My Momentum Trip Experience: An Israeli’s Perspective by Judi Horowitz

Hi Chevra,

It's been exactly three weeks since my July JWRP Momentum trip finished. I was privileged to be selected to join this trip as part of the Israeli team, our group being from the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. So, I've had what the girls like to call 'time to process.' It was, indeed, an extremely jam-packed, inspiring, emotional, and unique trip; and I'd like to relay to you what this trip meant to me as an Israeli participant.

I realized early on that the goals of this trip were three-fold: empowering women, bringing us closer to Judaism, and learning about the Land of Israel. This was very clear to me because every word that was spoken during the lectures, every site we visited, every aspect of those eight days was finely-tuned to this agenda, and boy, was it powerful. All the lecturers were not only riveting, but thought-provoking. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, wanting to hear more and more about Jewish values and how to become a better person. Some lecture themes included chesed, tzedaka and compassion. Every word touched my intellect and my soul. These lectures, accompanied by the amazing tours around Israel with outstanding guides, left me in a state that I can only describe as feeling FULL. Akin to feeling totally enveloped, with a desire to digest and internalize. So much was said, so much was seen and experienced, and all of it was so REAL, tangible.

Let me elaborate on the REAL part. As an American who came to Israel at age 18, and never went home, I am now considered an Israeli. I recently celebrated 30 years living in this country, so I've got the being Israeli thing down pat. I've been all around the country many times, married an Israeli, and we are raising my children here, whom are doing army service. I have built my life here. But, the JWRP trip helped me take a step back and look at it all in a new light. I saw, through my newly-made Florida friends' eyes, all that I had already experienced, but new again. What these women experienced, some of them first time in Israel , connecting to their Judaism, was for me so pure, innocent, and true. The newness, the first-time experiences, the connections with Judaism, it all affected me together with them. Even though I'm Israeli, I was somehow seeing these things for the first time, also. I was seeing them differently, through different eyes. I thank the JWRP directors and sponsors for having the wisdom to bring Israelis onto these trips, because I am so grateful for what I experienced. Feeling this gratitude, I did my best to be a source of advice and information for my new American friends, and to give back a little.

Lori Palatnik kept saying that expressing what we went through on this trip to family and friends afterwards would be difficult. For sure! How can I possibly relay to you how the concepts of Jewish values, the importance of the Land of Israel, as women, all felt so tangible and "REAL?" It is, indeed, hard to describe, how ideas and concepts come alive. They made me feel alive, buzzing with spirituality, tingling with gratitude, and thankfulness that I live in this strong Jewish country, able to express my Judaism in our own Land. All I know is that those feelings were so genuine and authentic. Now, even three weeks later, I am still glowing with excitement and sensitivity.

I hope I was able to express, using inadequate written words, what the JWRP trip really meant to me.    


Judi Horowitz is a 2016 Momentum Trip participant.

My Momentum Trip Experience: Before and After by Diane Scherer

In this special two-part article, 2016 Momentum Trip participant Diane Scherer describes her expectations leading up to her JWRP trip, and the impact it had on her. 

Part One – "Where is the Lobster in Tiberias and What Can We DO In Israel on Shabbat?"  Exploring the Jewish Me and the Jewish Organizational Employee

I am a Jewish Women; a Jewish Mom to a 5 year old girl and 2 year old boy; a liberal, feminist leaning wife to a Jewish husband; and a very passionate and committed not shomer Shabbat nor OU kosher-eating Jew, who is extremely excited and grateful for the JWRP trip to Israel.   As I think about traditions received from my grandparents, and what I want to pass along to my children, I could never imagine being born into or practicing any other religion.  This all stems from how I was brought up, which then lead me to my first trip to Israel in 1997 on Alexander Muss High School in Israel.  Fast forward to 2003, when I made a career switch from finance to Jewish non-profit, and then traveled to Israel 8 more times after 1997 through today, although never on a trip like JWRP to explore my Jewish-self as a mom, wife, individual.  I have been a professional in various Jewish organizations for 12 years.  I am currently a fundraiser for an organization that supports Israel.

My individual Jewish self and my professional Jewish self complement each other but also confuse each other.  

