This November, I had the great honor of leading 15 Louisville women on the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) MOMentum Trip to Israel. The mission of JWRP is “to empower women to change the world through Jewish values that transform ourselves, our families, and our communities.”
The trip was heavily subsidized by JWRP’s donor base, the Israeli Government, The Jewish Foundation of Louisville, The Kling Hadassah Fund, The Stuart Pressma Fund, The Stacy Marks Nisenbaum Fund and the Jewish Federation of Louisville.
I could write for days about the unique experiences we shared and the things we learned about Israel, our people, our faith, ourselves and one another. Instead, I’d like you to hear directly from these incredible women who have indeed been empowered and will absolutely have a positive impact on our community for years to come.
“I was surprised by (and very grateful for) the emotional intensity of this trip. It could have been the dynamics of our incredible group of moms or the spirituality of the places we visited or both. I didn’t feel like I arrived in Israel broken, but I do feel like I returned home healed.” – Jessica Springer
“I wasn’t raised in a religious home. I went to Sunday School, spent a lot of time at the JCC when I was young and was involved with BBYO for a few years. During high school and college, I experienced some discrimination when people learned I was Jewish. As a result, I kept my religion a secret out of fear slowly shied away from it altogether.
“I have always believed in G-d, but labeled myself ‘not very Jewish’ or ‘Just Jewish.’ I went on this trip because I needed a way to reconnect to my Judaism. I have never felt as connected to Hashem as I did in Israel, and I absolutely feel a beautiful connection to Judaism that I never really had before.
“I get emotional every time I tell people about my experience. When I returned from Israel, for the first time ever in my home, we celebrated Shabbat. My children loved it! I feel so blessed to have been selected to join 15 amazing women on this life-changing journey. Thank you to all who made it possible.” – Lisa Barnes
“After lighting Shabbat candles with 200 other women; we all walked down to the Western Wall for some singing and dancing before we headed to our Shabbat dinner. At one point in the dancing; there were hundreds of mom’s in our colored shawls; surrounding beautiful Israeli soldiers dancing in our middle as well as a group of high school girls dancing in the middle with them. It was just amazing and I was grateful to be a part of the experience.” – Karen Bass
“In 43 years, I have never been given an opportunity to take 10 days out of my life to focus on myself, my beliefs and my friendships. This trip gave me an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and reassess my life.
“I think I returned with a new sense of clarity of what I want to prioritize, for my family, our Jewish community and my relationships with my new ‘sisters’ from the trip. As a full time working mother, I never thought I could make this trip work and I am so grateful to the JCL for supporting this trip and my husband for insisting that I ‘take the plunge.’” – Tracy Hirsch Geller
“The trip has already impacted my future. I want to feel more connected with the Jewish community in Louisville. I want to be part of something and share my experiences I had on this trip with others. I am so appreciative of being afforded the opportunity to be part of this inaugural group of women to take this journey.” – Julie Strull
“I loved the time we spend at the Yeshiva and the underground tunnel tours which gave me historical, engineering, religious, political perspective of the Temple Mount/Kotel/Wall. I will also never forget the hysterical, sleep-deprived laughter on the plane home, iced coffee, getting to know new friends on the bus rides, Alan yelling “Leweybill…Dallas!” everywhere we went, floating in the Dead Sea, and hitting 20,000 steps on my Fitbit EVERY DAY (ok…not every, but MOST).” – Lisa Hirsch
“I am so grateful that I’m a member of Louisville’s first JWRP undertaking. Being a part of the JWRP program and traveling to Israel for the first time was both intense and emotional. There is something magical about being in Israel and sharing the experience with other Jewish mothers. It produced feelings that I’ve never felt as a Jew on American land and inspired me to enhance our family’s practices and commitments to Jewish life.” – Kristen Yoffe
“I did not realize how connected to Israel and the group of 16 women ‘sisters’ I would feel. Many, like myself, had never been to Israel. I felt we were like kids in a candy shop. When Israelis say welcome home, I now understand what they mean. Israel felt like home. I never felt that I was in any kind of danger, I was happy and safe.” – Julie Strull
“I fully expected being in Jerusalem and at the Kotel to be a highly emotional and spiritual experience, but having the opportunity to be with a group of amazing women who have now become such great friends with, brought the experience to an entirely different level. This trip was literally life-changing. I have comeback so inspired to do things here in our community.” – Dara Woods
“I was surprised by the peaceful coexistence of the diverse people in Jerusalem juxtaposed with what is always portrayed on the news. Two of my biggest takeaways are to have more grace with my husband, to model/teach/practice tzedakah more with my son so he grows up with this mindset. I was also surprised at how candid and progressive the Knesset member we met and talked with were.” – Lisa Hirsch
“I still cannot believe I just experienced one of the most amazing moments in my life. Traveling to Israel was completely different than visiting any other country. I am so thankful to JWRP and everyone who worked to make this trip possible. They showed me not just Israel but the beauty of being Jewish.
“Being a mom, a wife and having a career have absorbed my life but this trip gave me time for myself to learn about who I am, what my role is and it made me think about my real purpose in life. I know this is only the beginning of my new life and now there is a lot work to do to keep our Jewish values alive at our home and in our community.” – Paola Moretta
“I am more confident in who I am as a woman, Jewish woman, mom, wife and friend. I am more accepting with who I am right now and hopefully with who I evolve to be. I am looking forward to collaborating and spending more time with this funny, passionate, opinionated, motivated, intelligent, thoughtful, talented, diverse group of women I now call friends.” – Lisa Hirsch
As for me, I am so grateful to have shared in this tremendous experience with such inspirational women. I am grateful for the commitment they have made to our Jewish community, but most of all, I am grateful for their friendship.
The Jewish Federation of Louisville plans to send a second group on the JWRP MOMentum trip in 2018. The program is designed for Jewish mothers (with children under 18) the majority of whom have not been to Israel. Please visit JWRP’s website www.jwrp.org for more information. The application process will begin in 2017.
To help inspire more women through this program, please consider making a gift to The Jewish Federation of Louisville.