Cohen Gerrol to share inspiring 'Birthright to rebirth' story at annual Girlfriend Connection
BY ERIN COHEN
Women's Division Director
Join co-chairs Marjie Rogozinksi and Diane Rothstein, along with an incredible event committee for the Women's Division annual Girlfriend Connection, scheduled for Thursday, May 19th at 7 p.m. The event will be held at the Jacksonville Jewish Center, where guest speaker, Rachel Cohen Gerrol, will share her personal story entitled, ‘From Birthright to Re-Birth: My Unexpected Journey to Judaism'. During her talk, Cohen Gerrol will delve into her experiences growing up in a Christian household and her eventual decision to go on a Birthright Israel trip which led her to her current line of work and her lifelong commitment to Jewish values, advocating for the State of Israel.
As the child of an interfaith marriage, Rachel Cohen grew up singing in the church choir and ironically enough her family boasts seven generations of Christian ministers and missionaries, so if you had asked her 10 years ago if she was Jewish, her answer would have been, "Well, my father is." Today, her answer is a completely different one. Cohen Gerrol's decision to go on a Birthright Israel trip in 2000, during her junior year in college, wasn't motivated by a deep sense of longing for understanding or connection. Instead, she applied because she had never had the chance to travel abroad, and it didn’t hurt that the trip was free. It was the very first Birthright Israel trip and she had no idea what to expect.
Standing at the Knesset, she was intrigued by the politics of a nation that reflected such rich diversity. When touring in Tel Aviv, she met Israeli soldiers whose bravery she admired, and reciting her first Jewish prayer at the Kotel connected her forever to the language, heritage and traditions of her people. The trip challenged her to reexamine every aspect of her life, from her religious and spiritual identity to her role as sister, daughter and citizen of the world. Ultimately, Birthright even inspired her to shift her career focus and her college major. Upon returning to the U.S., she founded a Birthright Israel alumni house at the University of Pennsylvania and eagerly began learning about Jewish culture, heritage and religion.
Since her initial trip 16 years ago, Cohen Gerrol has been back to Israel numerous times and has been trained by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be an advocate for Israel. She is Chair of Birthright Israel Next for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a program which serves nearly 11,000 birthright alumni. She also co-chaired the first ever Birthright Alumni Leadership Mission to Israel, and serves on the Women’s Advisory Board of the Jewish Outreach Institute, working with InterfaithFamily.com to reach out to other children of interfaith families. She has studied Torah with the Shalom Hartman Institute and proudly completed an Orthodox conversion in 2010.
Cohen Gerrol is recognized internationally for her work on millennial philanthropy, as she is the co-founder of the Nexus Global Youth Summit, a network of international young philanthropists with a combined net worth of more than $500 billion dollars who gather at summits all over the world. From the United Nations to the White House and 10 Downing Street, this group of select individuals gathers with the purpose of inspiring the next generation to accelerate solutions to global problems.
"I’m so excited to share the story of my unexpected Jewish journey with the wonderful women of Jacksonville," said Cohen Gerrol. "If anyone would have told me 15 years ago that I would be giving a speech to an incredible group of Jewish leaders I would never have believed it, as at the time I was still singing in the church choir with my family," she explained. "Birthright was only the beginning and I can't wait to share all that has happened since, that catapulted me to the world stage and leading efforts at The White House and The United Nations." Rogozinksi and Rothstein as well as the event committee: Arlene Adelson, Carrie Bielski, Shirley Bielski, Stacey Blum, Mary Edwards, Wendy Efron, Lynn Maiman, Jenn Neuman, Michelle Pargman, Debbi Pataky, Barbara Resnick, Lauren Rickoff, Melanie Setzer, Talie Zaifert and Eunice Zisser are looking forward to spending a fabulous evening of learning and laughter with you.
Cocktails will be served at 6:30 p.m., then dinner and programming will take place at 7 p.m. Food will be provided by Margo’s Catering and glatt kosher meals will be available upon request. This annual women’s division event is in support of the 2016 Federation Annual Campaign. Tickets are $45, patron level is $100 and benefactor is $250. If you would like more information about these sponsorship opportunities or have any questions about the event, contact Erin Cohen at 904-448-5000, ext. 205 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.