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.