Finding their Jewish mommy mojo

By
November 18, 2015 22:13




Western Wall

Women pray at the Western Wall. (photo credit: JWRP)

Sitting in a room with over 200 Jewish moms from around the world, I had a chance to see Israel and Judaism through their eyes. For many of these women, it was the first time they had been to the Jewish state, and it was inspiring to hear that even the current violence was not going to keep them away.

The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), together with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, brought the Momentum Program of Jewish mothers from around 20 countries to Israel for a free eight-day journey to find their connection to Judaism and the Land of Israel. The women had children under the age of 18 at home, and most were not religiously observant.

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HOW OFTEN are moms given a chance to go on a trip where they are not responsible for their kids or husbands and can just focus on themselves? Sounds like a dream trip, doesn’t it? With journal in hand, they tour, listen to lectures, visit army bases, learn about Judaism, visit historic sites and have lots of fun.

I had the pleasure of spending three days with them, which included workshops led by the entertaining and enlightening Adrienne Gold, an interactive halla-baking activity, a tour of Yad Vashem, a visit to Mount Herzl and joining them at their mega-closing event.

The stories I heard were inspiring and will give you a feel for why the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and the JWRP see these women as the connection to the next generation.

The mothers Cheryl – Las Vegas (mother of two) Cheryl is on her first trip to Israel and hopes to reconnect with her Judaism. She believes that “Jewish women have a role to perpetuate Judaism in their families and their communities” and as a Jewish mother she carries that responsibility.

When I asked Cheryl if she had second thoughts about the trip once violence broke out in Jerusalem, she said: “No, this is the place I need to be, at this time in my life.” Cheryl knows that she wants to bring her kids back to Israel to experience the history once they are old enough to appreciate it. Growing up in a Jewish community, she feels like she has “seen the pictures, sung the songs at Hebrew school – but this week I had the chance to absorb Israel.”

Dana – Denver (mother of three teens)

This trip is Dana’s second JWRP experience.

Having enjoyed the trip for herself a few years ago, she decided to come back as a group leader to ensure that the women stayed connected once they returned home. In fact, on the day she gets back to Denver, Dana is hosting an event for parents and their teenagers called “The Case for Israel.” During the StandWithUs sessions on the trip, she learned the skills necessary to be an Israel advocate in the Denver community.

Miriam – Ramat Hasharon (mother of three)
Each trip includes a group of local Israeli mothers, and Miriam was part of this group. She shared with me that she found the speakers inspirational and that she planned to incorporate the Jewish values discussed in the workshops into her daily life. For Miriam, the trip was not about religion, it was “about a group of mothers from a variety of Jewish backgrounds relating to each other with common values.”

The Mexican mothers – Mexico City The most inspiring story came from the group of women visiting from Mexico City. Their energy and love of life inspired all of the women around them. After a deep and emotional day visiting Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, they heard Cheryl Mandel speak about her son, Daniel, who was killed in battle in Nablus.

Inspired by Cheryl’s story and later getting to see the valuable work of the One Family Fund in Jerusalem, the women looked for a creative way to bring back their stories and experiences to the community in Mexico City. They decided they would like to help the One Family Fund by translating their bereaved mothers’ cookbook, A Taste For Life, into Spanish. The cookbook brings to life the tastes and memories of the children each mother lost to war or terror. The Spanish translation will be sold in Mexico City at an event that the JWRP delegation will host to support Israel.

Sarita – Athens, Greece (mother of two)

It was a real treat for me to meet Sarita, a mother of two girls. Dealing with a lot of anti-Semitism at home, she enjoyed finding a connection here in Israel, meeting people living here and seeing old friends who had made aliya. “I am more informed now about Israel,” said Sarita, “and I look forward to sharing that knowledge with my girls and even my Christian friends back home.”

Lara – Moscow (mother of two)
From the group of Russian mothers, I learned that although these women do share common roots, their diverse cultural backgrounds are obvious and each group came on the trip with its own perceptions or misperceptions of Israeli society.

I had a chance to speak to Lara, a mother from Moscow, who told me that on the first day, the Russian mothers weren’t sure how they could enjoy a trip with so much emotion, openness and even group dancing.

Culturally, she described herself and her group as more closed and skeptical.

This feeling was heightened when they realized they were going to visit an army base. “How could they socialize with soldiers?” Lara said, explaining their fear. “In Russia we do everything we can to avoid the army and keep our children out of the army.”

The Russian ladies decided among themselves that they would hand over their “care packages” and leave the base as quickly as possible. But when they arrived, they immediately felt the difference. They met soldiers who weren’t much older than their kids, and their fear melted away. They were surprised to meet two young Russian female soldiers who spoke to them in their native tongue; they bonded with them instantly.

The mothers begged their group leader to extend the trip at the base. As Lara explained, “We couldn’t help but kiss them, especially when we realized those kids could be ours.” This is a lasting impression that has changed the way they view the IDF. When asked to sum up her experience on the Momentum trip, Lara simply said: “I love this country.” This is the love she will be bringing back to her community in Moscow.

The program’s goal You can see by way of the personal experiences described in this article that these women will take back to their communities skills for Israel advocacy, love for Jewish values and amazing new friendships.

The Momentum Program’s goal is “to take mothers from all walks of life and offer them an opportunity to strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to Israel.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett affirms: “This is one of the ministry’s flagship programs, and a demonstration of the government’s commitment to Diaspora Jewry.”

My wish is that these women return home, share their experiences with their families and come back soon – together with their spouses and children – to enjoy some fun here in Jerusalem. •

The writer, founder of Fun In Jerusalem (www.funinjerusalem.com), lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three kids and loves to inspire family activities;
joanna@funinjerusalem.com


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