Pikesville resident Debra Attman is well known as a local philanthropist, providing the driving energy behind several events, including the Chocolate Affair, the annual event benefiting Health Care for the Homeless.
But it was her work with The Associated, the Baltimore branch of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), and its women's giving group that brought a recent revelation: Attman had never been to Israel.
That changed earlier this month, when she was one of 54 women, including 13 from the Baltimore area, who signed on for a six-day trip to Israel. It was the fourth annual Heart to Heart mission, organized by the JFNA.
The women, who ranged in age from 17 to 79 and represented 18 communities nationwide, traveled in Israel in two buses. They met local leaders and celebrities, saw how American philanthropic dollars are spent in Israel, volunteered, found time for sight-seeing, and connected with their Jewish heritage.
"It was the best trip I've ever been on, without my husband," said Attman, who is known as Debbie, about the trip earlier this month. "It was great."
Laurie Luskin, who also lives in Pikesville, was co-chair of the trip, along with Alice Viroslav of San Antonio. Luskin is in her second year of a six-year term on the National Women's Philanthropy Board of the New York-based JFNA. All the women on that board have served at the "highest levels of decision-making" at the local level, she said.
Luskin said the goal of Heart to Heart is to "connect people to the Jewish community" and bolster their relationships with the Federation system. The women on the trip are not required to be part of the Federation, and Luskin said the group was a mix, with some women very involved in the Jewish organization and others not involved at all. (Baltimore's Federation chapter is the only one known as The Associated.) The women paid for their travel, and contributed $500 to their local chapter.
Though the experience was not even a week long, it was crammed with activity. The women shed tears at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and met with Einat Wilf, a former member of Israel's legislative body, the Knesset. They met with Israeli singer Einat Sarouf, and Hadas Malada, the first Ethiopian-Israeli female doctor in Israel.
They were inspired by tennis player Noam Gershony, who nearly died after a helicopter crash while serving in the Israeli military, and went on to win gold at the London Paralympics.
They visited Yvel, a high-end jewelry company, and saw the school that had been created to benefit immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia.
"The immigrants learn to make lower-priced jewelry, which is then sold to support the program," Luskin explained. "We were learning all about giving it back and paying it forward."
Shira Stutman, a rabbi from Washington, "helped make sense of the experiences," said Luskin. "She connected everything we did with ideas from the Bible," she said.
For Attman, the trip was also a chance to reconnect with her daughter, Alison Goodwich, who is 36 and lives in Naples, Fla., with her husband and three children, including a son whose bar mitzvah is just a couple of years away.
The two arrived a few days early and stayed with relatives in Israel, hiring a tour guide to help them navigate and understand the highlights of Jerusalem and Israel.
"I got to spend 10 days with my daughter," Attman said. As a result of the trip, she said, "I recognize she is my best friend, along with my husband."
Attman described the Heart to Heart mission as "moving" and "spiritual," and said the experience will inform her charitable work in Baltimore.
"I'm excited to be involved with The Associated because they do great work," she said, "not only in Baltimore and Maryland, but overseas as well."
She added: "I was proud to be a Jewish woman."
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