A tour of Israel ... and ourselves

By Jennifer Lader
Lehigh Valley Momentum Participant

The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley sent a group of moms on a very special trip to Israel this July with Momentum. The mission: to empower women to change the world through Jewish values. The flagship program that this group participated in is geared toward moms raising Jewish children who are under 18. Other Momentum groups went in each of the prior two years, and it’s likely the Lehigh Valley will participate in this program in the future, starting as soon as next summer.

Some of the most moving moments of this journey: Being party to a spontaneous bar mitzvah parade in Tsfat, touching the smooth warm stones of the Western Wall and floating in the Dead Sea after a (very warm) morning spent at the top of Masada. 

This year’s participants came from a wide range of backgrounds and Jewish experiences. All were seeking a closer connection to Israel, either to share with their children or to better understand the Jewish State and Judaism for themselves. Stephanie Smartschan, the Federation’s director of community development and operations, led this year’s group. “What was most special to me was watching this group of women who barely knew each other before bond and grow, both individually and as a unit,” Smartschan said. 

The trip madricha was Naomi Schachter, who participated in the 2018 trip and returned this year to help guide the 2019 group. The highlight for her was “building relationships and deepening friendships.” She points out that there are almost no other opportunities to spend so much time with women after college and camp. 

The women will continue to build on their newfound connections through the program’s “Year-Long Journey,” meeting each month for workshops, fun activities and deepening friendships.

Program leaders pointed out, “This is not a tour of Israel, it’s a tour of yourself.” The itinerary for each of the program’s eight days started with a learning session; topics ranged from relationships to finding courage to implementing game-changing big ideas. The group then toured sites and met people who were fueled by courage and a dream, starting with Ha’aretz itself and including United Hatzalah, the startup network of rescuers with the goal to reach those in need in under three minutes.

Because each day’s tour enlarged upon the daily learning, it made for a powerful experience. At the end of the whirlwind eight days, though, this program was also about connecting a group of moms who mostly didn’t know each other before and maybe didn’t feel as connected as they wanted to the land of Israel. Now they do. That happened in a lot of ways. For Amy Sams, it was person-to-person connection with our partners from Yoav, moms who traveled with the group (see article, page 4): “It had a tremendous impact on my relationship to Israel.” 

“I went from 0 to 60 in my understanding and feeling of connection to the State of Israel,” said another participant, “and can hardly wait to see Jerusalem again.”

Plans are already in the works for a Momentum trip in the summer of 2020. If you or someone you know might be a good fit for this program or for more information, contact Stephanie Smartschan at stephanie@jflv.org or 610-821-5500.