JWRP Sister Spotlight: Masha Merkulova
Masha Merkulova is a mother of two children, a JWRP sister, a nurse, and the founder and executive director of Club Z, a Bay Area-based organization for teens that fosters a commitment to Israel and Zionism. We spoke to Masha about why she launched Club Z, as well as her tips for preparing kids for anti-Israel sentiments at college.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I immigrated to the US from the Former Soviet Union, and I never had a formal Jewish education. Everything I knew was self-taught. When I learned about a last-minute opening on a MOMentum Trip, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to study with Lori and other JWRP Trip Leaders. I also wanted a holistic Jewish educational experience, where I’d learn alongside Jewish women and then be bonded to them forever. I really believe that when you educate a mother, the entire family can become more Jewishly involved. As a single mother, participating in MOMentum was logistically challenging. But the Partner Organization that hosted my trip was so encouraging that I made it work.
How did MOMentum impact you?
The whole experience was one big highlight. I loved having the opportunity to learn more about Jewish values and my heritage. On Shabbat, a wonderful family hosted us in their home, which overlooked the Kotel Plaza, and the atmosphere was so warm. During MOMentum, I realized that Judaism is truly a family. Getting hundreds of Jewish women together — away from the hustle and bustle of their lives — gave us the chance to rediscover the creative parts of ourselves, as well as the compassionate and activist parts.
Meeting such strong women, especially those who created the JWRP, was especially impactful. For a while, I’d felt the need to launch Club Z, and during the trip, I realized that I could do it. I didn’t need to have all of the answers and I didn’t need to be an expert in Judaism or Israel. I just needed the passion and the willingness to learn along my journey.
What need does Club Z fill?
I had spoken to many intelligent and well-educated Jewish college students and learned that they did not know how to respond when people said, “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist” or “You stole my land.” As a nurse, I know that it’s easier to prevent a disease than to cure it, so I started Club Z to prepare kids for the anti-Israel sentiment that they’ll hear on college campuses. At Club Z, we talk about Israel — the tough topics, the controversial topics, and the complicated topics. We don’t give students talking points. Instead, students learn to articulate the real reasons that they care about Israel.
What’s your advice for parents who want to educate their kids about Israel?
Follow Israeli news sources and then make Israel a normal conversation topic in your home. Bring up Israel the same way you’d talk about what’s going on in your kids’ lives or in your country. Also, attend events that share negative viewpoints about Israel or even anti-Israel opinions. Though you may feel uncomfortable to hear these viewpoints, you’ll learn what your children can expect to hear in college. Then, you’ll be able to prepare them and also support them once they’re there. Finally, I invite your teens to attend Club Z’s January conference in Silicon Valley!