After spending eight days in Israel on a first-from-Pittsburgh “Birthright for Moms,” 10 women have returned spiritually rejuvenated. As part of the Momentum program of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, they will now spend the next year strengthening their bonds to Judaism and the Jewish state.
Momentum, which began in 2009, caters to its demographic because “mothers are teachers, and they basically can strengthen Judaism and bring Israel into the family,” said Tsipy Gur, founder and executive director of Classrooms Without Borders, a local organization that partnered with the JWRP to make Momentum available in the Steel City.
“When I first found out about it, I was like, I’m there,” said Julie Paris, who explained that she discovered the JWRP more than three years ago online after reading about Momentum.
Once Chani Altein was selected as the city leader, word soon spread.
“I told a few women and they told a few women, and before we knew it, we were filled to capacity,” said Altein, a member of the Lubavitch community.
Requirements for participation were that participants (excluding city leaders) were not Sabbath observant, were “physically and emotionally healthy” and had children under the age of 18 years old at home, according to the JWRP.
Participants paid for their own flights, deposits and tips. Everything else was covered by JWRP, the Israeli government and CWB.
Given the stipulations and the fact that several of the Steel City’s inaugural cohort have children of roughly the same age, a few participants considered themselves acquaintances prior to the trip.
But for those who were even initially strangers to one another, after spending multiple intensive days together, the group “really clicked, and everyone connected well,” said Adrienne Indianer, adding that “everyone was nice and friendly and wanted to meet other people.”
During the Nov. 7-14 mission, the group visited “all the major touring spots,” engaged in “daily inspirational classes” and participated in “hands-on experiences such as visiting [an Israeli educational program known as a] mechina and volunteering at a facility for children with special needs,” said Altein, who added that plans are underway for a second cohort to participate next October.
Traveling together with “other moms and sharing in this once-in-a-lifetime experience was so unique and joyous and magnificent,” said Paris.
Indianer agreed: “I’ve been to Israel many times, but to go with a group of all women, all mothers, all people sort of in the same part of their life and to have the classes that we had that were about not being a better wife and mother, but to be a better person, that was just uplifting.”
During their tour of Seeach Sod, which was established in 1971, a religious adult with physical and intellectual impairments sat with a microphone in hand and sang “Hatikva” and “Yerushalyim Shel Zahav.”
“Listening to him sing, and [seeing] his patriotism and his love of Israel, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” said Paris.
Also incredible was Shabbat, said Indianer, as prior to sundown Friday evening, “we had a beautiful concert with dancing and singing” at a spot overlooking the Western Wall.
Once Shabbat began, the excitement swelled as the nearly 450 members from multiple Momentum groups converged at the Kotel for a service complete with continued song and dance.
“Soldiers joined us, and other people joined us. It was overwhelming,” said Indianer.
“No one was watching the men’s side, they were watching our side because it was so uplifting,” said Paris, who added that upon finishing the service all of the Momentum participants walked together to the Waldorf Hotel for dinner and more singing.
“It was the most powerful Shabbat I have ever spent,” said Indianer.
Apart from inspiring mothers, Momentum is about keeping people “educated and affiliated,” said Gur.
Although the “presenters were all observant,” there was no disconnect, said Indianer. “Their message wasn’t that you need to be more like me, but that we can all be better if we do these things.”
“What the educators taught us was that each mitzvah that you do is special, it isn’t just all or nothing; anything that you do is wonderful,” said Paris. “The implications are far reaching, and will have a far impact on Jewish life and Jewish continuity.”
“But what we also learned was that the trip is not the be all and end all, it’s the beginning of a year of growth,” added Altein. “What we need to focus on is a combination of exploring Jewish values and discussing leadership skills and how to be community leaders and how to be advocates for Israel.”
Once a month during the next year, Altein and the Pittsburgh participants will meet in an effort to further their spiritual development and Israel advocacy, said Gur, who added that “especially with the situation with BDS, people need to be educated.”
As for what the group will ultimately glean, Altein said, “My hope is that all of us will take the inspiration we got from this trip to be better mothers, better wives, better community members who channel our energies and our talents into making this Jewish community stronger.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz