Women symposium brings together Jews, Muslims, Christians

Israel’s Magdalena Institute sponsored its third Women’s Symposium last week. Set in the stunning Boat Chapel of the Magdala Duc in Altum sanctuary on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, the conference was open to women in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, regardless of which faith they profess or do not profess.

A principal aim of the symposium was to “honor women of influence in the Holy Land who have courageously and loyally worked for the downtrodden or those in need.”

“We want to tangibly illustrate how women are authentic agents of change by living out their feminine genius.” Institute Director Jennifer Sistine said in her welcoming remarks.

“Feminine Genius,” Ristine explained, is a woman’s ability to give the “sincere gift of herself to others.”  This gift portrays “an attentiveness to others needs, an openness to respond with empathy, courage, and sincerity.”

Among the guest speakers at the conference was Messianic believer Sandy Shoshani, national director of pro-life association Be’ad Chaim. Shoshani was honored for her work in protecting the lives of the unborn and protecting women from the pain and regret of abortion.

“Last year I came to this conference as a participant and found it very impactful,” Shoshani told KNI during an interview. “I met Jennifer then, and was struck by how much she cares about people. This conference emphasizes the importance of caring for people, regardless of what faith or background they are from. That is also my heart.”

A part of the wider Magdala spiritual and retreat center, the Magdalena Institute works to highlight the concept that, as beings who have been made in the image and likeness of God, women have tremendous value and enormous potential for humanizing and transforming society.

In addition to hearing Sandy Shoshani discuss her work, the symposium heard from five other women who are impacting their communities through sharing the gift of who God made them to be.

Nina Heereman, a German scholar of scripture, opened the main conference by presenting the Biblical story of Esther. Heereman explained how the Jewish queen represents a model for us as a woman of faith who understood her calling in God and was ready to die for the sake of saving her people.

Following Heereman was Amoun Sleen, a woman who has given her life to improving the conditions and future of the Gypsy community in Jerusalem. A Gypsy by birth, Sleen founded the Domari Society of Gypsies to help children and youth combat poverty and the discrimination they face from both Jews and Arabs.

As the symposium progressed, those gathered heard also from Agnes Shehade, director of the House of Grace prisoner rehabilitation ministry in Haifa; Yola Reitman, a former Mossed agent who helped rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews from Sudanese refugee camps; and Ana Rosnovski, founder of Musicians of Tomorrow. Rosnovski provides professional musical training to young people who could not otherwise afford it.

All the speakers were honored and recognized for their work by the international organization Women Add Value, headed by Jenny Lopez.

Reflecting on the role of women in society today, Shoshani said in an interview: “The Lord has gifted each of us with talents to be used to serve Him and give Him honor. This includes the possibility that we, as women, may be called to positions of leadership.”

“As a Messianic believer, I am submitted to my husband and I respect his authority as my husband, as the leader of our home and of the congregation he pastors. There is no question about that,” she continued.

“At the same time, I see examples in both the Old and the New Testaments of women as Godly and gifted leaders in diverse areas. I therefore see no conflict between my calling to be a wife submitted to her husband in God’s order and my role as director of Be’ad Chaim.”

“Having said this,” Shoshani concluded, “I would certainly advise women never to seek or take on a leadership role presumptuously or with chutzpah (nerve).”

Mariana Bravo, a Christian from Mexico who works with the Institute in coordinating public relations, told KNI that Magdala we does not adopt hard core feminist ideology.

“What we encourage is that women are to be as valued and respected as men are because women have also been made in God’s image,” she said.

At the end of a day filled with God-centered, thought-provoking discussion and fellowship, wonderful hospitality and gorgeous surroundings, Bravo summed up the conference.

“Magdala is a unique place that brings people together despite their political or religious differences,” Bravo said. “At the conference today we have Moslems, Christians and Jews. It’s not where you are from or what you believe in. What matters is that you are a woman and we want to honor you.

“This conference is about what we have in common rather what our differences are.  What we have in common is that we are human beings made in the image of God, all of us.”