This week’s Parasha is Chayei Sarah, which literally translates as “‘the life of Sarah,” but, ironically, the story of this week’s Torah portion begins with the death of Sarah and then focuses on the next generation. The story is about Rivkah (Rebecca), the wife of Isaac, Sarah’s and Abraham’s son.
The last act of Abraham’s life entrusts the responsibility for maintaining the heritage of his people to none other than his top assistant (whose name we don’t even know). Abraham is sending him off to Aram Naharaim (modern-day Iraq), the old country, to find a bride for Isaac, Sarah’s only son, who was nearly sacrificed by Abraham. Isaac is nearly forty years old, yet he isn’t trusted to carry out the mission that God gave to Abraham. In a sense, Abraham puts the fate of the Jewish people in the hands of the future wife he does not know, and will never meet in his life. Rivkah has such an important role before she even realizes it.
Contrary to Isaac, Rivkah is actually asked for her consent and agrees to go the long way, committing herself to the big mission, even though she doesn’t know Isaac. When they marry, Rivkah has difficulties conceiving. When she finally gets pregnant, it is the first time she asks the big question: “Why me?” (“למה זה אנוכי”). We might read that as an expression of the existential crisis of a young woman facing immigration and a change in family status without support, support from a family or community, and pressure to birth a whole new generation.
What I love about the stories in the Bible is that we encounter core human situations which do not change over years and cultures. Rivkah’s experiences of loneliness, lack of support and coping with dramatic life changes resonate with the community that I work with.
Five years ago, we at the ICC@JCC founded Libi as a center of empowerment for new mothers, Israeli immigrants who were desperately in need of connection and a sense of belonging. As an immigrant myself, who came here with very young kids, following our relocation adventure, I felt somewhat like Rivkah many times, and Libi was my way to give back.
Libi provides community and professional support for young families during pregnancy, birth and their first years as parents. We offer fifteen different programs. Some, like Moms Talk, allow young mothers to share their deepest feelings in a safe environment. Others, like Baby Classic, expose babies to music and Sign Language for Babies is offered together for both English speakers and Hebrew speakers.
One of the key motivations for Libi is community building. We know we are successful every time that we hear about groups of moms from our programs coming together with their families and becoming close friends for years, with children going together to school, families having weekend gatherings, trips and so on.
Last, but not least, by empowering these families early on, we want to open them up to the larger community as well as to Jewish lives within and outside of the Israeli group.