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Israel

“Next Year in Jerusalem”
Becomes a Reality

After a looooong night of prayers, storytelling, wine,

rituals, songs, 10 plagues, and of course matzo ball soup, brisket, macaroons, and an extra scoop of charoset for the road, our cup literally overfloweth with blessings at Passover.

So why is this night different from all other nights, among other reasons? Because at the end of the seder when we recite, “Next year in Jerusalem. L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim,” these last words are an incredible reality for me. In a few days, I will embark on a journey to see my 24-year-old son Jack who temporarily moved to Jerusalem in August to teach English to Israeli elementary school children and to immerse himself in the culture of his ancestors. It will be 250 days (but who’s counting) since I last saw him as we parted ways at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Gate A16. I will be traveling to Israel with my husband and in-laws, their first time in Israel and my second trip there. Continue reading

It’s Simchat Torah! Let’s Dance!

Simchat Torah in the Yari’s sukkah.

Ya know how when you throw an epic party and everyone comes and has a great time, and there’s always one last person to leave? It’s like the ultimate Jewish goodbye. Well that’s my analogy for Simcha Torah, and the guest of honor is God, who wants us to soak in every last bit of happiness and newfound wisdom from the weeklong festival of Sukkot. When we welcome guests into our outdoor huts and we gather together in the beauty of nature and under the stars, we are humble and grateful.  We aren’t focused on material things that separates us, but rather the simple joys that bring us together. My mouth is still watering from dipping soft chewey challah into tahini stuffed eggplant and butternut squash soup, a few of the delicacies that wet our appetites for a feast served inside the sukkah of Rabbi Yosef and Mimi David. Consideirng the meal began after sundown, when the stars appeared, it was a late nite before we said our goodbyes. As we walked down the sidewalk together, we heard the sounds of crickets chirping and the faint singing of neighbors down the street who were still rejoicing after a full day of fun in their annual Yari sukkah party with lots of children, families, balloon making, moon bounce, a juggling rabbi, and a dairy meal of pasta, quiche, and sweets that kept on coming. This feeling of joy is what we strive for when Sukkot is finally over and we move back into our homes and return to our everyday lives. We try to maintain the closeness to each other, to God, and to nature.

Rabbi Yari known for his many talents, including juggling at weddings and special holidays.

Children enjoy the balloon making, treats, moon bounce and more.

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JWS: Living The Values

St. Louis Logo

“Living The Values” is the mission of JWS.

When I returned from my JWRP Israel trip last summer, I was determined to keep the energy and excitement going.  My experience was, to say the least, spiritually uplifting and I wanted to stay connected to my “St Louis Soul Sistas” and meet new friends who were on the same journey of self growth and discovery.  I wanted to continue learning and enrich my life with Jewish values that I could share with my family and my community. Then again, my idea of fun is sharing a bottle of kosher moscato and making challah with my girlfriends.

Well, the Jewish Women’s Society (JWS) of St. Louis does all that, and more. Already 60-plus members strong, the JWS is an exciting new organization that is looking for women like YOU! The JWS was created as an outgrowth of the JWRP, but you don’t have to be a JWRP participant to be a member of JWS–everyone is welcome!

Last month, we launched the JWS at the beautiful home of Sam and Marilyn Fox. The event was co-hosted with their daughters Cheri Fox and Pamela Fox Claman, and JWRP Founding Director Lori Palatnik was in town to help us kick off our new initiative to bring Jewish women of the St. Louis community together through educational campaigns,  special events, service projects, leadership opportunities, and more.

The 2013 JWRP "St. Louis Soul Sistas" celebrate launch of JWS with Lori Palatnik and Pamela Fox Claman.

The 2013 JWRP “St. Louis Soul Sistas” celebrate launch of JWS with Lori Palatnik and Pamela Fox Claman.

“The Jewish women in St. Louis are really on fire after their JWRP experience. I’m very impressed that they started this new initiative, JWS, to keep the momentum going and involve other women in the community,” said Lori Palatnik, founding director of the JWRP, who was in town for the launch of the society.

The JWRP and Aish HaTorah St. Louis have sent more than 70 St. Louis moms to Israel since 2010, with another 14 women going this summer.

“Through its innovative follow-up programming and opportunities, the JWS has the potential to set a precedent for Jewish communities around the world,” Palatnik added.

The JWS is more than a membership organization. The JWS is a movement, and our mission is as follows:

 “Embrace the values of our Jewish heritage, emphasizing living harmoniously with self,  family and community.  The Society provides programs and support for Jewish Women of all backgrounds to strengthen their Jewish identity and their commitment to Jewish life in St Louis and Israel.”

