Beginning a personal fitness journey at J-Fitness

I have never worked out with a trainer, so when Lisa Mongeau, consultant to J-Fitness and founder of Body Soul Inspired Personal Training, the fitness center’s partner, offered me the opportunity, I jumped at it. I’d seen trainers guiding their clients at J-Fitness at the Dwares JCC and was thrilled that I would learn from one too. And learn I did.

Andrew Mattera greeted me with an enthusiastic, “So, you’re the famous Irina!” Right away, I knew that I’d want to learn from a man who thinks I’m famous! I was right.

Mattera’s philosophy contrasts strikingly with the exercise advice I have heard on television and read in magazines. He doesn’t believe in big movements or fatigue. Instead, Mattera is all about feeling great after the workout. He instructed me to move slower, thinking about my movements, rather than going fast and hard.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the best practice to push your body to the limit, Mattera explained, adding that his goal is to build a foundation for when I get older, not to make me feel sore.

I usually work out with weight machines, but Mattera told me that dumbbells are much more effective because they engage tiny muscles to keep the weights level and steady. Using these accessory muscles makes you stronger and aids in definition and toning, he said.

When we started with free weights, we ran into a slight problem – I was feeling a lot of numbness and tingling due to a damaged nerve in my neck. I had been concerned that it might bother me, but my physical therapist assured me it would be fine to exercise as long as I avoided certain routines that would irritate my C7 nerve. When an exercise caused my symptoms to flare up, Mattera brought out a weight-lifting strap, which almost nullified the symptoms.

During our second workout, a week later, he changed the routine. When a plank exercise caused me pain, tingling and numbness, Mattera quickly devised a substitute that didn’t bother the nerve. Instead of being frustrated, he seemed fascinated by the challenge of creating a program that I could follow painlessly.

We started the first routine with dumbbell exercises on an incline bench. Lying on my back, I worked from my biggest muscle groups to the smallest using 10-pound weights. Bringing my arms upward, I did two sets of 12 repetitions. Next, I learned the dumbbell row: With one knee on the bench and the other leg extended to the side, I brought a 15-pound dumbbell to my chest, repeating 12 times. Then I did the same exercise with my other arm.

Following that, I did goblet squats with a 20-pound dumbbell under my chin, my knees bent and my hips back. Next, lying on the bench, I did curls with an 8-pound weight, working my biceps. Midline static holds, an exercise that tones abs, followed. The last routine used the rowing machine – I sprinted 100 meters, rested, and then repeated the sprinting a couple of times.

The next week, Mattera had me start by warming up on the rowing machine. This time, I was able to do a longer, more strenuous routine, benefitting from Mattera’s advice to concentrate on my legs rather than my arms. Also, when he noticed that my thumbs were wrapped around the handlebars, he pointed out that I shouldn’t do that because it focuses attention in the wrong direction, impeding progress. Next, I did some exercises with a ball to tone my abdominal muscles and worked with kettlebells to correct my posture, among other benefits.

In addition to physical training, Mattera also provided nutrition advice. Throughout the week, I logged every morsel I ate. During my second workout, he reviewed my food log. Apparently, I was doing well eating healthy, but he did suggest that I add more vegetables and eat bigger breakfasts. Oatmeal, here I come!

IRINA MISSIURO is a writer and editor who lives in Providence. She will contribute monthly fitness columns about her J-Fitness journey.


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Lynn Taylor paves the way for women physicians

Lynn Taylor, M.D., FACP, is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine and the director of Miriam Hospital’s HIV/Viral Hepatitis Co-Infection Program. Honored as the 2014 Physician of the Year by the Rhode Island Medical Women’s Association (RIMWA), she never planned to enter the medical field. In fact, the bookish daughter of a Brooklyn, New York, English teacher and a librarian said she perceived doctors as “pretentious,” thinking pre-med students were simply following their parents’ persuasive arguments to choose the prestigious world of medicine.

Taylor, on the other hand, wanted to pursue a life dedicated to social justice. Growing up in a tiny house filled with books, music and art, she yearned to make a difference. Decades have passed since Taylor’s high school graduation, and yet her goal, already achieved, remains the same.

Even though liberal arts played a huge part in her upbringing, math and science fascinated Taylor, who attended a public school where girls weren’t encouraged to advance in those fields. When Taylor wanted to join the math team, she was told to bake some cookies for the team instead. Her parents decided to give their daughter a chance to follow her interest by signing her up for a girl’s math and science program jointly sponsored by Radcliffe College and Harvard Summer School. The decision turned out to be pivotal.

