Saturday, July 19, 2014

Talking About Ourselves: My Women's Group

My partner often asks me “what is it, exactly, that you do in your women’s group”? The simple answer is that we talk, we laugh and eat. For almost 5 years my women's  group meets on a Sunday night once a month. Each time we select a different topic for discussion, tonight we will talk about money.

The group was created when a young friend asked me to join an empowerment group for women that she wanted to start. My first instinct was to say no, but since earlier that year I had made a resolution to try and say yes to more suggestions, and I wanted to support my friend, I tried instead to convince her that I was too old for such a group.  "At the age of 53", I argued, "empowerment was too late for me". But my 30 something friend answered that a woman was never too old to be empowered; I had no choice but to relent.

One of the reasons that I was reluctant at first was the word "empowerment" itself which seemed to me like an empty slogan. But in our group, we try to give this term some meaning while translating  it into small actions.

We are an open group, new members are welcome, mostly they are friends of the members who heard about it and wanted to join. But sometimes we bring new members who, we feel, could benefit from being with us. In the past 5 years some women stayed for a while and then left as circumstances changed, but we remain a core group of 12 friends of different ages.

We meet at the homes of our members, and before we start our discussion we eat. Each woman brings a favorite dish and we sit together and enjoy the food. Complimenting the women on their dishes is an essential part of the activity as our raison d'être is to make our members feel good about themselves, satisfied in what they have accomplished and willing to take a chance to try new things in cooking and in life.

We have certain well- kept rules about the atmosphere and the behavior in our discussions. It involves the important Hebrew /Yiddish concept-- Firgun*. It means an act or atmosphere of support, good-will and encouragement and the behavior of treating others favorably, with, respect, and the "ungrudging pleasure one takes in another’s good fortune." Those qualities which are embodied in this concept, firgun, are quintessential to empowerment.

Perhaps meeting once a month is not enough to make a real difference in a woman’s life, but on the other hand, maybe it is the exact reason why we were able to keep the group thriving for five years.

The other day when I asked a member what she liked about our group, she said that this was the place where she felt most appreciated and supported. It didn’t matter much to her what we discusseded (as we always talked about ourselves even if the topic was relationships, jobs, children, money, or losses) but our friendship made her feel stronger and more hopeful about her future.

 *The word "firgun"

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