As I prepare for my JWRP trip to depart on July 24th, 2016, I am also planning the itinerary for a trip to Israel targeting the donor base with whom I work.  The JWRP trip and the work trip are extremely different in mission and purpose so there is no use to compare the trips except for the intersect and questioning of my observance level as a Jewish individual compared to Jewish professional. Recently, my Chairperson asked me to find out about a lobster restaurant she recalls going to in Tiberias during her last Israel trip (I actually had no idea that Israel even farmed or imported lobster). The Chairperson also asked me which Israeli cities to stay in during Shabbat if they want to shop, tour, or do anything that is open for business hours.  She has no interest in participating in anything religious in Israel.

I often ask myself what the most appropriate amount of observance is for me and my family, hence my continued involvement in the Gardens Jewish Experience and my desire to take the JWRP trip to Israel.  I also cant help but ask myself if the donors with whom I work , who support Israel’s existence in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year, are any less or more Jewish than the ultra-orthodox, or anywhere in between Jew.

Studies have shown that the more secular one is, the greater chances are of inter-marriage in the future generations of the family.  On the other hand, should this matter? After all, many secular, lobster-eating and/or inter-married Jews are good people, living with high values, and donating millions of dollars to Israel (as well as domestic Jewish organizations).  

When my Chair asked me about Lobster in Israel and basically not keeping Shabbat, I was slightly judging her connection to Judaism.  However, who am I to judge if I am not sure of what my own observance level should be, while simultaneously this donor and her social circle commit hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to Israel.  What is the connection between religiousness and Zionism?  

I am very much looking forward to the JWRP trip for me personally; as a mom and wife, and I thank JWRP and Bruchy and Rabbi Moshe Cheplowitz of Gardens Jewish Experience in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.  I recognize that Jewish customs and values passed along to my children are connected to practice, yet I sometimes wonder if I don’t have to be that observant because I work on behalf of Israel and Jews for 8+ hours a day.  Is that enough?  And, for my even more secular donors, is giving large donations to Israel enough?

I am exploring how observant my family should be. I haven’t ever tried lobster in my life, and I do love observing Shabbat in Israel, even if I am not shomer Shabbat when not in Israel.  Does it matter if my donor’s want to eat lobster in Israel, and how does my professional-self influence my personal- self as it relates to Jewish identity?  I imagine that the JWRP trip will help me clarify some of these issues. 

Part Two: Leaning Into Jewish Feminism: 5 Years Ago and 5 Days Ago

I am a Jewish woman, wife to an amazing husband and mother to a 5 year old girl and 2 year old boy.  For the past 12 years, I have been working full-time in a variety of Jewish organizations so I thought that I was pretty competent in my knowledge about the intersect of 21st century feminism with the mitzvoth of a Jewish woman.  During the past 5 days I have been questioning many of my pre-conceived notions and well, this is scary and overwhelming.   My brain is on over-load to say the least.

5 days ago I was approaching the last days on the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Momentum; an 8 day trip to Israel with 200 other Jewish moms from around the world. Even though this trip was my 10th time to Israel, it was un-like any other Israel trip I have been on before; it was life-changing and probably the most important thing I could do as a Jewish mom and wife. The JWRP trip opened my eyes to many new perspectives on 21st century Jewish feminism; culminating in inspiration alongside confusion.   

5 years ago I was returning to the workforce after my maternity leave with my then 4 month old baby girl, who is now 5 and ½ years old.  Returning to the workforce with my eyes set on upward career mobility, I read the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. It was very inspiration; every page I deeply identified with. I finished the book in 24 hours, ready to conquer the balance of being a mom and a career woman.  I was inspired by Sandberg’s writings focused on leaning in as a woman to one’s career.  After all, women should have the same opportunities as men as we have as much leadership, intelligence and perseverance as men. And, the cherry on top is that Sheryl Sandberg is Jewish, so to me she was extra relatable. With this new role of being a mom and continuing to set my eyes on becoming a CEO or other high level professional, I dove right in.