Taylor savored the experience, calling it “eye-opening” and “extraordinary.” She was surrounded by teens who were just as excited to learn the history and cultural context of science, to study astronomy and geology. The girls examined such subjects as the atomic bomb and nuclear warfare and went on weekly field trips to meet women scientists.

Afterward, Taylor understood that there was more to the world than she had realized. Her senior year dragged on while she graded math papers and waitressed. Taylor knew she wanted to do something worthwhile and continue studying. After visiting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she left disenchanted with the “heavily male-dominated” environment. Thirsty for knowledge, she chose to attend Harvard University – “an intellectual playground.”

In her late teens, Taylor didn’t feel at ease in social situations. To shield herself, she took on multiple jobs that provided responsibility and distraction. Among them were: stints at a flea market, babysitting, leading bike tours for the 92nd Street Y in NYC, working for a jeweler and cleaning bathrooms with a college dorm crew. The latter led to the more high-status role of a bellhop, a position that allowed for some great tip money during reunion weekends. Earning was important because Taylor always financed her education independently, feeling it was her responsibility to be self-reliant.

Cutting up rocks with a circular saw in the geology department, Taylor had an inkling that this was not the safest job for her. When a friend suggested that she work in the community, Taylor began counseling at a Brookline woman’s center for $5 an hour. As she learned about unwanted pregnancies through sexual assault, Taylor wanted to do more and decided to volunteer at a rape crisis center. Finding out about infections, she became interested in women’s health and switched her major to study history of women’s health in America and geology – a dual-focus history and science program.

New friends followed, leading Taylor to an epiphany that, despite the horrible stories she heard working at the center, “most people are good people.” Ruth Hubbard, a Holocaust survivor and a professor who taught a seminar on biology and women’s issues, reinforced that notion. Taylor considers Hubbard’s class a crucial influence on her career. Encouraged to pursue independence and individuality, she signed up for Operation Crossroads Africa and traveled to Sudan during the summer after her junior year in college.

There, Taylor fell in love with the Arabic language, which felt similar to Hebrew. After graduation, she took a class in it, but didn’t think she learned enough. To master the language, Taylor found work at a restaurant in Somerville, Mass. There, she was the lone waitress, working among Palestinian men. Even though she was an outsider, Taylor says she “was family in five minutes.” She believes that the two cultures are “much more the same than different.” While Taylor felt like a minority in a “WASP-y Harvard environment,” she immediately identified with the dynamic in the Middle Eastern restaurant, which reminded her of her Yiddish-speaking family’s ways.

After the blond-haired Taylor overheard a fellow waiter making an anti-Semitic remark, she became afraid, realizing she’d been naïve. Wanting to speak out, she revealed her religion to a coworker and watched the news spread. It wasn’t until a band performed Hava Nagila that night that Taylor received a response to the news. She felt elated as everyone put their arms around her and danced. Taylor hoped that her disclosure proved to her coworkers that Jews were regular people – friends, not foes. She still has the number of one of those waiters on speed dial.

To pay off her school loans, Taylor added other jobs to her resume. She catered at clam chowder festivals and worked for a district attorney’s office on domestic violence cases. After she moved to Woburn, Mass., Taylor became an advocate in a child abuse unit, helping families through the criminal justice process. Seeing many cases of HIV acquired through sexual assault, watching acquaintances die of the disease, she wanted to combine her love of science with her strong adherence to the notion of tikkun olam through public health.

Taylor found work as a research assistant at the Massachusetts Department of Health. Leticia Davis, epidemiologist, public health researcher and advocate, suggested that she give medical school a chance, saying that it could be a vehicle for social justice. Taylor listened, completing the prerequisites at Tufts University while still working at the Health Department. When she applied to medical school, Taylor was an investigator of traumatic workplace fatalities. Even though it had been five years since her graduation, she was able to convince the admissions committee at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine that she could commit despite having held multiple positions in various industries. In retrospect, Taylor feels it was the way to go for her – she “got a lot out of [her] system” and was ready to devote herself to study.

Taylor applied to the National Health Service Corps, making a commitment to provide medical care to underserved populations in exchange for a two-year scholarship, book costs and a $1,000 monthly stipend. Because rent was high, Taylor ate cereal and bagels, supplemented with apples and carrots, for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, she “treated” herself to pasta or rice. When the first financial aid ran out, Taylor applied for more – a Harris Foundation scholarship allowed her to continue her rigorous education.

