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Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project

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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