Inspiring and amazing! Can’t put into words what the last 9 days did for my heart and soul! Thank you JWRP/CTN for making this trip available for so many amazing women.
— Debbie Schwartz Silver
This year once again, CTN took part in the life changing, eight day JWRP MOMentum Mission to Israel for Jewish moms, connecting us to the land, to our Jewish values, and to each other.
You are welcome to browse the pictures below, as well as to scroll down and read a day by day review of the highlights of this amazing experience, written by CTN 2017 trip participant and blogger, Julia Estrin. To watch the final JWRP 2017 MOMentum Trip video, click HERE
Not that long ago we met for the first time as a group of excited, cautious, eager strangers for our first “get to know you session” back home. After sharing our stories of what brought us all into that room as future “Israel sisters”, we parted with a sense of community in the making and a newfound realization of how much we actually have in common and how similar our quests and challenges are, previously held so unique and, for some, lonely.Read more
Fast forward a couple more pre-trip meetings and we met at the airport yesterday (feels like one very long day, after a mostly sleepless flight for many) already with a sense of connection and a burning excitement over our upcoming adventure.
Our first lecture at the beautiful Leonardo Club hotel: “Gossip, Lies and Lessons” focused on the power of speech and the importance of being non-judgmental: poignant stories shared by the speaker pointed out that any given scenario/situation can have so many ‘backstories’ that we are not privy to, that one should never be quick to judge anyone, no matter what action or circumstances they observe. We were reminded that when Lashon Horah is spoken, 3 people ‘die’: the speaker, the one talked about and the listener, for not stopping it or at least having the mental discipline to question the speech.
After that it was on to our welcome Dinner at the Decks– a concept restaurant located on the water with a breathtaking view, a life-saving breeze and an easy Israeli attitude. Inspired by ancient architecture and built with local basalt stone, where they use ancient roasting methods to prepare the finest meats and fish.
We were treated to our own ‘welcome to Israel’ fireworks over the sea of Galilee!
Once we finished feasting on the delectable salmon and other delicious food it was ‘dance the night away’. From ‘Sallam’ to ‘I Will Survive’ (not a song I expected to be in the mix, but met, not surprisingly with overabundant enthusiasm) we danced, led by our amazing, indefatigable, graceful, contagiously enthusiastic city leaders, till we could not go on anymore.
With the glow of excited anticipation for things to come and the effects of dancing in 90% humidity and 90+ degree heat we shuffled back to Leonardo Club for some well-deserved shut eye.
Looking forward to visiting Tzfat tommorrow!
It was a treasure trove of insight into the challenges and rewards of making a marriage work: equally informed by her personal life experience and the wisdom of Jewish thought and Torah teachings.
Some of the ideas Adrienne shared with us that really resonated with me:
1. Love is a verb, not an emotion. The herbrew root of “ahava” is “to give”. When we invest a real effort into our marriage and give to our spouses we fall in love with them.Read more
With that we set off for Tzfat.
Our first stop was the Tzfat mikvah. We were welcomed by an incredible team of women, treated to cold lemonade, pretzels, and popsicles (most appreciated in the sweltering summer heat). With genuine passion, sincere enthusiasm and deep knowledge, they taught us the practical, spiritual, and halachic basics of the mitzvah of mikvah. We joined in a meditation and made a commitment to ourselves to let go of the negative ‘baggage’ that is holding us back, and to let Divine blessings flow into our souls, our families, our lives.
We enjoyed a light lunch in the shade, visited a Sephardic synagogue and walked around the artist’s quarter admiring beautiful work of local artists and artisans and indulging in a bit of shopping.
Our day came to a close on the beach in Tel Aviv where we shared a dinner of Pizza Hut pizza out of the box while seated in a circle of friends in the sand and listening to a very personal story, which left no one untouched, shared by one of the amazing ladies we have the privilege to meet on this journey.
With the warmth of the rising sun on our backs and the sea lapping at the shoreline, the sound of waves both soothing and energizing, it was an incredible way to start the day.
We enjoyed an abundant Israeli breakfast and headed over to the Tel Aviv stock exchange to be treated to another inspiring lecture by Adrienne Gold on “Your contribution to Jewish Destiny”.Read more
The takeaway points for me were:
1. We are each endowed with our own unique potential to make a difference in the world. Not all of us will be known for a great deed for the sake of humanity, but, as mothers, we are blessed with an opportunity to make a difference in the quality of human beings who will be the caretakers of Jewish people and heritage.
