Reconnecting with your true self


By Rachel Hulen

When I heard about the JWRP trip, it seemed like an easy decision.  Ten days in Israel, no kids or husband to watch over, no carpools to drive or work responsibilities, fabulous women to hang out with, and all I have to pay for is my plane ticket?  Yes!  But then I thought… ten days in Israel, without my kids and husband, missing work and carpools…how will they survive without me, who’s going to drive, how can I be away from work that long…OY!

Sometimes in life we just have to go for it.  We see that there is an opportunity before us that could be life changing that may not come around again and we just close our eyes and take a leap.  That is what I and nine other women from metro Detroit did this past October and we will never be the same.  Over ten days, we had more fun, emotion, connection, awakening, and inspiration than many of us have had over decades of our lives. And we did it in the most amazing place on earth.

Looking ahead at the JWRP itinerary, of course I saw many of the familiar tourist hits like Masada, the Dead Sea, the Kotel, tunnel tours, and Rachel’s Tomb. What I could not foresee was the inside track we would get to experience in all of these places and how connected I would feel to these sites on a personal level. I have never in my travels been to a more exotic place than Israel and yet I have never felt so comfortable and at home than I did there from the moment I arrived.

Among the most vibrant memories of the trip was Kaballat Shabbat on the Kotel.  Two hundred women on the trip from all over the US and Canada joined together beautifully dressed and excited to spend the Sabbath in Israel.  We sang and danced and welcomed Shabbat hand in hand. In the midst of our celebration, a group of female Israeli soldiers joined in our party and together we sang the songs of antiquity.  We were the same people. It had really been a long time since I experienced something on that level.  Usually I am looking around to see if my kids are ok, if my husband is having fun, and even thinking about what I need to get at the grocery store etc. It’s very hard to make that separation. But in that moment, I was experiencing it purely for myself and it was exhilarating. 

Throughout the trip there were other “big” moments but truly the little ones that stand out in my memory.  Late in the afternoon, skies clear, floating in the Dead Sea with the Detroit women virtually alone on the beach, giggling, covered in mud, and exfoliating with salt from the bottom of the sea.  Our morning ritual of coffee stops with fresh, still-warm chocolate rugelach.  Bus rides sitting with different women each time and sharing and learning about each other. Taking in the expanse of Jerusalem from atop Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial, and feeling the pride of a people that have survived and thrived. Digging into the best falafel sandwich ever made in one of the most religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem and playing Jewish geography with the table next to us.

Heading into the trip were all in different places on our “Jewish Journey.”  Many of us had a strong Jewish background but felt somewhat disconnected from Judaism in our daily life.  Others were quite observant and there were many in between.  We chose to focus on our similarities and they were vast.  We chose to be open. The heritage we have shared for more than 4000 years belongs to all of us equally.  At one point one of the speakers asked the less observant women to raise their hands if they felt judged by the observant community and many hands went up.  She then asked the same of the observant women in the room and just as many hands went up.  It was an eye-opening moment.  We are all the same people.

We all had personal moments of growth at different points on the trip and we were there for each other along the way.  Being in Jerusalem tends to stir things up. People had “stuff” they were carrying with them which was much heavier than the one 50 pound suitcase we were allowed to bring.  And even though some of us checked a second bag on the way back home (amazing shopping!), we all came back a little lighter.

We took away some big picture lessons from the trip as well.  The Jewish state is necessary and we must protect it.  Gossip is dangerous to everyone involved.  There is great value in modesty in life.  Leave judgment aside, give people the benefit of the doubt. Everything counts; it’s not all or nothing. Life is not a zero-sum game and the pot gets bigger every time you give. These are the gifts we will share with our family and friends and ultimately our Jewish community.

At the risk of offending my husband and kids, I can honestly say this was the best trip of my life.  If the purpose of a vacation is to rejuvenate, there is no better way than reconnecting with your true self. Not in some narcissistic self-involved way, but to come to know who you are in the realm of history, community, and family. To realize that there can be beauty and deity in everything we do. When I have the pleasure of seeing any of the nine women with whom I shared this unbelievable experience, they have a sense of “otherness” to me.  They were there.  They know.

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