Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Finding ways to stand with Israel

The author and most of the attendees at her Israel event; photo taken by Marius Braun
The author and most of the attendees at her Israel event; photo taken by Marius Braun

A few days after returning home from three weeks in Israel, I hosted a gathering at my home that I dubbed an Israel Unity Event: an Am Yisrael experience. While I had flown to Israel primarily to spend time with my son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter, my experience this time was intricately woven in with the country’s somber mood during Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzma’ut and yes, even during Eurovision. Thanks to the Facebook group, Sword of Iron – Israel Volunteer Opportunities, I found Chabad of Katamon where I was also able to twice volunteer, assembling sandwiches for soldiers. As expected, everything was colored by the shadow of October 7th and the war to eradicate Hamas’s threat.

I had planned my unique activity-focused Israel Unity Event well before I left. I knew I wanted to host friends but knew there was no room in my heart for a party while hostages are still being held in Gaza. I also knew that The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta offers something called a Gather Grant and I wanted to figure out a way to use it. My thought was to take the $180 I would receive and spend it while in Israel to bring back something that I could use at my event. I put in my application which was approved.

The idea of finding a way to put some money into Israel’s economy appealed to me, but so did creating something which would not ask or require attendees to give anything and that would feature activities and foods to bring Israel closer. I also planned to share a little of what my trip was like. In the back of my mind, I knew that in this world of growing antisemitism, it was important to provide an opportunity for those who strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for Jews to be able to come together and feel safe to talk about the pain in our hearts.

Prior to my trip, I had turned the Facebook group Israeli shops to purchase from to find activities that could be done by adults in my home. In the end, I settled on assembling Israel Charm Bracelets and coloring magnets printed from designs purchased from Colour Your World Israel. Both are Israeli-based businesses and their owners were enormously helpful.

Two attendees show off their assembled Israel Charm Bracelets. Photo Credit: Wendy Kalman

Penny Thau’s Israel charm bracelets come in two versions: ready-to-wear and requiring assembly to string the beads and looped charms. Each of the seven charms carries a meaningful message. To help get the price down so I could stretch the grant money further, Penny offered to supply charms and loops separately. This meant that attendees would have to open each loop, insert a charm, and close the loop before stringing the bracelet. Equipped with needle nose pliers, the women enjoyed making these charm bracelets from start to finish.

Magnets printed from Colour Your World Israel designs. Photo credit: Marius Braun

Tali Amir is the designer of Colour Your World from whom I purchased digital downloads, each a star with an illustration of something in Israel inside. She creates and sells books, bags and other products based on her designs. I selected a package of five designs and Tali was incredibly helpful substituting one design for another and laying them out two to a page. I purchased magnet paper and acrylic paint markers, printing her designs on magnet paper. The end result was a selection of magnets that attendees could choose from to color and hang on their refrigerator.

Invitations were issued and in the end, 14 women attended. In addition to supplies, I had brought back rugalach from three different bakeries in Jerusalem Mahane Yehuda Shuk (we had to test if Marzipan Bakery’s was still the best!) as well as chocolates wrapped in the Israel flag. Locally, I got Bamba. And guests brought snacks or desserts, from hummus and pita chips to babka and more.

Photo credit: Wendy Kalman

Before we began I explained what we would be doing and spoke a bit about my trip.

I let my friends know that if they had small children to read to, the Federation had graciously provided PJ Library children’s books about Israel they could take home.

Lastly, I created a one pager of resources for them to take home. Besides links to the Federation, the Facebook Groups, the artists, and PJ Library, it also included links to Eden Golan’s performances of “Hurricane” at Eurovision and of the original version, “October Rain” at Hostage Square, and a comparison of the original and revised lyrics.

Bracelet-making and magnet-coloring supplies were arranged on both the dining room and kitchen tables. We split up and got busy.

Around the kitchen table. Photo credit: Marius Braun

As could be expected, the talk around our table ventured into what is happening in Israel, what is happening on college campuses and how we are feeling. The women discussed if they feel unsafe wearing a Jewish star outside. One woman said – and this gave me pause, honestly – that she really had to think twice about which jeweler to go to when she needed her Chai necklace repaired. She did not want to risk making the wrong choice.

It is not simple being Jewish in public today.

At the dining room table. Photo creditL Marius Braun

Attendees appreciated having a place to share a positive activity, show support, socialize and be with people who think the same way. One woman in particular — the one who worried about taking her Chai necklace to a jeweler — expressed gratitude for having this event and this space. Since October 7, as the fate of Jews in the world gets progressively worse, she has felt less and less that non-Jews can comprehend what we are going through. I too feel that aloneness.

But, my friend said, at this gathering she felt she could express her concerns with other women who could fully understand where she is coming from.

And we did. Because we are in the same place.

While what I did had some unique elements to it, its essence is entirely replicable. Create a space for our people to be with and for each other. And don’t forget the rugalach!

Rugalach from three of the Jerusalem shuk Mahane Yehuda’s bakeries. Top left, the world renowned Marzipan Bakery. Top right: Dubshonit and bottom: Duvdevon. Photo credit: Wendy Kalman

Am Yisrael Chai.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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