However, 5 days ago culminated in questioning.  Have I been diving in too much to my career and not enough to being a proud Jewish mom and wife?  Obviously, I love my children and husband more than anything, but sometimes my acts don’t demonstrate this. So, some major guilt surfaced.  Have I been so focused on my career that I am not giving enough attention to my husband, children, and my own Judaism? Have I been running around so busy, that I have neglected tangibly showing my faith in Gd and demonstrating Judaism in my home?   5 years ago through 5 days ago, I only baked a challah with my own two hands twice and I only kept Halachic Shabbat when in Israel.  But, how could I find the time to make a complete Shabbat dinner, with challah and all, when I am working outside the home all week?  And, why do women have to do it all; have the career and take care of the home?  Can’t my husband cook sometimes I often asked myself. My husband didn’t care so much about having Shabbat so for the past many years, I told myself that it was ok for me not to try too hard because he didn’t care anyway.  While I knew deep down not to believe this, I didn’t focus on changing it.  After the JWRP trip, now I want to try to. And, I will try to do so, not by nagging him, but by me taking the lead in just making Shabbat dinner, and doing so in a fun manner by giving him and my children their favorite things.  One such way, albeit a small example, is buying Kedem grape juice.  I always have kosher wine at my house, but never grape juice.  In my mind, it’s very sugary and not necessary.  Yet, when we go to a community sponsored or friend’s Shabbat dinner and my daughter has it, she loves it.  So, I told myself that one small step to take is to buy the grape juice for Shabbat at our home so that she gets excited.  One time a week won’t be detrimental.

When it comes to Jewish practice, I believe(d) that there is a correlation between following what “Lean In” preached with what sort of Judaism I practiced.  Being that I work in the Jewish community and have been to Israel 10 times, I know a good amount when it comes to practicing traditional Judaism.  I have learned even more by getting involved in my local community- Gardens Jewish Experience.  Yet, I chose not to follow a lot of it because how could a woman “Lean In” to career and life when it seemed to me, that traditional Judaism deemed women as 2nd class as compared to men.  Not being counted in a minyan, not being able to read Torah, having a smaller roped off section in the shul, not being allowed to be ordained as a Rabbi, using the Mikvah to “cleanse” a woman; all of it seemed against what I believed in. JWRP framed the experiences and mitzvoth of a woman as very special; not what a woman is NOT, but what a woman IS.

I have had countless conversations with the Rabbi and Rebetzin in my community about the need for different streams of Judaism- Reform to Orthodox and everything in between.  Why?  Because if someone doesn’t identify with Orthodox practice, if there is a Reform option, at least they are doing something Jewish rather than nothing. The entire JWRP trip- from lectures to experiences, to the tour guides’ commentary about the connection of Torah to the land of Israel, I have now really started to think about what various forms of Judaism means for the perpetuation of Judaism into the future; is it good to have the many streams of Judaism we have in America- does that help or confuse people and the larger Jewish community?.  5 years ago, I thought it was absolutely OK and applauded to have various religious streams; 5 days ago, I really started questioning this.  In one of Lori Palatnik’s lectures, she mentioned that we are not hypocrites if we endorse traditional Judaism but don’t personally follow all of the Halakha.  I appreciate this commentary immensely but it is hard for me to fully grasp.  If I endorse Traditional Judaism but know that I am not following everything, am I being judged negatively in the eyes of God.  This is a scary notion. Perhaps one identifies with Reform Judaism because if one doesn’t follow everything, they have an “out” by saying Reform Judaism doesn’t believe in that.  After all, it is very scary to think that Gd is judging based on a set of Halachic standards.

Now that I am home from the JWRP experience, my pre-conceived notions have changed.  I will still “Lean In” and do my best in my career because I believe in it so much and I do like to work outside of the home (at least for now), but I will also be more mindful of attaining pride with being a better Jewish mother, wife and Jewish community member. By “Leaning In” so much, I wanted to be equal with a male in career aspirations and Jewish practice.  JWRP has taught me that a career can be attainable, but there are certain traits, qualities and traditional customs that are unique to a Jewish woman to be proud of. I will aim to make more time for learning about women-oriented mitzvoth and practicing.  I also realize that it’s not only about me, but it’s about modeling for my own daughter.  I want her to have all the options that a male has in career, but I might also want her to be educated on what the purpose of the mikvah is, as one Jewish example.

All of this comes down to my spiritual connection- learning that there is something larger than the material mundane life.  In my quest to be perfect- as a career woman, community leader, mother and wife- I have always been so hard on myself; rarely saying no to requests from others and wanting to give 110% in everything, often to the point of inducing stress. I often feel like the world is resting on my shoulders.  If I become more connected to Gd, via moving to daily Jewish practice through small steps, perhaps I will find less stress in myself and my home by knowing that I cannot control the world with perfection- there is a larger force controlling the world.   

