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My Journey To Israel

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How do we change in the world?

The question itself makes my head spin. I mean, it’s overwhelming, seemingly impossible to change the world. Right? I can hardly make my kids change their own bedsheets.

And yet I know we have to create change. The greatest threat to the Jewish people is not racism or discrimination or wars against Israel. Our biggest enemy is apathy and ignorance.

Something has to change. In the words of Rabbi Hillel:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?

And if I am only for myself, then what am I?

And if not now, when?”

So, how do I change the world?

One community at a time.

How do I change the community?

One home at a time.

How do I change the home?

One mom at a time.

Sounds like a simple enough answer to a complicated question, changing the world. And yet this is precisely the game plan of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), which was established in 2008 with the purpose to empower Jewish women to change the world.

How do they do this?

Through their flagship program, T.A.G. (Transform and Grow) Missions to Israel, JWRP offers thousands of women from around the world a special gift: a highly subsidized nine-day action-packed trip to Israel. To date JWRP has brought close to 2,000 women from 40 cities and seven different countries to their homeland.  In 2012, they brought 1,000 more from around the world. This year, they will change the lives of many more women. And, I’m thrilled to say, I’m one of them.

This summer, I’ll embark on a journey with about a dozen St. Louis moms who share the same vision, and that is to experience self-growth and personal development so that we can reach our potential as Jewish women, wives and mothers. As we walk the crowded streets of Jerusalem, pray at the Western Wall, hike the Masada, float in the Dead Sea, eat the best falafel, bargain for souvenirs in Tel Aviv, learn how to make challah, ride a camel, and watch the sun melt into the Mediterranean, we will transform ourselves and reawaken our passion and commitment that has been the legacy of the Jewish people for the last 4,000 years. The goal is that when we return home, our “other” home, we’ll share our stories and enthusiasm to inspire our communities, our families, and our children to love being Jewish, too.

This is how we change the world. One mom at a time.

I plan to document my experiences here in my blog as I prepare myself emotionally and physically for this adventure, and that includes investing in a good pair of walking shoes and figuring out how to endure the longest plane ride in my life—at least 13 hours—without going bonkers.

Please feel free to share any advice you have on making the most of my first trip to Israel.

For now, I better practice my Hebrew. Shalom!




Hanukkah Menorah Symbolizes Prayer Vigil

On the seventh night of Hanukkah, we lit the candles on the menorah to commemorate the miracle of our ancestors, but it was also a prayer vigil for the lives lost in yesterday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown. People of all faiths from all over the world light candles as our hearts ache collectively for the families of the 20 innocent first graders and six adults, who were shot point-blank by a 20-year-old madman dressed in combat gear and armed with semiautomatic weapons. As details of the latest school shooting unfold, parents everywhere try to deal with their own feelings of fear, despair, and confusion as we struggle to find the best way to explain (or not explain) to our own kids what is happening in our world that seems to be falling apart. I felt this same way when I wrote about Virginia Tech and the Israeli war. Things haven’t changed.

With the holiday season upon us, and presents are left for children who are gone forever, it’s impossible to wrap our heads around another senseless tragedy—the second deadliest school shooting behind Virginia Tech in U.S. history. We’re vulnerable everywhere we go—school, mall, movie theatre, workplace, airplane, a political rally.

A nation in shock, we ‘re quick to blame someone, something besides good versus evil. Political discussions abrupt again about how to improve school safety, gun control laws, mental health care, dysfunctional families, violent video games, social media, and on and on.

And yet one thing has always remained the same. God. Whatever your religious or atheistic beliefs, many of us fall to our knees and surrender to something bigger—call it God, Divinity, Buddah, Muhammad, Spirit—otherwise we can’t cope alone. God did not let this happen. People did. And we need each other to heal. We are the problem, and we are the solution.

So many of us turn to our faith when we’re obligated to (the high holidays, Christmas, a wedding, a funeral) or when we hit rock bottom. But the lesson here is to keep God in our hearts, always. And by this I mean not just prayer, but action. For example, notice how communities come together in times of crisis. When disaster strikes, whether it be Hurricane Sandy, 9-11 terrorist attack, or a siege on a quite New England town in Connecticut, we hug each other, we feed each other, we listen, we clean up, we mourn, we give money, we give ourselves.

In the words of Mr. Rogers:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And in the words of Rabbi Shaul Praver, of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown, who attended to the family of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, “Death doesn’t really exist — it’s just a transformation because we all come from God and everything in the world is from God.”

He continues, “At the same time we’re in a very dark place, we’re in a very sacred place. Everybody, for the last two days, are brothers and sisters. You can hug strangers in the street.

And, finally, in the words of Kohelet in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to plug up that which is planted;
 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
 A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”







Judaism Recognizes Angels Watching Over Us

Excuse me while I digress for a moment. Is anyone else startled that the names Osama and Obama rhyme so obviously? What’s with the 70-degree weather in January? What am I supposed to do with all the leftover red satin yamulkes after my son’s bar mitzvah?

Thanks for letting me vent. Now I feel better. Continue reading

A Jewish Thanksgiving? That’s No Jive Turkey

Is it just me, or does anyone else out there feel the stress of you-know-what around the corner? It seems to me that the winter holiday season, also known as Hanukkah hysteria or December dilemma, sneaks up on us earlier each year, like before I even have a chance to polish off my kids stale tootsie rolls. No sooner than I unplug the electric jack-o-lantern from the outdoor extension cord does our gentile society suck us into their world…Santas at every shopping mall, Jingle Bells on every radio station, and gigantic wreaths and red velvet ribbons tied around every light post in town. No wonder I find myself singing Winter Wonderland in the shower. Continue reading

Young Jewish Athletes Play in League of Their Own

Like so many families whose kids are involved in multiple sports and activities, the soccer field has become my home away from home lately. In fact, I relax in my nylon stadium chair more often than my leather couch at home. A typical Saturday morning soccer game starts out this way: First, I pull the heavy, collapsible contraptions out of the drawstring bags and unfold each one like a magician setting up for a magic show. Secondly, I play musical lawn chairs until everyone enjoys an unobstructed view of the upcoming action. Next, I grab bottled waters from the cooler and arrange a beverage in each empty cup holder. Then, I serve hungry fans handfuls of sunflower seeds, even though we just gobbled chocolate donuts for breakfast. Finally, by half time, I plop myself down and ask, “What’s the score?” Continue reading

Prayers Teach Values, Gratitude

When it comes to prayers, Jews have it covered. We have a prayer for everything—from the morning ritual Modeh Ani, which thanks God for returning our soul to us, to the bedtime blessing Shema Yisrael. In addition to the traditional blessings over food and the holidays, special prayers can be learned for each gift that God gives us throughout the day. For example, there’s a prayer for when we wear new clothes for the first time, hear a booming thunderstorm, smell the fragrant scent of a magnolia blossom, reunite with a long-lost friend, and so on. Even when we notice a strange-looking person or animal, we can say, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, who varies creation…” Continue reading

Turn Your Dinner Table Into an “Altar”

When I was a child growing up in the 70s and the television classic “Leave it to Beaver” was considered a reality show, one of my most vivid everyday family rituals was the Dinner Hour. The Dinner was the same—on Mondays, broiled chicken sprinkled with nothing more than paprika, not even salt—and so was the Hour—five o’clock when my dad walked in the back door from work and emptied the car keys in his pockets.

Charlotte, that’s my mom, followed the old-fashioned food pyramid like it was one of the Commandments: A mother shall serve her children a protein (preferably dried out), two vegetables, one starch, a glass of cold low fat milk, and, on special occasions, lime gelatin with sliced bananas for dessert. Continue reading