It was during her first year in medical school that Taylor met her future husband – both were swimming laps in a pool. Boris Bally was a Swiss metal artist who was big on recycling. The two hit it off instantly and were married three years later – in 1997 – by another swimmer who worked as a rabbi when not swimming. The bride wore a pragmatic brown dress, purchased to be worn repeatedly to fancy occasions, and the groom a colorful jacket his mother crafted for him out of Salvation Army ties. To celebrate the occasion, the happy couple went backpacking in Costa Rica, a vacation spot they revisited years later with their family of three children.

Because they wanted to be in a “friendly” city, they moved to Providence, where Taylor did her residency at Brown from 1997 to 2000. Doing research training at the Miriam Hospital with 10 other women, she was inspired by their “great sisterhood.” While her husband was practicing his motto, “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do. Do without” in his studio, Taylor was following it with her fellow residents. The women shared maternity clothes, information, car seats, pediatricians and study notes. They prepared for board exams together. Eventually, Taylor and Carolyn Blackman cofounded MomDocFamily – mentorship for women physicians raising a family and building a career. Currently, their confidential and free Listserv boasts roughly 400 Southern New England doctors. Its goal is to “keep women in medicine through the rough early years.”

Taylor wants to make female physicians’ lives easier. She reminisces about pumping breast milk in bathrooms and storage closets. Now, the Miriam Hospital has three lactation rooms. Her new battle is to convince insurance companies to pay for electric breast pumps. After all, time is of the essence for busy doctors.

The day after our interview, she organized many events for World Hepatitis Day, which honors the birthday of Nobel Prize winner Baruch Blumberg, M.D., who developed the vaccine against the Hepatitis B virus, saving millions of lives. Taylor shares that he was motivated by the Jewish belief that when one saves a life, one saves the world.

She also has been working on “RI Defeats Hep C,” a project that aims to make Rhode Island the first state to eliminate Hepatitis C. On Aug. 1, C is for Cure: a WaterFire Lighting for “RI Defeats Hep C” reinforced her work with a second awareness-raising event, following last year’s, attended by 65,000.

Even when she’s talking about doing something for pleasure, Taylor still has good causes in mind. This September, she is planning to do an ocean swim in Provincetown with her husband. She had done it before as a student and will now be fulfilling an earlier promise to return. We wish her calm waters.

IRINA MISSIURO is a writer and editorial consultant for The Jewish Voice.

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Bari Harlam works hard and cares much

Bari Harlam, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for BJ’s Wholesale Club, learned to strategize early in life. When she was a teenager, she used to babysit for three girls who lived across the street. That’s when she discovered the power of fun. Harlam figured out that if they all had a great time together, they would later listen to her when she needed to discipline them. By developing a relationship with the children, she opened up the possibility of strictness when needed. To this day, she continues to perfect her relationship with colleagues and students.

To say that Harlam’s career is impressive would be a gross understatement. Her accomplishments fall into the world of business and academia. Harlam’s resume boasts such roles as senior vice president of marketing at CVS Caremark, professor at the University of Rhode Island and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business and board member of Eastern Bank. She is planning to teach a course at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, as she did last year, traveling there one day a week. She enjoys being a professor; after all, before she entered the corporate world, she was a full-time academic for 13 years.

Harlam insists on juggling multiple positions because she thinks that “it’s good to do different things.” Often, she says, ideas from one field are relevant to other areas, fostering sharing, innovation and application of elements. For instance, she brings up the fact that a bank has a retail focus. The concern of improved delivery to consumers applies to her job at BJ’s as well. Similarly, when she taught a retail course, she invited guest speakers from the business world. In turn, while working with the same students on applying the concepts they were learning, she picked up some tips for her BJ’s job. Harlam says she’s able to do what she does because she works with great teams of people. Collaboration allows her to achieve synergy across different disciplines.

Such was the case when she joined CVS while on a sabbatical from URI. Harlam’s research area was loyalty programs. At the time, CVS was testing the ExtraCare Rewards Program. While the idea was already in existence, Harlam helped shape it, testing various options and settling on the best model. Ultimately, she ended up leaving the academic world to join the company in leading the launch. She stayed for 13 years, taking on more responsibilities and observing the improvements in the program.