2. Reaching our potential is not a “goal” or an “end”: it’s a state of being
3. This final idea was shared by one of the trip participants: it’s entirely appropriate/possible to be “multipassionate”–one can pursue a career and other, unrelated, causes for ultimate fulfillment.
We then set out on a tour of Neve Tzedek (“Abode of Justice”): the first neighborhood outside old Jaffa on a plot of land purchased, financed and developed by and for the Jews! Tel Aviv (“Old new land”), grew out of Neve Tzedek, which after it’s initial prosperity experienced a period of decline, but since 1980s has returned as a desirable and fashionable address.
Lunch at the Tel Aviv stock exchange was followed by a viewing of a stunning 1966 mosaic mural in the Shalom Meir Tower (once the tallest building in the Middle East, rivaling some of the tallest buildings in Europe). The mural depicts in exquisite and stylized detail the daily life of diverse denizens of Tel Aviv through it’s history. Tel Aviv, the first city in the modern world built by the Jews for the Jews is a preeminent example of Israeli ingenuity, resourcefulness, creativity and the resulting capacity to make something out of nothing.
Our next stop was the Independence Hall, where at 4:00 pm on Friday, May 14th, 1948 in the presence of 350 carefully chosen attendees invited by personal, secret invitation, and a huge crowd outside, in a 32 minute ceremony, just before Shabbat, Israeli Independence was declared by Ben Gurion.
We left Tel Aviv and arrived in Jerusalem to the sounds of “Yerushalaim shel Zahav” playing on the bus stereo. It was a moment to remember!
A tour of the Jewish quarter culminated with a visit to the kotel. I am sure that for each and every one of us there were private emotions and unique perceptions of those precious moments when we were able to pray at this, holiest site, available to a Jew in this day and age. As we touched the stones, which have felt the touch of millions of other eager, hesitant, trembling, hopeful, hands and have witnessed prayers and held outpourings of the heart of so many before us, the sensation was profound, reaching, I am sure, for each of us, the very core of our being.
With an intense itinerary and too little time left to sleep for our jet lagged brain, we are driven solely by adrenaline and, at times, Divine intervention. Baruch Hashem.
Today we set off early to beat the 104F heat for a tour of Masada: an ancient complex, built on a massive plateau overlooking the Dead Sea as a magnificent fortified palace by king Herod in 30BCE. Read more
Our next stop was a dip in the Dead Sea. At 1378 ft below sea level, with 36% salinity, it’s waters are simultaneously toxic, if ingested, yet remarkably soothing and healing for the skin. We slathered on the sought-after mineral mud and allowed our bodies to float, suspended, in the unexpectedly pleasant, luxuriously soft, viscous, thoroughly relaxing, almost surreal fluid.
From the enveloping water of the Dead Sea it was off to Eretz Bereshit, where camels were waiting to give us a short but thrilling ride. We enjoyed some tasty treats, tea and coffee and danced, danced, danced. Our whole JWRP group photo overlooking the desert was taken, with participants from different US cities, South Africa and Israel all joined together.
A naming ceremony took place at which a Hebrew name was given to those ladies, who either were never given one by their parents or were not sure whether their “Jewish names” were ever ‘formally given’. It was a brief, sentimental ceremony, when the witnesses were as deeply moved as it’s celebrants.
The last stop of the day was at Ein Prat Mechina–the Academy for Leadership, where we met with Israeli soldiers, young kids, much like our own back home, dedicated and proud to serve their country. They treated us to a barbeque supper, a bonfire and singing.
Hard to believe that our trip is half over …
Friday morning started with a couple of presentations by our trip leaders.
