A Religion Awakened, A Soul Revived by Karyn Hendricksen



Preparing for The Trip:

Thoughts of gratitude and fear fought each other like fire and water as my first journey to Israel grew near. The media display of growing tension, stabbings, and danger made me question my decision as well as inner spirit. Did this trip me that much to me to put myself in harms way? I am a wife of ten years to my husband, Russ; and mother to two young girls, Alexa, 8 and Stella, 5. Israel and Judaism were not passions of mine nor part of my daily life. So I thought. Hearing comments like, "this is the time to go to Israel", didn't strike a cord with me. I was not of of "those" people. "Those" people who stand up for a country when in need. I just didn't have the heart for Israel. And it especially wasn't something I was willing to give my life for. Having said that, anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not a quitter. I'm a team player. And I most definaltey do not let fear rule my life or make my decisions for me. My stubborn, determined, no fear soul grew determined to step on the plane, rain or shine. 

My Past:

Not to mislead you, I grew up as a typical Jewish girl in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. I attended Sunday school, Hebrew school, was Bat Mitzvah'ed and Confirmed. Growing up, 95% of my friends were Jewish.  It wasn't abnormal for me to have two or three Bar Mitzvahs on one weekend. My family attended services on the high holidays and my mom cooked all the Jewish delicacies.  After graduating college I made my way to Scottsdale, Arizona and again was surrounded with a tight Jewish community. My entire life, I had always had the freedom to celebrate my heritage and so, it became something I took for granted. In recent years, I grew skeptical of religion as a whole. I formed my own beliefs and spirituality which came in the form of regular yoga classes and reading self discovery books by non-Jewish authors. I continued to celebrate the traditions and occasional Shabbats for my children. My strongest pull towards keeping my faith was my grandfather who was a Holocaust Survivor. However, there was always something missing. I know now, it was gratitude for my birthright as a Jew. I never fully understood the significance and responsibility of my roots until I stepped foot on Israel ground. 

Stepping Foot on Israel Ground:

Heart racing and eyes a bit glossy after the long flight I finally arrived. Walking into the airport, I noticed the beauty of the decor but again, fear fought with joy. "Was the airport safe?" "Should I look over my shoulder?" "Whom can I trust?" A warm welcome from the JWRP leaders greeted us as we made our way to baggage claim. As we headed outside to put our things on the bus I couldn't help but notice a calm energy in the air. Calmness like sitting on the top of a mountain. Calmness like feeling a vortex in Sedona. Calmness like snuggling with my girls on a rainy day. Except, it was even more intense.  It captivated my core. It told fear to take a hike. It whispered in my ear that I was going to be ok and I could relax a bit. From that moment on, I let myself savor each and every moment.

The First Blissful Experience: 

Our first night in Tiberias set the stage for the entire eight days. We arrived at a restaurant that was surrounded by water. Decadent hummus, salmon and salad just the way I had imagined filled our plates while Israeli music echoed in the air. Following dinner, we danced like it was the last night of our lives. All the celebratory songs I had danced to in my past at my Bat Mitzvah and wedding like Havah Nigela played. Tears rolled down my face as I finally felt the relevance of where I was. Fireworks went off as the woman holding microphone told us how proud she was that we made it to Israel during this time of need. I was starting to "get it."

My Awakening:

The following days played out exactly like the first night. I was in a constant state of bliss whether we were attending a lecture, dining, or floating in The Dead Sea. The women I journeyed with which included one of my best friends and I will forever be bonded by this magical experience. During the lectures we spoke about "HP"or "higher power" moments.  My greatest "HP" moment was the realization that all my beliefs and spiritual ideas were based on the teachings of the Torah. My years of self-discovery and growth through books and other learning were meant to lead me to that exact moment.  In that moment, I was finally ready to embrace Judaism and share my passion for my new found passion with my family. My other very strong "HP" moment was witnessing the optimism of Israelis during a time that they certainly could've been somber. They continued to march the streets, smiling "living life to the fullest" regardless of the circumstance . To say this was inspiring would be an understatement. These people have full hearts and endless amount of appreciation. I was so fortunate to see Israel is it's true, raw form. 

My Return To Scottsdale:

I can only describe the feeling of returning home as I've felt after training for an athletic event for months and finishing. The overwhelming feeling of coming down from a high. The bouts of both happiness and sadness from a race well ran and the emptiness of what now? The day after I arrived home I ventured to Costco to get the weeks groceries. My shopping experience was anything but pleasurable. I made an effort to smile at as many people as I could and I got very little response. I felt disappointed for the first time in my life to be an American. I thought "we are so lucky to have the luxuries we do and we don't even realize it." Everyone appeared stressed, unhappy and rushed. I gently remind myself that before my voyage, I was in the same race. I acknowledged that we are all on our own journey and it starts with me. That there is beauty when we look for it.  My intention going forward is to keep Israel close to my heart, while being an example for my family, friends and community of what "chai" really means.

From the words of Mohandas Gandhi,"Be the Change You Want to See in the World."



Karyn Hendricksen is a 2015 Momentum Trip Participant

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