Her typical goal is to figure out how to deliver what consumers want and to solve problems encountered when she’s trying to make their wishes come true. This can involve helping store employees understand why it’s valuable to do what she’s asking them to do. Harlam loves working with other people, helping her team members grow and learning from others.

She, too, had a mentor who shared some valuable advice with her. He said, “Take the ball, but don’t wait for somebody to pass it to you.” Harlam elaborates, “Just being good and waiting is not enough.”

At the same time, just counting on hard work is insufficient as well. Whenever she’s interviewing a candidate for a position, she asks the same question, “Do you consider yourself to be a lucky person?” Harlam looks for someone who understands that not everything is about working hard and recognizes that good fortune and luck play an important part in success.

Harlam considers herself to be an extremely fortunate person who benefited from many favorable circumstances in life. She is thankful to her parents, “amazing teachers,” for making it possible for her to grow up in a great family, saying, “The heart of my being lucky stems from them.” She acknowledges that her success has something to do with the fact that she never had to worry about being hungry, safe or educated. Harlam visits her parents, Jack and Paulette Abrams, who now live in Florida, a few times a year. She’s grateful that, at 85 and 80, respectively, they are healthy and can travel to Rhode Island for important occasions such as grandkids’ graduations.

Harlam says that another large part of her achievement is her “talented and generous husband Alan.” She describes him as a very successful man, a great father and husband, saying that she wouldn’t be able to succeed without his partnership and support.

Because both she and her husband were dedicated to their careers, Harlam says that, at times, she wondered whether her three children were getting enough support and attention. She questioned her decision to work, but ultimately decided that she would not have been a better mother had she stayed at home. Harlam thinks that her kids have become more independent because they had no choice. What’s more, she believes that they benefited from engaging in her work through discussion and from doing things on their own that she might have done for them had she been a stay-at-home mom.

Now that her youngest is leaving for college this summer, Harlam is somewhat sad to have an empty nest, but happy and proud at the same time. But just because the kids are out of the house doesn’t mean that she and her husband won’t be seeing a lot of them. The family is big on vacations together – whether scuba diving or skiing, the parents travel with their children as much as they can.

Besides working and playing hard, they try to structure their lives according to tikkun olam – getting involved in nonprofits and helping friends and family whenever possible. Harlam says she finds these activities rewarding and satisfying, “It feels right. It’s great to do.” Offering aid to loved ones and being able to deliver value to companies and communities go hand-in-hand for Harlam. She enjoys making positive impact, saying “I wish I could do more and enable others to do more.”

So far, she says she’s been able to accomplish much by working hard, caring about everyone she works with and being lucky. Yet, her flourishing career doesn’t exclude challenges. Harlam says she stumbles all the time. She calls making mistakes and learning from them “the essence of ongoing success.” Some time ago, she even had a sign above a light switch that said, “Make better mistakes tomorrow.” She placed it there because it inspired her, setting an important tone. Harlam says that the saying applies to all the teams she works with. “You can’t be perfect.”

At work, she interacts with many analytical people, often sharing the wisdom with them that “Being vaguely right is much better than being precisely wrong.” Harlam found the quote in Professor Leonard Lodish’s book, “The Advertising and Promotion Challenge: Vaguely Right or Precisely Wrong?” According to Lodish, who was her dissertation advisor at Wharton, it’s important not to get caught up in precision; otherwise, you might end up disregarding the main problem you’re trying to solve. According to Harlam’s resume, she knows how to see the forest for the trees.

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Deb Norman, pioneer restaurateur

Deb Norman, owner of the East Side staple, Rue de l’Espoir, the restaurant she just sold after nearly a 40-year run, didn’t get where she is with small talk and shyness. Through the years, she succeeded despite changing tastes, economic hardships and tough competition because she was fearless. Unafraid to go after what she wants, to say what she means and to do whatever it takes. When she states, “I am self-made, possessed with a great deal of creativity and chutzpah,” she’s not being coy. When she admits, “I have never been short on confidence and have always believed I can do whatever I set my mind to,” she means it.

Norman says she moved from cocktail waitress to bartender to management by being “bossy and organized.” She declares, “I am a trailblazer,” referring to the fact that she was a female restaurant proprietor in the 1970s. To illustrate, she tells a story about a liquor salesman who asked her, “Where’s your husband, honey?” She told him, “You are looking at him.”