The JWS is excited to roll out a series of educational campaigns that allow participants to live what they learn. Each class focuses on different Jewish values, such as gratitude, kindness, humility, joy, and honesty. JWS members not only attend the class, but they can take advantage of the many tools, resources, progress charts, and service projects. The JWS also offers home study groups that can help people understand the value on a deeper level in a more intimate, ongoing learning experience.

“The JWS’s goal is to strengthen and invigorate these special values and the amazing richness and relevancy it has on our life by impacting our marriage, children, family, and community,” said Rabbi Yosef David, of Aish HaTorah St. Louis. “Members will be inspired to put into action what they learn until it becomes a reality.”

The first class on Lashon Hara, or refraining from gossip and negative talk, will be offered on two dates: Monday, March 31, 9:30 a.m., or Monday, April 1, 7 p.m. Both classes are held at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. Rabbi Shmuel Greenwald, Educational Director of Aish HaTorah St. Louis, will engage the audience in a conversation based on Palatnik’s book,  “Gossip: Ten Pathways to Eliminate It From Your Life and Transform Your Soul,” and all members will get their own copy of the bestseller.

“I’ve taught about Lashon Hara, which means gossip, to literally thousands of people, and this subject touches everyone. Even if we don’t speak gossip, hearing gossip still hurts us with its negativity. Learning the laws of Lashon Hara transforms a person because it makes you stop and think before you gossip or talk negatively, and that will change you and impact those around you. When we eliminate gossip, we have a choice: We can find something positive to say, we can remain silent, or talk about an inspirational idea, which impacts a person to live on a higher level,” said Greenwald.

Other upcoming campaigns include honoring our parents and elders and showing respect, taking care of the sick and less fortunate, and working on being happy with what we have and keeping a gratitude journal.

For more information on the benefits of a JWS membership, please call 314-527-1719, or JWSociety@hotmail.com

And stay tuned for next week’s blog on my own experience giving up gossip–it’s not as easy I thought.

Let’s share our Jewish journey together. “Like” my website Mishegas of Motherhood and stay updated on all JWS news.

 

 

 

 

JWRP’s Lori Palatnik Coming to STL!

When Lori Palatnik speaks, people listen. We not only listen, we take action. This internationally renowned teacher, speaker and author is the founding director of Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), which has brought more than 4,000 women from 15 different countries to Israel since 2009 on a subsidized tour-and-learn program.

The 2013 JWRP "St. Louis Soul Sisters, Aish rooftop, in the Old City.

The 2013 JWRP “St. Louis Soul Sistas,” on the Aish rooftop, in the Old City.

Her weekly video blog, Lori Almost Live, gets 50,000 views each month on the Aish.com website, and now here’s YOUR opportunity to see her LIVE, in person. (And you don’t need a passport to get in the door).

Back by popular demand, Lori is coming to St. Louis on Monday, February 17 for a public speaking event about “Kabbalah of You—Understanding Yourself and Appreciating Others.” Trust me, you don’t want to miss this fascinating presentation on how the kabbalah analyzes our personality in two parts—body and soul. We’ll not only learn what makes us tick, but how we can better understand and improve the relationships we have in our lives, with our spouse, our children, and ourselves.

If you’re lucky enough to have met Palatnik on a JWRP mission to Israel, then you already know how powerful and relevant her words of wisdom are; and if you’ve never witnessed her in action, then you’re in for a real treat. This Toronto native commands the stage and works the room like an IDF sergeant (only less intimidating and more fun). With microphone in hand—look out—she’s a force to be reckoned with.

The JWRP mission is “to empower women to change the world through Jewish values that transform ourselves, our families, and our communities,” and Palatnik has succeeded in doing just that with no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. Currently, this 53-year-old mother of five travels between her two homes, in Maryland and Israel, with her husband Rabbi Yaakov Palatnik, as she writes follow-up classes and programs for 83 different partnering organizations around the world.

The JWRP is so successful, in fact, Israel’s Ministry of the Diaspora has announced it will double any donation JWRP receives and plans to bring twice the number of JWRP women to Israel in 2014!

Take that Pew study!
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JWRP Israel Trip Inspires St. Louis Moms To Live More Jewishly

JWRP STL group photo

“St. Louis Soul Sisters” on top of Aish HaTorah building, overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem.

This summer, 12 St Louis moms embarked on a journey of their lifetime to Israel. I was lucky to be one of them.

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JWRP Trip to Israel: The Mitzvah of Making Challah

ellie and sari with challahs

Sari & I make our own challahs.