The first, by Adrienne Gold was titled “Reclaiming our dignity: Women, self-esteem and beauty in the glare of the media”. Adrienne shared powerful, poignant, painfully sincere reminiscences about her own struggles with the demons of self doubt and distorted body image which informed her fashion, behavior, lifestyle, even career choices. Read more
The second presentation, by Lori Palatnik, was an overview of the concept of three personality types that draw their origins from the teachings of Pirkei Avot: “The world stands on 3 things: Torah (Wisdom), Avodah (Service) & Gimilat Chassidim (Acts of kindness). The 3 types are present both in body and soul and each individual has elements of all 3, but one is the “default”. Each type correspond to one of our forefathers: Abraham (Bracha)–derives pleasure from connecting with people, they are easygoing and appreciate physical comforts; Isaac (Tov)–derives pleasure from doing the right thing, wants to be constantly busy and accomplishing something; Jacob (Chaim), thrives on the pleasure of understanding, is very intuitive and thoughtful. As with any system of personality typing, the goal is to understand ourselves and to develop our secondary characteristics. The other goal is to understand others, as it is an even greater gift than love. This insight would allow our relationships with spouses, children, and just about anyone in our lives, to thrive, and to achieve their greatest potential.
With so much to think about, we were given a couple of hours to explore Jerusalem on our own. As many of us headed for the shuk (market), we became immersed in the hustle and bustle of families scurrying about to get the last minute necessities in preparation for Shabbat, when Jerusalem practically comes to a standstill, with the overwhelming majority of shops and businesses shuttering for at least 25 hours.
In our Shabbat finest we gathered at AISH headquarters for a pre-shabbat concert with Yom Tov Glaser. A talented musician and an effective inspirational speaker, he shared with us the story of his own journey from a childhood in the lap of luxury in a West Hollywood mansion, to finding himself and his purpose in the center of Judaism’s universe in Jerusalem, as an observant Jew. His mantra: “Doing is an escape from Being” sums up the essence of what many of the women in that room have felt in their lives leading up to this journey of exploration we’ve been sharing this week.
For a non-trivial percentage of the women, this was their first time lighting Shabbat candles and uttering the words of a blessing that has been uniting Jewish women for millennia.
Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel, surrounded by a sea of fellow Jews rejoicing in unity in welcoming Shabbat was an experience so uplifting as to seem almost surreal.
Our Shabbat dinner on the rooftop of the Leonardo Plaza hotel, delicious and nourishing both to the body and spirit, as we continued to bond with the entire JWRP community, ran late into the night.
Our phones have been turned off and our wallets put away for 25 gloriously ‘disconnected’ hours. Moms are Shomer Shabbos in Jerusalem.
While any form of ‘creative’ activity is off-limits, learning and sharing is the order of the day.
Our first lecture by Adrienne Gold was “Teaching our children values: The gift of generosity”. Read more
Next, Rb. Gavriel Friedman, himself a baal teshuva from New York, simultaneously entertained and educated us on the topic of “Shabbat–Heaven on Earth”. We laughed our heads off as he treated us to a professional comedy routine with a spiritual message.
With our city group we walked through the empty streets of the German colony neighborhood to our host family’s beautiful and welcoming home for a Shabbat lunch. US expats, living their dream of a higher quality of life for themselves and their young children in Jerusalem, they opened their doors and hearts to a group of 26 strangers making us feel welcome. We shared our stories and learned about their experience as non-Hebrew speaking parents of a school age child in 1st grade. Hint: he helps mommy read teacher’s notes.
Returning to our hotel we enjoyed a much needed break: a mid-afternoon nap to recharge and let it all sink into the recesses of our overstimulated brains.
Seudat Shlishit–Third meal of Shabbat was graciously hosted by the Claman family in their fairytale home in the Old City. We filled their rooftop terrace with a ‘in-the-palm-of-your-hand” view of the Temple Mount for Havdala.
Once Shabbat came to a close we left the warm cobblestones of the Old City, spilling out with the sea of humanity, with a sense of exhilaration and a touch of exhaustion.
We found our ‘second wind’ strolling along Ben Yehuda street and catching up on the all-important souvenir shopping.
First stop of the day was our volunteer experience at Aleh, one of 4 residential facilities in Israel for severely physically and mentally disabled children and adults. The Jerusalem campus services 80 inpatient residents and 150 ‘commuters’. The state of the art facility services children of all ages, from infants to young adults. Our role, as volunteers, was to help bring a little diversion and a ray of sunshine into the daily routine of children who may not be able to communicate by any conventional means. Read more
Without much time to regain our composure, we were whisked off to Yad Vashem. The name of this world-famous museum means “to give back a name (also translated as monument)”–to the 6 million who perished.