Norman graduated from University of Rhode Island with a major in psychology and a minor in music (she played trumpet). After learning at her first job interview that she would be making $100 a week, she retreated to her mother’s Rhode Island house, discouraged and “depressed.” Trying to raise her spirits, her older brother suggested that she check out “a new hip bar,” The Incredible Organ. Hired as a cocktail waitress, Norman says she fell in love with the business’s energy. A quick study, she ended up working at the owner’s two other establishments. After a while, she wondered why she was working so hard for someone else and decided to open up her own place.

Teaming up with a friend, Norman borrowed $5,000 from five people and obtained a bank loan to found a restaurant. The two bought David’s Potbelly, which – she says – was housed in a beautiful Victorian with bay windows. During renovation, three weeks before the opening, the building caught on fire, stalling the project for a year. The cause was never discovered.

The Rue was finally opened in May of 1976. Norman says they marketed the restaurant as a quiche and crepe place because they saw a void for such cuisine in the area, where steakhouses, pizza joints and Chinese restaurants dominated. Through the years, they had to adjust to shifts in preference, reinventing the menu. Norman found herself frequently using the tagline, “The only thing French about us is our name.” Influenced by French, Italian and Asian cooking, the restaurant ultimately became an American bistro.

Norman figured out that her strength lay in management and stopped cooking after three years, hiring a chef who worked at the Rue for the next three plus decades. (She still loves making simple yet tasty dishes at home, where she entertains friends and family.) Norman bought out her partner after five years and focused on the administrative tasks of running a restaurant, such as consistently providing high-quality cuisine and service. At one point, Norman was managing a staff of 25. At the time, she owned three restaurants, including Baker Street Rue, which she sold; it is now called Baker Street Café. Norman still owns Rue Bis, a place in the Jewelry District she’s had for 15 years.

While Shakespeare has said, “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players,” Norman chooses to see the restaurant business in a similar light. She thinks that the word “theater” encompasses the aura of a restaurant, with wait staff acting as players; tables, glasses and silverware – as props; and food – as the star, the main attraction. After 39 years, Norman is leaving the set because she feels that she has done everything she wanted to do. She says, “I knew I was ready to be done.” She has experienced owning “the date restaurant,” as the place was known in the ’70s and the early ’80s, the hot brunch spot and the Brown University go-to place. Norman says, “I feel fortunate to have been in this business at this time in this town. I am grateful for all the people who have made the experience possible.”

Because many customers feel like family to her, Norman admits that it gets harder to say goodbye as the closing time approaches. On the restaurant’s website, regulars leave notes in a Memory Book. For instance, Stephen Berenson wrote on July 14, “The neighborhood will never be the same without Deb, the Rue and the staff!” But she’s done her diligence, paid her dues. She survived the brutal pace and the ruthless hours, the high attrition rate, the bank and credit union collapse, the recession, the ’80s restaurant explosion. And she’s had fun along the way, “I love feeding people, the satisfaction it brings.”

Norman is ready for some relaxation. The day after our interview, she left on a 10-day trip to Barcelona and the south of France with her wife. When she returns, she will run the restaurant for one more week, until Aug. 9. Afterward, the new owners, reportedly Pane e Vino, will perform extensive renovations and open up sometime in the fall with a new concept.

But don’t dismiss Norman just yet. Even though she has no concrete plans in store, she was intrigued by a friend’s idea to buy a food truck – a venture she “has been thinking about forever.” Norman says that something about short-order cooking appeals to her. So, if you come across a Mexican food truck (her favorite cuisine), don’t say we didn’t warn you.

IRINA MISSIURO is a writer and editorial consultant for The Jewish Voice.

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My ‘MOMentum’ trip to Israel

When I first heard about the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project’s (JWRP) Momentum trip to Israel, I was underwhelmed. A distant relative gushed to my mother about the wonderful time she had on the trip last year, causing her to nag me to sign up as well. And we all know what happens when your mother starts trying to make you do something – it’s the last thing you want to do.

Then, I met Elissa Felder at the Southern New England Conference for Jewish Women, and she, too, raved about the trip. She went as one of the two city leaders in 2014 and was in the process of selecting a group of 10 for 2015. According to Felder, I was “perfect” for the experience. And when Felder, a woman of boundless energy and enthusiasm, speaks, you listen.