One of the MANY highlights of my recent JWRP experience was celebrating my first Shabbat in Israel. The best part—making challah in the same room, at the same time, with 200 other wannabe balaboostas who dispel the theory that too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup. I felt like I was on the set of Food Network as I watched Rebbetzin Raizy work her magic on the big screen and effortlessly twist the soft dough into shapes of a dove, butterfly, six-strand loaf, napkin rings, a linked loop round challah, and other creations that would make Martha Stuart envious and want to convert.

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JWRP Trip to Israel: Lesson on Love & Marriage

JWRP logo

Two weeks ago, when I stepped off the plane at St. Louis Lambert Airport on a Wednesday afternoon, my husband Scott didn’t know what to expect, other than I would be a little jet lagged and probably tired of drinking iced coffee and shopping (impossible). He knew I did a lot of praying, learning, sightseeing, female bonding, and falafel eating, but how would my trip change me as a wife, a mother, and a woman?

  • Now that I’ve been on a spiritual journey to my Jewish homeland, would I make my family go to temple more often than on the high holidays?
  • Would I start keeping kosher?
  • Would I dress more modestly, and practice Tzniut, by wearing a fashionable headscarf? (No more bad hair days, it’s tempting).
  • Would my Hebrew vocabulary expand beyond “Shalom” and “Boker Tov” and “Toda Raba?”
  • Would I want to sell our two-story house in the burbs and live on a kibbutz?
  • Would I slave in the kitchen and cook Jewish delicacies, such as matzo ball soup, freshly baked challah, and homemade ruggalah every single Shabbat? (He wishes).

The truth is, I have changed, especially when it comes to my attitude and actions towards my husband. The thing is, he doesn’t even know I’m making a conscious effort to be nicer, more appreciative, and calmer about petty things that used to bother me. Shhh, it’s a little secret between you and me, and besides, he never reads my blog anyway.

Let’s face it. If I were HALF as sweet to my spouse as I am my toy poodle Luci, my marriage would feel like a honeymoon after almost 20 years. Instead, like many marriages, our lives get busy over the years and our priorities shift from each other to our children. My biggest fear is that by the time we become empty nesters, we won’t even know each other anymore. Scary.

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JWRP Trip To Israel: What I Learned

JWRP STL group photo

St. Louis “Soul Sisters” on top of the Aish HaTorah building overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem.

 

My heart and my head are full, and it’s not from all the hummus and falafel that I ate while I was in Israel last week. It’s from all the sights, sounds, tastes, and energy that I indulged in while I was on my trip with 12 amazing St. Louis moms through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP). We all had different purposes for being there, and we all came home feeling inspired and connected, not only to each other but our Jewish homeland and ancestors. It’s not like I walked off the plane at St. Louis Lambert Airport wearing a head scarf because I suddenly became more religious and modest (although I certainly understand and admire the practice of Tzniut much better), but I did change, at least internally.

As a writer, I carried my pad of paper with me everywhere and took meticulous notes about everything I was experiencing, including missing our flight to Israel, eating salmon and sorbet at Deck’s, learning about the “Kabbalah of Love” from Lori, kayaking on the Jordan River, getting locked in the mikveh bathroom in Tzfat, tucking prayers inside the Western Wall, shopping for hamsa necklaces, meeting Yossi and the children at Shalva, feeling hollow and sorrowful for all the suffering depicted at Yad Vashem, (I scribbled thoughts in the dark on the back of my nametag because I left my notebook on the bus), and learning to braid challah into the shape of a flower.

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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.
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Countdown to Israel Trip Begins

JWRP logo

 

In less than one week, I will embark on a journey of my lifetime. As one of 10 St. Louis moms selected to visit Israel with the T.A.G. (Transform and Grow) Mission sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and coordinated through Aish HaTorah of Greater St. Louis, I’m so excited to see, taste, and feel the holy land for the first time. We will join other moms from all over the world who are coming together to have an uninhibited wonderful adventure and focus on ourselves for a change, without the kids. Most importantly, we will discover  what it truly means to be a Jew so that when we return home, after a nine-day, jam-packed adventure that includes everything from kayaking on the Jordan River and floating in Dead Sea to riding a camel and climbing the majestic Masada at dawn, we will be inspired to make a change. Even though that change will be different for all of us, we all want the same thing, to continue learning about Judaism and share our joy and experiences with our family and children.

group at Peggy's

Our St. Louis group wearing red hats so we don’t lose each other!

Thanks to our group leaders Chana Greenwald and Peggy Umansky, who know Israel like the back of their hand, (Chana lived in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for many years, and this is Peggy’s fifth visit to Israel), we know exactly how to prepare ourselves, mentally, physically, spiritually. The neat thing is that some of us already know each other, either as friends or acquaintances, while others have met for the first time. But after our trip, we will go through a transformation to become like sisters. In fact, Ellen made us these beautiful chan luu bracelets so that “we are connected already.”
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