Community Women from the Jersey Shore Unify to Fight Spiritual Battle
By Mari Gindi
“…we, the women of the Deal community are contributing in our own way on the spiritual battlefield for Am Yisrael’s protection and success.”
Over 200 women gathered together in Deal Synagogue last month in response to the horrific events of October 7th. We yearned for encouragement and guidance. We felt the strong desire to unify, to do something, anything, to help our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael at this very fragile moment in Jewish history.
Mrs. Jackie Bitton spoke to us that night, emphasizing the importance of creating ahdut by strengthening our love and acceptance for every Jew. Inspired by her examples and the unending, unconditional love and hesed that was happening in Israel, we wanted to be a part of it, too. We wanted to connect to the soldiers, the families of the hostages, and the bereaved families of the fallen. We wanted to do something to show our solidarity and love for them all.
We were intrigued when a unique learning program, just for women, was unveiled that would give us the opportunity to grow in Torah, enhance our love for each other, and create zechut for Am Yisrael.
The Ahavat Yisrael Project
The book that was chosen, The Ahavat Yisrael Project, teaches us how to improve our interpersonal relationships and how to increase our love for our fellow Jew. The book is set up as a daily study, for 40 days. Each day is broken down into two parts. The first part explains the things we should stay away from, such as rechilut, lashon hara, and ona’at devarim, while the second part focuses on the positive things we can incorporate into our lives to improve relationships, such as noticing good points, greeting people with a smile, and encouraging others with compliments.
Unlike most projects, this one was set up to be learned with a partner or group each day. The lessons are read and then a discussion ensues to bring the points home by adding personal stories and struggles, advice, or asking and answering questions. Each person was given three names – that of a child who was being held hostage, an adult hostage, and a soldier that we are learning in the zechut for. That really gave us a personal connection with what has been unfolding in Eretz Yisrael.
Learning live with someone each day was a new experience for most. The lessons really hit home, ranging from topics such as anger, character traits that lead to negative speech, how to respond to negative speech using the acronym D.E.A.F., respecting yourself, showing gratitude, feeling compassion, and not blaming.
The main thing was the awareness that came about from learning the different laws, given over with real life, relatable examples and easy-to-understand lessons. Many women wrote in how the evening was life changing. They so appreciated being a part of this beautiful group and as a result they now naturally hold back from speaking badly about others and they feel more positive towards all Jews. Some even said they gained new friendships with the partners they were matched up with.
When news of hostages being freed surfaced, our group buzzed with shouts of joy – “Baruch Hashem, my hostage was freed!!” We felt a close connection and responsibility to these Jews whom we did not know, had never met, and probably never would. Yet we took our learning seriously, we tried to internalize its messages to contribute to the protection and success of our family in Israel by increasing our love for every Jew.
As we approached the end of the book, the plans for a special siyum got underway. Over 300 women from the Deal community came out to the siyum to participate in this unique learning experience commemorating our achievement. We gathered again in the Deal Synagogue, this time with feelings of accomplishment and hope.
We heard from a few women in the group who shared their personal experiences and feelings of growth from the learning project. We were encouraged and proud of their accomplishments, we related to them, we were part of a special group.
Mrs. Chani Shelby offered words of encouragement and inspiration. Her moving stories left an impression on us, and her praise for our accomplishments left us feeling proud. Chani re-inspired us to continue to do our part in the war effort, by increasing our love for every Jew.
The Learning Continues
We felt charged up to continue with another round of learning for the protection of the Jewish nation. The book 40 Days of Caring was given out and we were excited to continue our learning the laws and ways of loving our fellow Jew.
The finale of the evening was a fabulous kumtzitz with singer Susan Braha. We all felt the passion in her voice and the music literally lifted us up. In spontaneous solidarity we stood up and held hands in song with feelings of friendship, hope, and love.
We are now halfway through our second round of learning and we’re going strong. We’re gaining so much from the lessons. We hear comments from people every day, wherever we go, about how the books have brought so much meaning into their lives, or how they naturally stopped themselves from speaking negatively about someone. The learning is making a positive difference in people’s lives. It is such an enriching experience! Everyone is gaining from our efforts. The ripple effect can be felt by the people around us as we enhance our love and acceptance for all Jews.
We look forward to another siyum, and another, be’ezrat Hashem. In the meantime, the women of the Deal community are contributing in our own way on the spiritual battlefield for Am Yisrael’s protection and success.
Our hope and our tefilla is that Hashem will look down on us with favor from our efforts and bring the geula sheleima be’karov! Amen.