Building a Living Bridge Between Our Israeli and Diaspora Sisters
A Conversation with Iris Berkovits and Ruth Cohen Adiv
When Israeli JWRP sisters Iris Berkovits and Ruth Cohen Adiv flew to New York for a long-awaited vacation — and their first trip to the U.S., their JWRP sisters told them to forget about staying in hotels. Instead, they welcomed them into their homes, prepared sandwiches for them to take on their travels, helped them navigate the subway system, and introduced them to their families and communities. “They not only treated us like royalty,” said Iris. “Our sisters also gave us the opportunity to experience first-hand what it’s like to be Jewish in America.” A few months following their trip, we checked in with Iris and Ruth to hear what surprised and touched them most about American Jewish life.
Tell us about some of your experiences with your JWRP sisters in New York.
Ruth: In between seeing New York’s top tourist attractions, we spent time with our sisters and their families and spoke about our lives in Israel, our Jewish identities, and politics. Their children were so excited to meet guests from Israel. We learned that some of their children have private Hebrew lessons, and we loved touring their synagogues and Jewish schools. On Shabbat, our JWRP sisters invited their extended families to meet us and made sure we felt completely comfortable.
Iris: Our JWRP sisters meet up once a month, and we joined their reunion during our trip. We hugged each other, laughed, danced, and enjoyed real and honest conversations about our Jewish identities. By spending time with and speaking to families, I was exposed to new perspectives on Jewish identity and Israel. At times, I felt like an Israeli ambassador, sharing how our reality in Israel is different than what the media presents. I realized how important it is to visit Jewish communities around the world and to see firsthand how Jews live.
What surprised you about the American Jewish community?
Iris: I was impressed to learn that many American Jews put so much effort into Jewish life. For example, in Israel, Shabbat is a day of rest for everyone and the Jewish holidays are a part of the national calendar. We take it for granted that we have off from work. Yet, if you want to celebrate a Jewish holiday in the U.S., you often need to use your vacation days.
What was one experience during your trip that was especially impactful?
Ruth: We visited a Jewish nursery school and I was surprised to see that it looked just like an Israeli nursery school. There was a large map of Israel on the wall, as well as a sign that said the name of that week’s Torah portion. The kids were doing the same kinds of art projects that they do in Israel. I am a former nursery school teacher, and I felt as though I’d walked into one of my old classrooms!
Iris: One of our hosts told us, “We are able to live the way we live because of Israel.” I was amazed to hear him say this because I thought that Israel might be a burden to Jews outside of Israel. The media often blame Israel for different issues and Jews in the Diaspora need to deal with anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. But his words showed me that Israel actually gives many Jews confidence and strength.
How did your experiences change your perspective?
Ruth: I realized how important it is that there are Jews everywhere in the world. They are the ones keeping Judaism alive outside of Israel. By strengthening our connections to one another and to our communities, we will strengthen the Jewish people.
Jews outside of Israel are on the front lines facing anti-Semitism. They don’t have the Israeli Army to defend them, and yet, they continue to do so much to support Israel. As the tragic synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh recently showed us, it’s not easy to be Jewish outside of Israel. Our sisters in the Diaspora are very brave.
Ruth and Iris both shared that their homes are open to JWRP sisters around the world. They look forward to welcoming their sisters during their next visit to Israel!