Amy Farber first went to Israel when she was 30 and has since been four more times. Ruth Estrich visited Israel once, when she was 60.
Come April, Farber and Estrich will return to the Holy Land together – as cocaptains of CJP’s Spark North Shore cohort. In this role, they’ll lead a group of North Shore residents taking part in Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ community journey of connection, discovery, and fun to celebrate Israel’s 75th Independence Day.
In addition to guiding participants on the ground in Israel from April 18-27, Farber and Estrich have been working behind the scenes with CJP to recruit for their cohort. They’ve partnered with the cohort’s educational leaders from the North Shore – Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, Rabbi Michael Schwartz of Temple Sinai in Marblehead, and Rabbi David Kudan of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester – to coordinate pre-trip learning and social opportunities. After Spark, Farber and Estrich will help organize post-trip reunions and gatherings.
“I haven’t done any traveling since before the pandemic, and when this trip came up, it became really interesting to me,” said Farber, a past president of Temple Ahavat Achim who lives in Gloucester with her husband, Mark. “I look forward to traveling with those I know and making new friends. Ruth and I hope the trip ignites a flame in people to become more active in CJP and our North Shore Jewish community.”
For Estrich – who serves as president of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott – traveling with CJP and her North Shore community for Israel’s 75th is a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I said yes because the way I do my life is that I am a yes,” said Estrich, who survived a serious cancer 40 years ago and has since said yes to everything that’s come her way. “Being in my synagogue each Shabbat experiencing my Judaism is the highlight of my week. I can’t imagine how incredible it will be for a busload of us to experience what CJP can craft on this trip. I recently told my congregation, ‘Please come with me. Let’s go home together.’ I am just so moved by the opportunity in front of us.”
Both Farber and Estrich have deep ties to the North Shore Jewish community. Farber, who grew up in Newton, has lived in Beverly, Swampscott, and Gloucester for most of her adult life. In addition to her years as a volunteer leader at Ahavat Achim (including several as the membership chair), she spent almost a decade as the director of admissions at Marblehead’s Epstein Hillel School (formerly Cohen Hillel Academy) and was deeply involved in the parent committee. Farber’s three children, Adam, 42, Shira, 40 (who works at CJP), and Robin, 35, attended the day school.
“My love is meeting people and bringing them together, connecting them to Jewish life in the synagogue, and helping them to immerse in Jewish community,” Farber said. “My time at Epstein Hillel allowed me to fulfill my personal mission to bring children to a school where they could be surrounded by everything Jewish and build a strong Jewish foundation.”
Estrich, a native of Lynn, grew up attending Temple Israel of Swampscott, which later merged with Temple Beth El to become Shirat Hayam. After a stint in Chicago, Ruth and her son, Dorian, now 36, moved back to the North Shore only to leave again for a job opportunity she got in Philadelphia. Four years ago – after retiring from a long career as a health care executive – Estrich found her way back to Marblehead.
As a teenager, Estrich was awarded a scholarship to attend Camp Ramah, where she had a summer that shaped who she would become as an adult.
“Camp was for me, like Birthright Israel is for many, life changing,” she said. “Being there brought Judaism, the practices, and the whole experience of being Jewish to a completely different level that has stayed with me to this day. Coming back from Ramah, I continued going to services on Shabbat, which I do to this day.”
While they’ve both been long involved in the Jewish community, co-leading the Spark North Shore cohort is the first time Farber and Estrich have worked together. They have a special mutual friend – a long-lost childhood classmate of Estrich who ended up going to college with Farber at the University of Massachusetts Amherst – who introduced the two a few years ago and helped them discover a common passion for Jewish community and CJP.
“CJP is one of the premier organizations for the Jewish community in Massachusetts and a star of the federation world,” said Farber. “Aside from my synagogue – which is very personal for me – CJP is the most important organization I support because of all the things they do for people in need. I want to share with more people what CJP can do, and the power behind the organization. I feel like that’s where philanthropic efforts should go, for us as Jews.”
Estrich said she’s proud to be an ambassador for CJP, the Spark experience, and Israel, and has been encouraging everyone she knows to join the group to celebrate Israel’s 75th.
“This is exactly the time we should be doing this trip – and taking a stand for what this land is and for what our homeland means to us,” she said. “I know this experience will be one of the highlights of my life.” Θ