Nili Couzens (right) met another Nili, the bereaved mother of a terror attack victim, during a visit to Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Nili Couzens.
Just as the latest escalation of the Israeli-Gaza conflict began, 10 local women joined 190 mothers from around North America to tap into the human aspect of what goes on in Israel.
The nine-day trip with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project., designed as a “Birthright for moms” — the highly subsidized trip is not affiliated with Birthright but targeted at women with children living at home — aims to “spark a renaissance of Jewish values.” according to local trip leader Nili Couzens.
The group journeyed around Israel to Tiberias, Tzfat, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem where the women stopped by OneFamily, a national organization dedicated to supporting families of victims of terror, to meet with bereaved mothers.
“We have one day on the trip that is dedicated to chesed,” explained Couzens, a Bala Cynwyd mother of six who is the director of Jewish Life Seminars — a local educational initiative that brings in speakers for public lectures to the Jewish community. Couzens said she had visited OneFamily during three out of her four trips to Israel over the last two years but, due to the recent events, “this time was by far the most powerful, it was amazing.”
OneFamily provides 3,500 families from around Israel that have been affected by terror with an environment where “they can be understood and they can receive the therapeutic assistance that they need,” said Rebecca Furhman, a 25-year-old Pittsburgh native who moved to Israel in 2010 and now works as OneFamily’s director of communications and marketing.
The women met with four mothers of terror victims to hear their stories before cooking together. One of the women told the American group that she had lost both her husband and eldest son within a six-month span in separate terror attacks, according to Couzens.
The women danced and sang as well.
“We have an obligation to make these women happy — they don’t need our tears, they have plenty of their own — what they need is our encouragement and our support and our joy,” said Couzens. “There was a language barrier, but it didn’t matter, you know, we’re all mothers, everybody connected.”
Couzens also related a moving anecdote from a OneFamily mother who was coincidentally also named Nili. After boarding the bus to leave, a fellow trip participant informed her that the Israeli Nili had mentioned that it was the first time she had danced since losing her son 12 and a half years ago.
Another local woman said meeting with the OneFamily women was particularly uplifting, especially after learning that the Israeli Defense Forces had recovered the bodies of the three kidnapped teens on the first night of their trip.
“It was scary, but the solidarity amongst this group of Jewish women from all over the place was like nothing I ever experienced before,” said Jill Brandeis, a 47-year-old mother of two from Villanova. “It was really life changing, the trip was life changing.”