True, I did meet all the qualifications – I lived in close proximity to the Dwares JCC, I was raising my children Jewish, and I was not celebrating Shabbat (a practice the trip hopes to instill). However, I had reservations. In theory, the trip sounded wonderful – hang out with local moms, see Israel for free (just pay the airfare), abstain from cooking for a while. I did feel apprehensive that it would be not as wonderful in practice. More specifically, I was afraid of brainwashing.

When I thought about the trip, I envisioned a group of observant women dumping my brain – spaghetti-like – into a colander, rinsing it a bit, then putting it back into the pot and adding some extra-spicy religion sauce. I am not a fan of extra spicy. In fact, I prefer mild.

I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The purpose of the trip was not to turn you into a religious fanatic. It was to allow you to access your best self – friend, wife, mother – by teaching you about Jewish wisdom.

Our group was extremely fortunate to have Adrienne Gold – past Canadian television host and current teacher at the Village Shul in Toronto – as the lecturer, and what a lecturer she was! Her teachings were peppered with snippets of personal stories, humorous anecdotes, and self-deprecating statements.

Listening to her, I felt I was eavesdropping on an intimate train of thought, not attending a talk. Women around me nodded their heads, wiped away tears, smiled and nudged one another. They were relating, empathizing and understanding. They were feeling. Finally, someone was talking about the aspects of life that are usually deemed unimportant. Here was a woman who recognized that they were worthy, that we wanted to know how to approach them, needed to be heard. Here was a woman who gave us voice – gracefully, articulately and kindly – all the while guiding us toward becoming Jewish Women 2.0.

Gold was not the only captivating speaker on the trip. Rabbi Gavriel Friedman woke us up with his energetic lecture on Shabbat one morning. I almost hesitate to call it a lecture because it felt more like a stand-up act. I was amazed by this man’s chutzpah, charisma and ’90s song references. Rebbetzin Raizy Guttman taught us all about baking the perfect challah. Pamela and Aba Claman, founders of Thank Israeli Soldiers, personified philanthropy, welcoming all 200 of us, in addition to a group of soldiers, into their Old City home. Yossi Samuels inspired everyone who visited SHALVA, the association his parents founded for mentally and physically challenged children in Israel. Estee Yarmish awed us with her adoption story and the total number of children she now has – 14! Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of one of the kidnapped Israeli teens, stunned us with her strength and determination. Hillel and Chaya Lester illustrated superb parenting skills when they hosted some of us for lunch at the Shalev Center, where they turn Jewish teachings into personal development tools.

Besides trip leaders, hosts and speakers, we enjoyed the wisdom of our tour guides. Alternating to give us a chance to experience their individual styles, the guides shared their knowledge on all the sites we visited. We started the trip in gorgeous Tiberius, moved on to mystical Tsfat, toured the wrinkled Old City, explored the imposing Masada and floated in the hot Dead Sea. Other highlights included visiting Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, rafting on the Jordan River, meeting soldiers at an army base and watching the sunset at Kedma Hall in Neve Ilan.

One experience that stood out for me among the rest was Shabbat – a truly magical celebration in Jerusalem. We all danced to Yitzchak Meir Malek’s music, lit candles (some of us for the first time) and walked to the Kotel, where we sang Jewish songs and danced some more with the soldiers. There was something extraordinary about the unity we felt on that day – there we were, in the holiest place on earth, among our own people – numerous challah strands melded into one delicious bread – the Jewish woman.

We were observant and atheist, American and Israeli, mothers and daughters, short-haired and long, skinny and portly, but we were one. We stamped our feet on the cobblestones cracking with history. We strained our voices to shout “Havah Nagilah,” “Oseh Shalom” and “Dayenu.” We gently touched the wall and leaned our heads against it, connecting to the past, the present and the future. We stuck little pieces of paper into the wall, wishing and hoping and praying. We hugged and laughed and cried. We cried some more and then laughed about crying so much.

We became a whole. We shared stories from our lives, adversities we were overcoming, stumbling blocks we were anticipating. We celebrated birthdays and little victories. We encouraged one another with notes. We helped lug heavy suitcases up the stairs. We respected our differences, choosing to focus on the similarities, and engaged in discussions aimed at understanding the differing points of view. We did not blame or complain, and when we did, we switched our red plastic bracelets from one wrist to the other (the heat was a huge catalyst). We left inspired, thankful and rich. We had many new friends, and we couldn’t wait to find out what those friendships held in store for us. Awakened, we looked forward to sleep.

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