Rebecca Guralnick became the new chair of the Women’s Philanthropy campaign of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, in the weeks before the attacks of Oct. 7.
Since then, some things have remained the same, like her desire to have honest conversations with people in the community about their priorities and the needs of the Jewish people. Some has changed, like when she went on a mission trip to Israel with mothers who are grieving. She’ll bring that experience, now embedded in her heart, to her volunteerism.
Guralnick said she will never forget learning of the attacks of Oct. 7.
“We immediately turned on the TV and didn’t turn it off for a week,” she recalled. “As soon as we understood the level of depravity that had occurred, we knew it was different.”
Guralnick soon joined the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund Task Force, which fundraised well beyond the amount requested by Jewish Federations of North America.
In November, Guralnick joined a Mother to Mother mission to Israel, a bus trip of 80 mothers with an astonishing roster. The majority, like Guralnick, were Jewish women from outside Israel who came for unity; about 20 were mothers of lone soldiers – those from outside Israel who travel to the Jewish state to serve in the army; and yet others were grieving mothers and family members directly affected by the attacks of Oct. 7 and the war.
Guralnick said she could see that those in the latter category were often nourished by the bus trip in Israel. They had the opportunity to share their stories with other mothers, and that seemed powerful. “We brought so much hope and love and resilience for them,” she said.
Some of the mothers from overseas were motivated to come, at least in part, because they hoped to see a family member at a fraught time. Guralnick has a son in Jerusalem, who she did get to see.
The trip was organized by Momentum, an international Jewish women’s group that has previously worked with Milwaukee Jewish Federation on trips, though this was not a Federation trip.
The women worked on a sweet potato farm, because the Israeli farm labor force has been depleted. They also toured one of the first communities destroyed by Hamas. Guralnick has come back with harrowing stories, like of Israelis who barricaded themselves into a bomb shelter, with no inside lock on the door, by moving a refrigerator.
One of the most meaningful moments of the trip was when the women visited an Israeli army base. The moms brought the soldiers dinner and learned that one of them had just had a baby and that another had gotten married a month earlier.
“The soldiers hadn’t really had a proper opportunity to celebrate. We broke out into a song and dance like nobody’s business, and for the one who had just gotten married, we put him up on a chair, and we were doing a hora.”
Mexico, local campaign
Guralnick also recently traveled on a Milwaukee Jewish Federation trip to Mexico. She connected with the vibrant Jewish community in Mexico City. The mission trip visited a day school run by ORT, which is an international educational organization supported by the Federation. Trip participants sang with the children at the school and said kiddush together. They also met with Israeli teenagers displaced by the war, who are staying in Mexico City.
They visited an old, beautiful synagogue in Mexico City, for Shabbat services. Some of the service was in Spanish, yet in a way it was all so familiar. “We still sat there and kind of nodded our heads, because you almost knew what the rabbi was saying,” Guralnick said. “It was a great opportunity to see another community in action.”
Back here in the United States, if you should hear from Guralnick or another volunteer, keep in mind that they are working for the whole community.
A call for the campaign is not just about fundraising, Guralnick said. “We’re calling to see how people are. We’re calling to see how their lives are and what they need in their lives,” said Guralnick, who has been a campaign volunteer for several years.
In fact, she said, volunteering during the pandemic “really solidified in my mind that we’re all in this together.”