I recently had the great fortune to visit Israel for the first time. Thanks to the international organization Momentum and its local partner, JInspire Manhattan, I joined 19 other Jewish mothers from Manhattan on an eight day, life-changing trip. Led by three amazing moms from the Upper West Side, what began as a group of diverse strangers varying in ages, marital status, careers and backgrounds became a united sisterhood.
Since 2009 Momentum has made it possible for over 17,000 Jewish women from 28 countries, 100 of them from Manhattan, to make this journey through this subsidized trip and following programming. It is their mission to empower women to change the world through Jewish values by transforming themselves, their families and their communities. Unity, not politics, is a primary focus, especially with the current political climates in both the U.S. and Israel.
Every day began with inspirational speakers on a wide range of topics from parenting and relationships to why Israel has produced the most tech startups outside of Silicon Valley. Of course we hit all the sites: Tel Aviv, the mystical city of Tzfat, Yad Vashem the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Mount Herzl National Cemetery, the Old City in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Masada. I felt the most meaningful experiences were our private meetings that fostered dialogue with Israelis from many walks of life: philanthropists, soldiers, a movie director and a “Trail Angel” -- a private citizen who has welcomed hundreds of hikers along The National Trail into her home for food and lodging.
Some highlights for me personally were receiving my Hebrew name, Neshama, which translates to Soul and dancing at the Kotel. Yes, there was so much dancing and music and I can’t forget the food. Shakshuka everyday for breakfast, roasted eggplant Sabich sandwiches for lunch, and sampling teas and spices at the Arab souk bazaar delighted this foodie!
I was amazed at the attention paid to every detail beginning with the elaborate itinerary, thoughtful roommate assignments and extensive suggested packing list lovingly compiled by our local leaders to the Trip Journal provided to record our experience to help us relate it to our loved ones upon returning home. I had never felt so cared for on so many levels.
The best part is what I have brought home with me. Although I was sent to a yeshiva from kindergarten through third grade and learned how to read, write and speak Hebrew fluently, there was little religious practice when I came home. As an adult I married a Roman Catholic and we raised our two boys as interfaith. In Israel I was re-connected with the spiritual side of Judaism. Nuggets of gold like the daily blessing given to us by educator Nili Couzens - “May today be your best day ever, until tomorrow!” - and the bracelet we were given that reminds us to “See Good, Say Good” are now tools I can use daily. Thanks to the ongoing work of JInspire Manhattan I will see my 22 new “achoti” on a monthly basis throughout the next year for continued learning, Shabbat dinners and holiday parties that will involve our families.
More information can be found at momentumunlimited.org or email JInspire Manhattan directly at JInspiremanhattan@gmail.com.