Female leaders from around the Midwest gathered in Israel this past June for a Women Partners for Peace mission to explore Israeli society and discuss prospects for peace all through the eyes of women.
"What gave us hope for peace," said Illinois State Rep. Feigenholtz (12th) and Assistant Majority Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives, "was hearing from some amazing speakers who described growing grassroots movements which challenge the status quo."
Nineteen political and community women leaders coming from different faith, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and from four Midwestern cities-Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee-participated in the visit. Representing Chicago-with funding from the Shafton Israel Institute-along with myself, were Kia Coleman, director of Juvenile Justice Programs for the City of Chicago's Department of Family & Support Services; Feigenholtz; Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte and a recent Illinois congressional candidate; and Robyn Gabel, Ill. State Rep (18th District) and Illinois House of Representatives Chair of Human Services.
"This was an awesome first trip to Israel," Coleman said. "Listening to narratives, visiting communities, and sharing meals throughout the region left with me with lots of questions and with a deep appreciation for the wonder of this country and the importance of peace."
The eight-day agenda was built with the goal of learning about the complexities of Israel through the different narratives of Israelis, Palestinians, and Israeli Arab women. Our meetings with predominately female leaders and activists resulted in a fuller, more sophisticated understanding of Israel's achievements and challenges.
"I feel grateful to JUF for giving me the opportunity to experience Israel for the first time in such a meaningful way," said Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte and a recent Illinois congressional candidate. "[We] saw the Holy Sites for [many] religions, talking with women like me who work in non-profits and are political and community leaders, and learned from wonderful educators. What an amazing country."
JUF's trips to Israel for non-Jewish influentials are made possible by the generosity of the Shafton Israel Institute, an endowment of the Federation's Centennial Campaign. This trip was also supported by the Israel Action Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Suzanne Strassberger is the associate vice president for Government and Community Partnerships for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.