life-changing. “JWI has had an immeasurable impact on us individually, as families and as a community. Its mission, vision and values resonate within us and ignite our commitment to bring the joy of Judaism into our hearts and homes”
The women of JWI have been so successful in inspiring their families that a spin-off division was started for husbands, the Jewish Men’s Initiative (JMI). “We needed to get on board and partner with our wives. The impact in the home is so much more powerful when both parents are committed to building a Jewish home and Jewish future”, says David Osterman, founding member of the JMI who returned from leading the third annual men’s Momentum trip to Israel at the end of November.
“We like to think of ourselves as an investment firm” said Nili Couzens, trip leader of the JWRP, “and Jewish moms are our greatest asset”. Moms are the centerpiece of the Jewish home, the place where we live Judaism, celebrate Shabbat and holidays, teach values, and learn to approach life from an authentic Jewish perspective.