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JWRP Trip To Israel: Day 1 (Our Arrival)

JWRP logo


A dozen St. Louis Jewish moms are on a mission. Last Sunday, we left the kids and hubbies behind and headed to Israel through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP). This mission is called “Transform and Grow” or TAG, which is kind of like Birthright for moms. (We only had to pay airfare). I’ve been asked to blog about my experiences and what I’ve learned so far, which would be easy to to do if I wasn’t having so much fun, staying up way too late, and trying to overload my brain with practical lessons from the Torah that have the potential to change the world–one mom, one family, one community, at a time.

St. Louis is one of 15 cities on this summer trip, which is about 200 moms. This year, JWRP will send about 1,200 women to Israel. We come from all over the world, and yet we have the same home. Israel.

Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination, and so our adventure begins in the airport. Let’s just say it took us 26 hours to get here.

Day 1 group at Lambert

Our group at St. Louis airport with Rabbi Yosef David and Rabbi Shmuel Greenwald of Aish St. Louis.

St. Louis might be a few days behind in our blogging, probably because we’re still recovering from our crazy arrival. But that doesn’t mean the 12 of us aren’t having the time of our lives and trying to process everything, from singing Shabbat songs at the Western Wall and kayaking in the Jordan River to shopping for jewelry in the Old City of Jerusalem and and talking with real Israeli soldiers who walk around with M4 weapons like American kids do their iPhones. I’ve actually been in Israel six days already, even though I have no clue what day it is, and for the life of me I still can’t figure out how to calculate a shekel or get tired of eating falafel pitas.

Anyway, as we all know, it’s the journey, not the destination, and this especially rings true for our St. Louis group because it took us 26 hours to get here. Our adventure began on June 30th when our airplane plane couldn’t land in New York because of a major rainstorm. We circled above the clouds for hours until we were eventually forced to refuel in Wash DC. It gets better (or worse), but I’m not “complaining.”  Our plane encountered a mechanical problem while still on the ground, and we were forced to sit on the runway another hour or so and sweat in our seatbelts until the air conditioner was fixed.

Finally, we flew safely back to New York, but despite our best efforts to catch our connecting bus to JFK, we still missed our 7 p.m. flight to Tel Aviv. It’s not like we didn’t try our hardest to get here. One of our moms, Jodie, even tried to negotiate on the phone with El Al Airlines to “please wait just a few more minutes for us,” but to no avail. We were stuck in New York until the next flight out. And that wasn’t until 2:30 a.m.

Sure, we were tried, but our spirits were high. We thought maybe, just maybe, we could still make our 6:45 p.m. (Israel time) dinner reservation at the famous Decks restaurant in Tiberias. Plus, we couldn’t wait to meet the other 200 JWRP women.

Everything happens for a reason, and this JWRP mantra proved to be right as our fearless leader Chana coordinated with Rabbi David, of Aish St. Louis, to arrange for us to have dinner and spend the evening at the home of their friends Rabbi David and Debbie Greenbelt, who lived in Long Island.

Greenblatts dinner table

In the middle of our trip, we landed in Long Island at the beautiful home of Rabbi David and Debbie Greenblatt.

A driver met us at the airport and loaded our suitcases and backpacks in the van. As if we hadn’t been through enough, he got lost a couple of times, we had to stop for gas, and we survived some close calls on the highway. We eventually made it to the Greenblatt’s lovely home where they welcomed us with open arms and a delicious Kosher Chinese feast served on a king size dining room table with a lace tablecloth as if they were planning this impromptu dinner party all along. We learned what “community” is all about; the Jewish people are there for each other. We relaxed and had a wonderful time visiting with the couple and their daughter, learning about their Orthodox lifestyle and the many philanthropies they are involved in, including raising millions of dollars for their neighbors who lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy.

Greenblatts kitchen

Debbie is the best host–thank you!

After a few hours of getting to know each other, the Greenblatts loaded our heavy bags into their vans and drove us back to the airport. We said goodbye to our new friends, until next time.

Refueled and refreshed, we were once again ready to continue our journey. First, we had to wait in more long lines and get through airport security. (I even memorized this week’s Parashat Pinchas in case I was “interrogated” by an Israeli soldier). All I can say is thank goodness I had my neck pillow, compression socks, and Zanex, because I was trapped in a packed airplane for the next 10 hours.

After we landed smoothly in Tel Aviv, I scuffled out of the airplane and touched the mezuzah at the end of the gangway. I was in Israel for this first time, and I wanted to remember this moment.

Despite the craziness it took to get here, it was so worth every moment. We’ve had many great laughs already, and we are trying to control our negative talk every time we look at our orange wristband that says, “Don’t blame. Don’t complain.” (Lori, can I get a few extra bracelets for my family at home)?

Our reward for all we went through on our arrival—Deck’s saved us a table overlooking the unbelievable scenery and Sea of Galilee. Like we hadn’t eaten in days, we gorged ourselves on a decadent feast of onion loaves, roasted sweet potatoes, baked salmon with pesto, mushroom and olive salad, and washed it down with a bottle of Moscato. The assorted sorbets for dessert were a real treat!

Decks group under sign

We enjoyed our first dinner in Israel at Deck’s, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Deck group on rocks

Bellies full with food and wine.


Deck, Cindy, Ellie, Peggy

Cindy, Ellie & Peggy

Time to hit the pillow–I want to catch the sunrise in a few hours.