Crónica del viaje Inspiracional a Israel by Gisela Berry

El viaje que acabamos de hacer a Israel nuestro grupo de 20 mujeres ha sido una experiencia difícil de transmitir en palabras, llena de inspiración. La energía, fuerza y magia que genera estar tantos días entre mujeres de distintas partes del mundo, compartiendo desde lo más profundo de nosotras es algo que llena el alma y produce el orgullo de la identidad femenina. Si a esto le agregamos nuestros judaísmo e identificación con el pueblo de Israel, podemos hablar de experiencias cercanas a la sintonía y hermandad.

Recuerdo nuestra visita a la mikveh de Tsfat, donde pudimos recrear y conectarnos con nuestra herencia femenina, rituales que tantas mujeres han preservado hasta hoy y que forman parte de la sabiduría de la Torah. Caminar por aquel mercado de Tsfat, lleno de rinconcitos y sentir que cualquier vitrina o producto ofrecido, forma parte de nuestra identidad y tradiciones…es un recordarnos constante quiénes somos y de dónde venimos.

Ver aquellas madres que hablaron en Iom Hazicaron y cantaron por sus hijos fallecidos en las guerras, sentir su dolor como propio y el agradecimiento de que por el mérito de esos jóvenes la tierra de Israel sigue existiendo y cobijando a todos aquellos que la requieran. Al día siguiente celebrar Iom Hazmaut, con toda la alegría que implica que se generó nuestro Estado de Israel. Aquellas madres que lloraban el día anterior, bailaban con nosotras en la Fiesta de Iom Hazmaut, lo cual es una metáfora de la fuerza de nuestro pueblo y el sentido de la vida sobre la muerte. Es un baile de agradecimiento mudo a aquellos hijos que dieron su vida por un sentido que los trascendía y el bailar por la alegría de poseer la tierra, es un homenaje a su entrega. Estar en el Parlamento escuchando las palabras de Ben Gurión ese mismo día es una experiencia muy emocionante, es un lujo y más aún el subir al estrado y cantar el Atikva.

El compartir charlas de Lori y otras personas, todas ellas llenas de sabiduría y ganas de entregárnosla. Temas que nos atañen, sobre el matrimonio, el ser madres, nuestro rol en el shabbat y tantos más, que nos dejaron pensando, cuestionando, llorando o con ganas de profundizar más en cada una de nosotras. Tantas risas, tanta complicidad, tanta empatía y contención entre todas nosotras. Salidas a comer, a comprar, conversaciones en las caminatas y los traslados en el bus. Cada una con su misterio, con sus complejidades, sus dolores acarreados, sus esperanzas y su búsqueda personal del sentido de su vida.

Nuestra caminata por Massada con el calor abrasador del desierto que nos revela en una mínima expresión, lo que deben haber sentido nuestros hermanos cuando huyeron de Egipto y el milagro de haber vivido en este desierto durante 40 años. Luego refrescarnos en el Mar Muerto y darnos nuestro tratamiento de barro con fotos incluidas para compartir con nuestros hijos que habían estado compartiendo el mismo barro con sus amigos Después subirnos a los camellos y reírnos como niñas, disfrazadas con turbante como beduinas, escuchando los tambores y rememorando la vida en las carpas de nuestros ancestros.

Nuestro encuentro con el Kotel fue una vivencia de una intensidad y conexión interior con H-shem que removió todo nuestro corazón y nuestro ser. Las lágrimas brotaban fluidamente, lágrimas de emoción, alegría, pesar, penas guardadas, agradecimiento, esperanza…Muro de los lamentos, lamentos que nos humanizan, que nos hacen iguales, humildes y que nos conectan con nuestra Emuna y la de todos aquellos que nos precedieron. Aquella sonrisa que dimos y recibimos de nuestras compañeras ene ese momento, aquel cariño en la espalda, aquella mano y abrazo que brotó en una sintonía sin palabras que decía: D-s te oiga y nos oiga, nos perdone, nos escuche, reciba nuestro agradecimiento para merecer su misericordia y sabiduría.

Nuestra Havdalá en el Ätico de la Sinagoga de Aish, donde vimos el atardecer con la bendición de mirar a Yerushalaim y luego nuestro baile, nuestras rondas y cantos al lado del Kotel, donde cualquier mujer o niña que estaba por ahí se unía, porque el baile y canciones judaicas son universales, nos unen a todas, da igual de dónde venimos. Aquellas golondrinas que hacían su propia ronda en el cielo que nos deleitaban con su magia y que como nos contó nuestra Rivka, “dicen que son las neshamot”, tanta magia en su canto y vuelo, tal como nuestras almas que estaban libres y conectadas, sin ataduras materiales, sólo agradecidas de estar en un estado místico y cerca de H-shem. 

