“Women see texts differently than men do, ask different questions and bring different answers.”
This is a quote that has inspired the Kol Isha learning cohort throughout their study, community-building and social justice work.
This week, OFJCC Director of Jewish Content Tova Birnbaum and I along with 13 participants from Palo Alto are leaving on a ten-day trip to Poland and Israel as part of the Kol Isha program.
Kol Isha is a JCCA program that connects JCCs around the world. The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto has been matched with the JCC in Krakow, Poland and the JCC in Ramat HaSharon, Israel. Each of these JCCs is operating their own local cohort of Kol Isha, and the three groups will meet next week to travel together in Poland and in Israel.
Kol Isha is a program based on three common bonds: women, Jewish peoplehood and social justice. The program is made up of communities of dedicated women who meet locally throughout the year to build relationships with each other through meaningful Jewish learning and social justice work. Each of the components of the program—text study, volunteering, community gatherings and international travel—intend to reflect the three core values of the Kol Isha program vision.
You can see the values of the program reflected in the name of the program. The name of the program, Kol Isha, is Hebrew for “a woman’s voice.” This is a traditional Jewish legal term with many different connotations across the Jewish world. We, the founders of Kol Isha in Palo Alto, use this term as a way of demonstrating our understanding that Jewish women’s voices are being, and always have been, heard. We intend only to amplify. And there is no better amplification than a chorus.
The Palo Alto cohort has been meeting monthly since September to learn a curriculum about women and Judaism that I developed. The other two groups, in Krakow and in Ramat HaSharon, have also been learning this curriculum. When we join together in Poland next week, each group will be able to trade stories about our experiences so far—and we are eager to discover both the similarities and the differences in each group’s learning.
It is a rare occurrence to get to meet like-minded women from around the world in the hopes of deep cultural exchange and long-lasting community connection. Kol Isha has provided the opportunity for just that. We will board our flights as a single cohort from Palo Alto. But after ten days of being together encountering Polish Jewry, visiting Auschwitz, flying together to Israel, exploring our nationhood and learning together, we expect to be part of an interlocking chain of connection that spans the globe. We hope to return to California in July with a more complex sense of Jewish text, a deeper connection to Jewish peoplehood and with greater motivation to act justly at home.