Janice first encountered Judaism at the age of 13. Her teacher decided her class in Canada needed a three-week unit on the history of the Jewish people before reading the Merchant of Venice.
“That was my first exposure to the Holocaust,” says Janice. “I went into an existential depression. I lost my faith in G-d. I stopped going to church and to Sunday school, and I was filled with pain.”
Janice and her liberal family were close – no topic was off the table. She knew she could go to her father, whom she adored, with her dilemma. He suggested she research different religions.
After some wider research, Janice became particularly interested in Judaism. She began reading everything she could get her hands on about Judaism and Israel and at 15 looked up synagogues in the Yellow Pages, called a rabbi and said she wanted to convert. He turned her away as did two other rabbis. But she didn’t give up, and ended up converting later in life.
Post-conversion, on a visit to Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Janice felt inspired to move to Israel. She realized, “I wasn’t rich so I couldn’t support Israel that way, but I could bring my body, my character, and my skills to try to make some positive contribution.” She retired early from a long career in education and immigrated to Israel in 2008.
But with little Hebrew, it wasn’t easy to make that contribution. Janice decided to give herself till 2020, and if she didn’t find a way, she would move back.
But a chance meeting with a Shatil staffer led her to a volunteer position with Shatil’s development department in November 2017. Shatil is NIF’s action arm. By March, 2018 she had found her niche and decided to stay.
“I love working at Shatil,” says Janice. “All the people I’ve met here are smart, hardworking and dedicated to improving Israeli society. They are flexible and willing to problem-solve in creative ways and to keep an open mind. And I admire their refusal to demonize people with different agendas for the country.”
One area that Janice has been active in since joining Shatil is public housing. She was shocked that the average citizen could spend up to 70% of her gross income to put a roof over her children’s heads. Shatil has been guiding activism to help change policy on this issue with a special focus on uplifting women’s voices. 77% of residents and candidates for public housing are single-mothers.
“Having the opportunity to work, even in a minor role, in support of democracy and social justice is good for me mentally and emotionally. And I’m learning that there is a big, vibrant community working to make Israel truly a light onto the nations.
“There are so many people who refuse to give up the hope of a beautiful, strong, dynamic, healthy country that everybody can be proud of. I want to be part of that.”