Recuerdo la preparación para nuestro Shabbat, dejar nuestros teléfonos para recordarnos que podemos mirarnos a los ojos y priorizar nuestros vínculos más allá de la tecnología, ojalá podamos también guardar la vivencia de trenzar juntas jalot, que sus trenzas, nos recuerden nuestra unión, la fuerza de estar en contacto, la magia de ser mujeres. La pareja que nos abrió su hogar para compartir un hermoso y cálido almuerzo de shabbat.

Aquella visita a los jayalim, soldados niños, jóvenes llenos de valentía y convicción, era muy removedor hablar con ellos, era como estar con nuestros hijos adolescentes, pero disfrazados de grandes, ellos protegiéndote, cuán chicas nos podemos sentir frente a estos jóvenes que nos agradecían nuestra visita con humildad y cariño, no entendiendo el nivel de heroísmo que encarnan para seres como nosotros que vivimos en nuestra zona de confort. Luego Yad Vashem, aquel museo del horror que sufrió nuestro pueblo y que nos lleva a conectarnos con nuestra responsabilidad de estar vivos y ser judíos.

Cuánto removieron los cuestionamientos de nuestra identidad de mujeres judías, en relación a nuestro aporte y entrega en la sociedad, al recibir inspiración de ver mujeres como nuestra guía Ilana, joven llena de sabiduría y aquella joven de 27 años que generó un cambio mayor en Sudáfrica, desde una idea de ayudar con agua limpia a las aldeas. Además nuestra visita a Susan House, donde rehabilitan a jóvenes drogadictos, a partir de la idea y necesidad de trascender de Susan antes de morirse, a través de su acto de bondad, de entregarles Arte y darles un sentido de creatividad y esperanza a la vida de estos jóvenes.

Finalmente recuerdo la entrega de los sidurim por nuestras queridas city leaders, esperemos que podamos pedir y llorar si lo necesitamos en sus páginas. Queridas amigas, compañeras de ruta y en este momento hermanas de experiencias espirituales, les agradezco a cada una ser parte de esta experiencia. Agradezco también a nuestras madrijot, mujeres preocupadas por salir a entregarse más allá de sí mismas. Espero logremos mantener en actos y comunicación este tesoro que recibimos de la vida y D-s. Tratemos de acercarnos a nuestra creatividad, a nuestras ideas dormidas y así acercarnos a comprender nuestra misión en esta vida…



Gisela Berry is a 2016 Momentum Trip Participant 

Some Things Are Just Beyond Our Understanding by Eve Levy (Intro by Lori)

Dear JWRP Chevra:

It was an incredible week in Israel. While 400 people, including JWRP board members, supporters and team professionals, danced at the wedding of our son Moshe and Nili Couzens’s daughter Esti, 200 JWRP women were dancing at Decks!

And, if that weren't enough, 200 more women were in the air heading to Israel!

I was deeply struck and inspired that our project has truly turned into a movement. Our expanded team is so strong and committed that, even with key team members at a wedding, the trips happen with barely a hitch.

Additional thanks to our tour operator, GoInspire, whose staff on the ground always goes above and beyond to make it all happen.

Thank you to all who came to the wedding and to those who sent mazal tov greetings to the Palatnik and Couzens families. Our simcha is your simcha, and all of your love and support made it exponentially greater.

Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom.



Hi Chevra,

I’ve found myself avoiding the news lately. It’s not that I don’t care about what’s going on in the world. It’s just that I cannot take so much bad news. My heart breaks day in and day out. People suffering loss and pain in Israel, in the United States, and in just about every corner of the world. And, little me, I just don’t get it. Why so much hatred? Things seem to be spiraling out of control. I feel so helpless!

During my first pregnancy, I was shopping in the Geula neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and I felt the urge to buy the materials to create a tapestry. I don’t know what came over me at that moment. I was only 21 years old. The only person I had ever seen working on a tapestry was my grandmother. I guess I was overcome at that moment with that nesting urge pregnant women tend to get, or maybe it was a spell of homesickness.

Anyway, I bought the tapestry kit and, from time to time, I would take it out and go into "Bubby mode," sitting on the couch sipping tea and completing a few lines of stitches. Then I would put it aside and forget about it for months. Fourteen years later and the project still remains incomplete, something my husband still teases me about. I am adamant I will complete it one day … when I find the time.