The “new” museum building, as viewed from the outside, appears to have no windows and one door: invoking the victim’s awareness of being utterly “alone”, as well as the structure of a gas chamber. As we approach via a wooden bridge, the sound of our footsteps is eerily reminiscent of the sound of soldiers’ boots marching. The building itself, a triangular space (half of a Magen Dovid), welcomes its visitors with a video installation: by Michal Robner titled “landscapes of life”. Set to Klezmer-style music it shows animated photos capturing moments from all aspects of Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust. People, just like us, from different walks of life, in different settings, living their normal life. Children, young adults, women, men, elderly. Innocent. Unaware.
Rooms zig zag around the central core, like a snake, so you have to go through every room. This layout is an effective reminder that in reviewing history you have to understand and appropriately connect the chain of events to comprehend the big picture. In 1938 on the eve of the unthinkable, as it was becoming apparent that the world has to acknowledge and deal with the ‘jewish problem in Germany’, a meeting of representatives of 32 nations took place. Not one nation wanted to take the Jews. In the same year, as “Bambi” and “Dumbo” came out in the US, Jews of Europe were being systematically dehumanized and ultimately exterminated.
We may never forget. We must always remember.
As we exited the museum before our eyes unfolded a magnificent panorama of the land of Israel: the most impressive monument to our strength as a nation.
Our afternoon lecture, “A taste of Israel Advocacy” drove home the message of the importance of educating ourselves, our families and our communities on the truths of Israel’s reality to effectively resist the onslaught of negative messages about our tiny Homeland, so pervasive in the media and on campuses.
To end the day, our group headed to the Kotel, where a handful of ladies, who never had the privilege of being a Bat Mitzvah as teens, completed that rite of passage in the company of their new friends, their JWRP sisters. We all used this opportunity to make another connection and pray one more time by the Western Wall.
May our prayers be heard and answered.
How quickly the time flew by! The whirlwind that swept us just about a week ago is coming to rest but our journey is not over.
Today’s activities are all about how to take home what we experienced in Israel and make it an essential part of our lives going forward.
The morning is spent on activities, in groups and individually, designed to help us process and internalize what we’ve learned over the last several days and to start planning ahead for concrete steps to bring the message home. Read more
We get to write letters to ourselves outlining how we will change as a result of our amazing experience. These will be mailed to us in a few months as a reminder of that gloriously elevated mindset which, today, unites us in a sincere resolve that ‘tomorrow will be different’.
We also fill out trip evaluation/suggestion forms and a bit of fundraising takes place.
A few speakers inspire us to “Keep the Momentum going”.
The group disperses for a couple of hours of free time to do some last bit of shopping, grab one more delicious Israeli lunch, or just stroll and soak up the atmosphere before we reconvene again for the last, whole group, ‘send-off’ event.
It’s bitter-sweet to say ‘l’Hitraot’, ‘see you again soon’, to Israel, our incredible leaders, our new, amazing sisters-friends, our care-free, inspired life of the trip.
For those of us returning home immediately at the conclusion of the program, it’s an especially poignant experience, as we land on July 4th, Independence Day. Our home in Diaspora, the USA, is a country where we have been welcomed and given a chance to thrive and integrate into the mainstream society like nowhere else in the world at any time in history. We are so comfortable here that we forget that we are not really living in our homeland. How fortunate we are that this home is a hospitable one. This incredible degree of comfort in a country that is not our own is a blessing and a challenge: the challenge is to not lose sight of who we are, what our heritage is and what legacy we are going to leave to our children. Our trip was a powerful wake-up call and a potent reminder of what we need to do, as Jewish mothers, to assure our nations future.
Upon our arrival in Israel we were treated to spectacular welcome fireworks over Kineret. Upon our return home we were welcomed by the glorious July 4th fireworks. One set of fireworks is a thrill. Two sets of fireworks in one trip is a message. Why do people enjoy fireworks so much? Is it the excitement and elation we feel at the sight of those colorful explosions of light breaking up the darkness of the night?
In these challenging times our families and communities need someone to give them hope. Perhaps the fireworks will ignite our newfound determination to find ways to bring light and hope into the bleak, or just plane hum-drum existence. We were given the inspiration and tools to become beacons and leaders.
We just need to keep the momentum going.
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