By Lesley Machon
(AJNews) – Bonds of sisterhood between women are birthplaces of generative potential within a society. Connection, belonging, and acceptance fosters collaboration, and helps each woman experience the safety needed to show up in the world. In true community, we are each essential, which means we can show up authentically without risking isolation. Cultivating intentional spaces where women can gather to witness and support one another is foundational for flourishing and changemaking within families and cultures.
The paradox central to both relationships and self-expression is this: we do not become ourselves, on our own. This is an acknowledgement of the way human beings are both exquisitely unique, and inextricably connected. We grow as individuals, in the presence of others.
In its simplest terms, empowerment is about choice, and voice. As Viktor Frankl famously said, “Everything can be taken from a (wo)man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
For many women, especially those experiencing violence or oppression, empowerment means access to resources so they can make a true choice. For ourselves and women across the globe, empowerment also means cultivating inner resources, such as the capacity to act in alignment with our convictions, and the confidence to take up space, speak our truth, occupy positions of influence and leadership, and claim our rights.
Shrinking and silencing ourselves are protective mechanisms and survival strategies, so in order to claim a seat at the proverbial table, women need to feel intrinsically safe. Being in community with other women is such a crucial part of empowerment, because belonging creates safety. Each member of the collective holds up a mirror for others, reflecting back courage and support.
About Na’amat Canada
Na’amat is the largest women’s movement in Israel, with thousands of members globally and chapters in nine other countries including Canada. The organization focuses on supporting children and families by championing human rights, and connecting and empowering Jewish women.
In Israel, Na’amat runs daycare centres, technological high schools, youth villages, university scholarships, women’s shelters and family violence prevention centres, trauma and abuse counselling, as well as legal aid bureaus (25 locations), women’s rights centres (5 locations) and women’s wellness and empowerment centres (2 locations).
In Canada, Na’amat’s programs supply women and children fleeing domestic violence with toiletries, clothes, and school supplies. They also offer bursaries for post-secondary education, and organize events for our beloved elders, hosting concerts, luncheons, and Chanukah celebrations in seniors’ residences.
In addition to advocacy, volunteer and leadership opportunities, local members also gather to bond and form relationships with each other. Groups in each city meet monthly to build connection and share space in whatever format the group decides. This can look like anything from potlucks, to game nights, to craft projects, yoga, cooking classes, movie nights, exercise classes, or hosting guest speakers. Women also gather to plan fundraising projects which help raise money for Na’amat’s local and international programs.
Na’amat has groups across Canada, including an active community of Jewish women in both Calgary and Edmonton.
The local chapters of Na’amat are an excellent place for women to connect, engage in meaningful work, and support their Jewish communities both locally and abroad. From leadership seminars and travel opportunities to building a network of heart-centred women, many expansive empowerment opportunities exist inside this organization. Plus, it’s a fun place to be—members take on one major fundraising project a year, and alternate planning gatherings with monthly time together cultivating intentional connections: creating together, and sharing stories, tears, tea, and laughter.
“I got involved with Na’amat 36 years ago as a newcomer,” says Stephanie Sacks, president of Na’amat Calgary. “The organization gifted me with purpose and passion at a time in my life when I was feeling quite lost.” Her smile is audible as she recounts the lifelong bonds formed with many inspirational women over the years.
“We accomplish a lot for a small group here in Calgary,” Sacks beams, detailing the group’s work to support domestic shelters, and their bursary at Bow Valley College. COVID posed its challenges by restricting the number of volunteers, and turning monthly meetings and fundraising events virtual, but Sacks expresses pride in the program’s adaptability. She also emphasized the importance of supporting women who experienced violence during the pandemic. “Police calls reporting domestic abuse increased by 27% in Calgary over the course of 2019 with all the lockdowns, so it was really important that we kept up the work we do in this city.”
Na’amat Calgary recently completed a successful Na’am ‘Arts’ online auction and they are now preparing for the Schools Supplies for Kids program. Donations can be made to shawcharityclassic.com/participating-charities/naamat/.
Na’amat Edmonton has three chapters: Aviva (Barbara Wiseman, president) Tikvah (Maya Feldman, president), and Chevra (Yuliya Massarsky and Caitlin Bar-Nur, co-presidents). The president of Na’amat Canada Edmonton is Darlene Bushewsky and the group welcomes new members and those just curious.
“Na’amat Edmonton is where lifelong friendships have been formed and support networks have been built,” she explained. “As a third generation member of Na’amat Canada Edmonton, I am proud to continue the tradition of joining together to be part of the fabric that makes up our community.
“When you join Na’amat, you will enjoy a fun and lively social environment while helping to fundraise in support of important programs and social services. Our members are daughters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and girlfriends who are active within both the Jewish community and the city at large.”
Recent programs in Edmonton have been modified because of COVID health measures but they include postsecondary education bursaries for single mothers and other women, supporting Seniors cultural programs, a zoom hammentaschen workshop, virtual prenatal series and a joint Kabbalat Shabbat with Temple Beth Ora. Na’amat Edmonton has held programs in support of Basically Babies (basicallybabies.org), Kids’s Kottage (kidskottage.ca)- donations of baby items, financial support and hands-on volunteering in support of mothers in need who are referred by a variety of local social services organizations. Much-loved traditions within the community are Na’amat Edmonton’s annual Sukkah Hop, and Hammentaschen baking for seniors.
A nice synergy has been developing between Na’amat Calgary and Na’amat Edmonton, aided in large part by the need of both organizations to pivot to online activities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has blurred borders somewhat, easing endeavours such as a Western Leadership Seminar that took place via Zoom earlier this year, bringing Na’amat members in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary together in shared activities.
Human connection is at the heart of our desire for belonging and purpose, and many of us are emerging from this pandemic-induced period of isolation yearning for a broader support network. One layer beneath that, women supporting women is the undercurrent of profound social change—within ourselves, between each other, and inside our families and communities. Na’amat offers opportunities for Jewish women of all ages to develop leadership skills, engage in community building, forge lasting bonds with other women, and do community service both locally and in Israel.