The women gathering in the lobby shared a buzz of excitement. They were a broad mix of ages, backgrounds and styles, from the soccer mom suburbanites to the funky hipsters to the accomplished professional artists—all in search of deeper insights.

The tables beckoned with inviting materials. A white tablecloth was covered with jars of brightly colored paint, glitter, and paint brushes. A small white canvas at each place was waiting to be brought to life, to have an individual mark and expression take form on it.

It was a journey to the soul's vibrant realities An elegant, petite woman rose to lead the workshop. With her lilting South African accent, artsy attire and poetic way with words, one might expect to encounter her at an avant-garde Soho gallery, or a university colloquium on aesthetics. But Neria Cohen's quiet, deep and confidently sincere presentation was peppered with terms from Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism; it was an imagery-filled journey to the soul's vibrant realities.

Neria has been on her own journey to a full Jewish life colored and inspired by Chassidic insight.

"I was raised in a traditional home, where holidays were celebrated with much family, food and ritual, but little content. At a young age I began to be disturbed by the inconsistencies and gave up Jewish practice. I studied theatre and film, and was always interested in storytelling and the human psyche. It was my own search for meaning"

Neria came to New York to further her career. An old friend introduced her to the wellsprings of Chassidic study. Something deep and eternal called out. " I was always searching for stories. When I encountered the depth of the Torah, it was the ultimate story, a way to understand the human drama. Through Jewish mysticism the many layers of meaning in each word and incident in the Torah are revealed. Chassidut shows how each layer of Torah, even those that seem disturbing or irrelevant on the surface, has deep personal relevance to our own struggles."

While cherishing the inner world that was opening up through her studies, Neria did not make quick changes to her lifestyle. She approached Torah with the same careful, inquisitive and honest thoughtfulness that brought her professional success. "The Torah study was fascinating, especially the mystical, but I was slow to embrace the practical actions of the mitzvot (commandments)." Though she describes her transition as a gradual process, rather than a flash of revelation, there were key moments of insight.

"I was working on a docu-drama, Looking for Richard (written, acted and produced by Al Pacino), which is a wonderful film about the life of Richard III. In some of the footage a Canadian director was talking about Shakespeare. He referred to the Bard as the Bible of theatre. 'Okay,' I thought to myself, 'Am I going to choose the Bible of the theater or the real Bible itself? It was, for me, a pivotal question. There are many references to the Bible in Shakespeare, but what was the highest, the ultimate—Shakespeare, or Shakespeare's source?"

"My next step was to go to Tzfat to study Chassidut in depth. Tzfat is a very mystical city. I came to understand that to be able to access and integrate that light you need to have a vessel—Jewish law and observance. To access the spiritual entity of Shabbat, to be a vessel for the joy of Purim, you need the observances, which are the vessel to contain that light. I was very lucky to have teachers who could give me very deep concepts and explain what is really going on in this Torah text or in the practice of that mitzvah."

While Neria was studying, the ideas for her workshops began to form.

As an artist I was enthralled with the imagery "As an artist, I was enthralled with the rich imagery Chassidut employs to explain spiritual worlds and concepts. To grasp and integrate intellectual concepts, it often helps to be able to visualize them. I strove to develop a method using guided imagery to help people connect these ideas deeply to their minds and emotions. In my meditation and painting workshop, I take people on a spiritual journey through guided visualizations that combine intellectual concepts, visual images and emotional response."

When the women are comfortably seated, Neria opens with a synopsis of the spiritual concepts to be explored that evening. Dimming the lights, the women embark on an inner journey as Neria leads them in a guided meditation. Then they open their eyes, take their brush in hand, and express an image they experienced.

An amazing variety of imagery, colors and styles emerge. Volunteers come up to share and explain their paintings. In a most captivating way, Neria points out symbolic meanings of color, placement and the imagery the woman used—with uncanny perception and ease.

How does Neria hone in on personal and inner meanings of the paintings of strangers? She applies insights gleaned from her study of Chassidut. "As I learn, I find myself developing an image bank of the Kabalistic meaning of colors and images. I am able to uncover the psycho-spiritual truths in the women's paintings, not because I am so wise, but because it is all based on Torah.

They intuitively evoke deep truths in their work"If I made up the meditation based on my personality and own ideas, it would resonate with perhaps twenty-percent of the people, those who had backgrounds or character makeup similar to me. I find it amazing how the women intuitively evoke deep mystical truths in their work. The imagery from the Torah resonates with them, from deep in their unconscious, where all souls are connected."

Neria shares one of many examples. "At one Chabad House a woman painted a magnificent painting of a burning bush. Her friend later explained to me that she has a bitter and difficult life. 'Ah,' I thought, 'the Rebbe explains that the burning bush is not a pleasing lilac but a barren thorn bush. It symbolizes how G‑d is with us in our pain and struggles.' She didn't consciously know this insight, yet she honed in on the essence of her life situation."

Passionate about her work, Neria has seen its special touch with children who struggle learning through traditional methods. "Many kids can't learn orally. They need active participation and activities that integrate the right and left-brains. I did a workshop for teenage girls who weren't making it in the normal setting. During the explanatory part of the program they were fidgety. But as soon as we got into the visualization there was such a shift—they tuned right in and did some amazing work and expression."

Neria has brought her paints, glitter, brushes and insights to over two hundred Chabad Houses across North America, with over five thousand women participating in this fun, powerful and enriching experience. Many initially dismiss their efforts, insisting, "I'm not an artist, I can't do it!" She gently coaxes the inner artist—out of all these women, only five didn't paint! The joy of expression and deep connection with friends and one's inner source leaves the women inspired and energized.