The 10 days she spent in Israel on a Birthright trip were the best 10 days of her life, said Dara Senders.
So when the 21-year-old fashion student was asked by an Israeli friend to help organize a fashion show to promote Israeli designers and Birthright, she agreed at once.
Senders, who grew up in Union, went to Israel in January 2008 and came back with a passion for the country.
“I’ve always been mad about fashion, and because this involved Israelis, I was more passionate about the idea,” said Senders, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
The event in Manhattan on Nov. 11 was cosponsored by Birthright Israel and leaders from the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, a group focused on developing young Jewish leaders, and cohosted by Birthright Israel Next NY, the alumni arm of the organization.
The function took place at Espace, a venue on West 42nd Street, and was a huge success, according to Senders.
“We were aiming for around 500 people from this area; around 980 turned up,” Senders told NJ Jewish News last week, finally catching up on calls and sleep.
What she didn’t expect was to find herself running the show. Though at least a decade younger than the other planners, she was the only one with experience in the fashion industry. As a student of design last year, and now of product development and merchandising, she had helped organize other people’s shows. While doing all of that, she has also been developing her own line of handmade hair accessories.
Her organizing know-how goes further back. As a teenager, she helped stage musicals at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange — another of her passions. The idea of coordinating hordes of people didn’t intimidate her — “except at the moment when they suggested I do it,” she said. “Really, I was just honored — and excited.”
Asked if she would do it again, she declared, “Absolutely!” In fact, the day of the interview, she had just been approached by some of the seniors at F.I.T. and asked if she would organize a show of their designs. She agreed at once.
Senders credits her parents, Marci and Steven, members of Congregation B’nai Ahavath Shalom, the Conservative synagogue in Union, with giving her the confidence to follow her enthusiasms and take on new challenges.
Marci herself wasn’t taking such credit. With audible delight, she said, “Dara just blows everyone away. She really is extraordinary.”
Marci remembers her daughter’s first words after returning from her trip to Israel: “Okay, this is the deal: I want to go back for three months….”
Even if that return has been delayed a bit, the trip — like the fashion show itself — accomplished the goal of building bonds among Dara and young Jews like her.
“I still keep in touch with most of the people who were on the trip,” she said. “We visit each other often and whenever they come to visit New York we are always sure to see each other.”
Natalie Solomon, the assistant director for special projects for Birthright Israel Next NY, described Senders as “a doll, an absolute pleasure to work with — and so generous and open-hearted about sharing her passion that it inspired other people. We can’t wait for the next time we can work on something with her.”