This past May, the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY Canada) gathered 10 Montreal NCSY mothers for a whirlwind eight-day trip to Israel, led by City Director Mindy Zobin and board member Mallary Segall, as part of the Momentum (formerly Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) journey. This initiative, recently restyled in honour of its 10th anniversary of inspiring Jewish mothers the world over, is premised on the tenet that the Jewish home is woman-generated and is intended to inspire Jewish mothers with children at home under the age of 18 (#itstartswithwomen).
The Montrealers, comprising mothers (nicknamed the “TJJ4Moms” after the NCSY summer program their kids previously attended in Israel) hailed variously from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Hampstead, and Côte St. Luc, and have teens involved in NCSY’s Sha’ar Chapter in Westmount or its local clubs at Herzliah or Bialik secondary schools.
From May 13–20, the women toured Israel, roaming the alleys and lanes of Jerusalem’s Old City, praying at the Kotel (Western Wall), surveying Mount Herzl, exploring the artists’ colony in Tzfat in Galilee, climbing Masada in the Judean Desert, and toiling in an oliveyard by the Dead Sea. They also attended stimulating lectures about faith, family, marriage, and the integral role of the Jewish mother given by speakers including Momentum foundress Lori Palatnik, trip leader and former media personality Adrienne Gold Davis, and comic rabbi Rav Gav, who encouraged the women ahead of Shabbat to “disconnect in order to connect”.
The journey was an emotional one: two of the mothers had never been to Israel before, and were blindfolded as they were brought within feet of the Kotel; the encounter proved so overwhelming that the entire sorority wept together.
One trip participant, Julia Levkovsky, originally from the Soviet Union, was raised knowing she was Jewish but was early on instructed not to divulge this secret to anyone. Wholly unaware of her Hebrew name, she received a Hebrew name in Israel (“Yehudit”) and was honoured at the Jewish naming ceremony, so that she could feel that she now possesses a Jewish name by which her children can refer to her—a name embossed on the new personalized siddur she received from Momentum.
“It was a miraculous journey,” Levkovsky believes. “For me, visiting Israel for the first time, [the trip] exceeded my expectations and brought a wave of emotions as well as lots of friendships that I will cherish for a long time. It was an amazing, fabulous trip both educationally and spiritually! [Israel is a] magical place that makes you feel connected to it as soon as you step on the ground in the airport. Already thinking of when I am going the next time!”
Another mother, Bonnie Levine Yaphe, felt that “the Momentum experience was soul-filling, eye-opening, an experience so unique, so purposeful, so meticulously delivered. The opportunity to connect to women, sisters, from all over the world was certainly a highlight. Those moments when we shared the common language, prayer and songs of our faith, touched my heart and soul in ways I had never experienced. Since I’ve returned it’s been hard to describe to others the incredible gift I was given and the impact it has had on me”.
From the organizers’ perspective, the journey was a resounding success. Zobin reflected on the fact that “our NCSY moms all have their teens involved in NCSY in various capacities, through school clubs, Shabbatons, or summer programs. So it felt very natural to take this trip together, and have them experience a part of what their teens do on our programs. We really won the lotto with such great women and in terms of being able to foster such a special sisterhood!”
As part of the initiative, trip participants agreed to attend three pre-trip meetings and 10 follow-up meetings (monthly for 10 months), in which Momentum and NCSY instill Jewish values and implement the notion that if you inspire the woman, you inspire her home, and if you inspire enough homes, you inspire a community…towards a more meaningful and enriching Jewish practice.