The picture on the tapestry is the traditional image of Kever Rochel (the tomb of the matriarch Rachel), and it’s a nice picture, with a little domed building, a tree leaning over it, blue skies, and green grass. Holy. Peaceful. Perfect.

But, one the underside of the picture is a mess! It’s all full of jumbled knots and threads, colors, and snags. You cannot make out the picture at all from the underside of the tapistry. It seems complete disorganized.

This tapestry has become much more to me than a piece of mere fabric and yarn. It is a parable for how I view life. We don’t understand why things seem to be happening around us. We look at the world and see confusion, mess and dysfunction.

But, G-d from above sees the complete picture. He sees the beginning and the end. He knows why things are happening and only He sees the outcome. He sees beauty. It all makes sense to G-d.

Open up this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Chukas, and you will be astonished. In a nutshell, G-d speaks to Moses and Aaron, commanding them to take a para adumma (a red cow), without a blemish, that has never had a yoke on it, bring it to the Kohein (priest), who takes it out of the camp to have it slaughtered in his presence. The Kohein then takes some of the cow's blood with his forefinger and sprinkles it in a certain direction seven times, then the entire cow is burned, together with some highly uncommon household items items: cedar wood, hyssop and crimson thread. The ashes from this burining are kept in a safe place for the purification of the Jewish people.

Our Sages describe the laws of the red cow as the quintessential mitzvot that are referred to as chukim (laws of the Torah that are beyond human understanding). All 613 mitzvot are divided into two categories: chukim and mishpatim, those beyond our comprehension, at least for the time being, and those we can understand. (A third category, eidut, testimony, includes things like hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah; these mitzvot can also be divided in the chukim and mishpatim.)

It may feel frustrating to not be able to understand everything we are commanded to do. Along the way G-d has given us some bits of understanding, some glimpses into His deeper meanings, called ta’amei hamitzvot (tastes of sweetness for doing G-d’s mitzvot). But the underlying message is that G-d is the Infinite and Supreme Intelligence, and He has bestowed many spiritual and intellectual gifts to mankind, but still we are limited in our understanding. The Midrash writes that just because we do not understand G-d’s ways, does not mean we have the right to question them. Rabbi Elie Munk writes (in "The Call of the Torah"), "In other words, an essential component of wisdom is the knowledge that man’s failure to understand truth does not make it untrue."

Some things are just beyond our comprehension. I hold onto a beautiful passage written in the Shir Hama’alot written by King David (Psalms), and I repeat this saying to myself like a mantra: "Oz yimolay s’chok pinu ulshonaynu rinoh (One day, our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongue will be be full of praise).” One day, we will understand things. One day, it will all make sense to us. Pieces will come together like a puzzle. Everything will be clear – the good and the bad – and we will be filled with such clarity, joy and understanding. One day… .

One day, I will complete my tapestry of Kever Rochel and I will frame it and proudly hang it in my home. It will be beautiful and complete for all to see. No one will ever see the mess on the back of it. All we will see is the beauty of the completed labor of love.


Eve Levy is a JWRP City Leader from Portland, Oregon.

Shabbat in Israel (by Ron Bruck)

The entire trip was magnificent and each day had its own special moments. But, how do you pick what was more amazing? Was it Charlie's motivational talks? Was it the Israeli Advocacy presentation by Zev Ben Schachar or listening to Tamir Goodman? Was it the walk through the Old City or visiting the Western Wall? Was it watching some of our group get bar mitzvah'd at Masada or swimming in the Dead Sea? Was it the intimate time we spent with the Looks for Shabbos lunch or sharing our third meal and havdala with the soldiers at the Claman's? Was it visiting Yad Vashem or spending Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel?


For me, the most touching moments were during Friday night Shabbos, listening to the religious electric guitarist (as music fills my soul) and then Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel.  As Charlie lost control of the service and the entire group began dancing and shouting "Am Yisrael Chai", the energy level was crazy HIGH and you could feel the true joy of everyone at the Kotel, as hundreds of other visitors joined our dance and the shouting got even louder.  


Listening to the speakers, I always tried to take away one thing that could help me improve myself and my relationships. There were many takeaways, but the thing that resonated with me most was Charlie's "Art of the Crossover" speech and being "All In." Fortunately for me, our WiFi on the bus was not working and I had NO data plan. So, I was forced to be all in all the time, whether the tour guide was speaking, whether I was learning in a class, or from one of our speakers or talking to others in our group. So, I learned to disconnect (electronically) for most of the trip. And, I'm committed to taking this "All In" attitude home with me. And, by home, I mean both back to the USA and specifically to my own home, so that I'm a better listener to my wife, Karyn, and our children. 


