Trip to Israel with JWRP Inspires Visitor to Deeper Personal Exploration of Judaism

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If someone told me five years ago that I would be going on an eight-day soul-inspiring trip to Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), I wouldn’t have believed it.

It’s the week before I leave for Israel.
If someone told me five years ago that I would be going on an eight-day soul-inspiring trip to Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), I wouldn’t have believed it.
I had already met the 17 other women who I would spend 24/7 with, and they all seemed great.
Previous participants told me to expect to come home a different person. Unsure of how I would change, I promised myself that I would be fully present throughout each day, and I wouldn’t let my expectations get in the way of my experience.
I was ready to go.
I love traveling abroad and have visited many countries over the years but was so pleased to have everything handled by the JWRP and the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Studies (which co-sponsored our Philadelphia group).
Our energetic and compassionate city leader, Gevura Davis, and our quick-witted and welcoming madricha, Debra Magerman, helped coordinate every detail and assisted us with anything we needed. Before the trip began, they told us that our only responsibilities were to be on time and bring our water bottles and ourselves.
Five of us went a few days early to get over our jet lag and enjoy Tel Aviv before the trip began.
When we arrived to meet the JWRP group in Tiberias, I was eager for my life-changing trip to begin.
On the first night at the famous Decks restaurant, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, I ate the most delicious hummus and plank-grilled salmon. I danced on a bar with 200 women from all over the world like it was my own wedding. I couldn’t believe how open and connected we all felt after just one day.
Since 2009, the JWRP has taken more than 7,300 women to Israel. The idea is, “If you can inspire a woman, you inspire a family. Inspire enough families, you inspire a community. Inspire enough communities, you can change the world.”
Etz Chaim partnered with the JWRP to help enhance their mission of helping Jews fall in love and stay involved with Judaism, regardless of their background. And fall in love we did.
Each day was a gift beyond anything imaginable.
We listened to lectures by motivating speakers who, at first glance, seemed like normal, everyday people. An Orthodox mother, a rabbi, a young Israeli businesswoman and a former soldier all told stories so inspiring that tears would fall from my eyes.
For the first time in a long time, after years of identifying as a mom and wife, I was able connect with myself. When you are busy with the daily rituals, life can seem pretty uninspiring. The trip made me realize that any person can be an inspiration.
Sometimes women find it difficult to let their guard down and show that maybe we don’t have it together at the time. Sometimes women can act catty and judgmental.
On the JWRP trip, there was no room for judgment.
Being together without distractions allowed us to open up and let our walls come down. Each interaction was an opportunity to connect.
We stayed up until the early-morning hours laughing, dancing, singing karaoke and talking like sisters. We walked through Jerusalem shopping and eating ice cream and laughed harder than I can remember. We were carefree and treated each other with respect and warmth. While I did my fair share of shopping, my prized possessions are the friendships I brought home.
At 16, I lived in Israel for two months, and I fell in love with the country. I fell hard again during the JWRP trip. Every place was more memorable than the last.
I walked around the mystical city of Safed, shopped for unique Judaica and jewelry and learned where Kabbalah originated.
I visited an Israeli army base and talked to soldiers who fight every day defending the country. I gave the soldiers gifts from home and handmade cards from my boys.
Sitting in the room where Ben Gurion declared the state of Israel at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, I got chills while listening to “Hatikvah.” I stood on the top of Masada, swam in the Dead Sea and rode camels in the desert.
When we celebrated Shabbat at the Wailing Wall, I connected to Judaism in a genuine way that was beyond the traditions of lighting the menorah on Chanukah or breaking my fast on Yom Kippur.
For the first time in a long time, I was able to reconnect to my relationship with God. My trip taught me so much about who I am and who I want to be. I connected with strong women, my homeland, my heritage and myself. I was emotionally and spiritually moved.
The trip empowered me to examine my role as a Jew within my family, my community and the world. Using my experiences in meditation, yoga and mindfulness, I inspired my soul even further. I lived the truest form of myself while immersed in the state of Israel.
Above all else, what I really want to say to Etz Chaim and JWRP is thank you. They helped me realize that my Jewish journey is not over.
Besides creating unparalleled friendships, traveling the land of Israel and learning more than I could have ever imagined, there is so much more to learn. I am eager to continue my journey.
Beth Rivkind is active in the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, specifically Women’s Philanthropy and the Mitzvah Food Project, as well as the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and Perelman Jewish Day School.  She lives in Wynnewood.

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