This trip has additional meaning, as our younger daughter will be leaving for a 3 week trip to Israel around 20 hours after I arrive home. After my maiden voyage to Israel, I'll now be able to understand and discuss her trip at a much more meaningful level. 


Thank you to JWRP for this AMAZING OPPORTUNITY!

A Day of Highs and Lows (by Joel Evans)

I knew today was going to be emotional. We were starting the day at Yad Vashem – the Holocaust memorial. If you haven't been, make sure to allocate at least a half day. It's an experience that every Jewish person needs to go through. The memorial is crafted in such a way as to take the visitor through the experience of having freedom and then having everything that you have worked hard for taken away. It's dark with just enough light to take in the exhibits, with the only outside light coming from high above. This is done intentionally to take you through the entire journey from persecution to death and then rebirth. To say it was an emotional journey for me would be an understatement. My experience was combined with the tour guide, videos, items to read, and my own deep thoughts. It was incredibly moving … and surprisingly inspiring. Instead of giving up and letting the Nazis win, the Jews fought back and made today possible. I knew the story of the Holocaust but today, I really felt the emotional ties to it.

Later in the evening, we ventured back to the Kotel for Shabbat. The Kotel came alive on Friday evening. Jews of all different levels of belief filled the courtyard, like a sea of Jews, praying and dancing together. It was an amazing sight to see. My heart filled with pride and exhilaration as soldiers, visitors, and Israelis of all different levels of faith sang, prayed and celebrated the coming of the Sabbath and our freedom. I bounced in and out of different groups of not only people from our men's trip, but complete strangers, all singing and dancing.

The truly amazing thing about the whole day, though, was that we could start with such a low and end on such an incredible high. Israel truly is a land for the Jewish people and this is the emotional and spiritual journey of a lifetime.

The Spirit of Masada (by Joel Evans)

Today, I experienced what being part of a true team is all about. It started with us climbing Masada. Yes, we actually CLIMBED Masada. The guides gave us an option of climbing or taking the cable car. I had been walking about 30 minutes each morning for the last couple of months in preparation so I proudly raised my hand to identify myself as one of the climbers. As a show of solidarity for the team, my friend Naveh Levy, who was worried about shin splints from too much running, also gave in and agreed to climb. It was already after 8am, so we knew it was going to be hot. However, hot didn't begin to explain the temperature. Each one of the steps, which are actually not true steps and are instead carved into the mountain, felt like a mile. As we climbed higher, it got hotter. Even with plenty of water stops, I still didn't seem refreshed. As I continued my ascent up the mountain, I kept thinking, 'I can't believe my ancestors would be outside doing a lot more than just climbing in this heat.' That connection and thought process allowed me to continue to push myself. That, and the fact that my team was both ahead and behind me on the climb. When I reached the top after approximately an hour, no words can explain the feeling of accomplishment. I then heard the sounds of a bar mitzvah, as many in our group were getting bar mitzvah' d on the top of the mountain.

Climbing Masada had so much significance, I can't even explain them all. The most obvious one is that you can do what you set out to accomplish. The other one is the main message of Masada – live free or die. And the third, is that it's all about teamwork. Climbing, praying, rediscovering your spirituality — all of it rang true yesterday.

An Enormity of Emotions (by Steve Mendel)

It is natural to think how difficult it would be visiting Yad Vashem. Transported into time and place to bear witness ourselves to the horrors of the Holocaust. How does a person survive such atrocities?  Transform themselves from the depths of humanity to the greatness. How does the switch really occur? 

Is it in the answer I heard in one of the survivors statements…. 'If I didn't smile I would be crying all day'? Perhaps. Is it in the silence of the memorial where I recited Kaddish? Perhaps. Is it in the small birdsong I heard singing outside the children's memorial, reminding me of the children's voices? Perhaps. It must be this and so much more. 

An enormity of emotions surge through me. Electrifying lows and soaring highs. Learning to live in the balance is life! As we go into Shabbat here in Jerusalem, the city is wishing us all Shabbat Shalom! 

First Day in Israel (by Joel Evans)

Growing up Jewish and in a predominantly Jewish town, people have always been surprised to hear that I have never been to Israel.  When my wife first approached me about going to Israel on the men's trip, I was interested but not overwhelmed with a desire to go. I had always thought that Israel would be a great place to visit, but it has never been on my bucket list. 

Having never been to Israel before, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed emotionally upon arrival. Surrounded by Hebrew signs and Jewish people everywhere I looked was something I knew I would see, but was not ready for what I experienced emotionally. We started before the trip by having dinner on the beach in tel aviv. It was at that moment that I felt 'home', as my friend and travel mate brad Walter said. A true sense of belonging knowing that everyone around me was similar to me culturally. 

The next day the trip officially started. We arrived at the airport and were greeted by Jews from all over–over 100 men. Some were wearing yalmukas, some black hats. All different levels of observance but all the same: Jewish. 

We then went to meet soldiers at the army base. It's amazing to see that the people guarding and protecting Israel are 18-21 years old. We brought them gifts, shared stories and a meal and it was an incredibly moving experience. To see what they have sacrificed to keep our holy land safe is beyond words. One soldier in particular was born in Israel but then moved to Maryland. She came back to serve. She mentioned that her friends in America don't understand. It's clear that in Israel it's a right of passage to serve in the army, while at that age Americans are messing around and trying to figure out what to do with their life, Israeli teenagers serve and protect their country. 

We were then treated to a class by Charlie Harary.  His main message is that life is awesome. Don't blame, don't complain. Just enjoy life. Incredible messages to live by. 

We then finished the night hanging out with our new found friends from Palm Beach, whose wives are also going on the women's trip this year.  Amazing. 

There's too much being experienced daily already, but I wanted to share just a couple of moments of time that are already transforming me on this trip. 

The Trip of a Lifetime (by Joel Evans)

I have been expecting to have some transformative experiences in Israel. Well, today, they hit in succession. We started with a tour of the old city. It was incredible to walk through an area completely dedicated to the Jewish people and so rich with history and tradition. We then we sat with yeshiva rabbis and were grouped with other tour members. This experience was enlightening, since each member of the group shared their Jewish upbringing. Our yeshiva representative was Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht, educational director, and he guided our discussion of Judaism effortlessly. He gave us all something to think about, with a story of how three students from three different faiths all thought that the most important verse in the bible is 'love thy neighbor as thy self.' This sparked a conversation about love, and how love goes beyond just being romantic, and how it's about values, and how the Ten Commandments themselves are values. It was really enjoyable seeing where they study and interacting in a discussion around the Torah.

Next, we were led into a meeting room for a class with Charlie where we focused on a number of things that challenge us. What hit home for me first was the meeting room. All of the sudden I was facing a window that overlooked the western wall. I started to get emotional and then really tapped into my inner feelings during Charlie's presentation, which focused on what you could say to someone in 30 seconds that could change their life. Charlie mentioned that many men (and women) have trouble sharing their feelings with the ones they love. Charlie used examples from people who died on september 11th to help illustrate his points. In general the message was, don't prepare the speech, just tell someone you love them, or are proud of them. As my friend and fellow group member, Greg Pezza, said 'Charlie brings it all together. He tailors his talk to the day and inspires you and gets you to think.'  In this case, Charlie was preparing us for our trip to the western wall.

After Charlie's class, we walked out to the wall. I was expecting to have some feelings but what took me off guard was how emotional I felt when approaching the wall. When I finally rested my body against the wall and placed my note in, emotions of all types flowed. No longer caring how I would be perceived, my head filled with thoughts of my family, loved ones that have passed, and more, and I found myself talking to God in a way I had not in years. I then noticed that others around me were also breaking down and speaking to God in between tears. My words can't express how overcome with emotion I felt. Like the mikvah experience, I believe I experienced true spiritual cleansing and an immediate reprioritizing on what's important in my life.

We wrapped our day with more walking around the old city, and then Jerusalem, and even had a chance to meet with and talk to the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat.

Our day ended with activities set up for just our group by our group leader, Raphie Shochet. These included a presentation by Yossi Fraenkel from Zaka Search and Rescue. Yossi took us through what his amazing organization does as first responders, and how they're dedicated volunteers providing search, rescue and recovery services to anyone in need. We then wrapped up with a family friend of Raphie's, who converted to Judaism and became a Rabbi after having already been a priest. Again, another incredible, thought-provoking lecture.

Tomorrow is Masada and the Dead Sea. It's truly incredible how this trip is changing me. It's definitely the trip of a lifetime.