Editor’s note: The article below was prepared for Aish Detroit shortly before a planned Mother’s Trip to Israel and prior to the first rockets fired into Israel from Hamas. On July 20, in steadfast solidarity with Israel, the group of seven women made the trip as planned, led by Estie Tolwin, Associate Director of Aish Detroit. Encouraging others in standing by their plans to visit Israel in the upcoming Mega Trip for Moms in December, Estie reports that on the recent 8-day trip the group felt safe and secure at all times. “The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project’s itinerary which we follow visits only the safest places and everywhere we traveled, they increased the security – which didn’t feel necessary. We support Israel and stand in solidarity while making safe choices for all the moms who are traveling with us.”
A Moms’ trip to Israel? Why now? And how?
Modeled after Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has taken more than 400,000 young adults to Israel since its inception in 1999, the concept was born of a bold vision: to create transformative Israel experiences that inspire and empower moms to promote Jewish continuity in everyday family life. A rare opportunity, the expense-paid trip is geared to mothers, offering:
– Eight days and nights to travel and learn together, hotels and all accommodations planned with expenses paid
– The gift of time and space to connect, share and engage in Jewish learning, to strengthen family and build community
Life-changing as they might be, missions to Israel come and go. To bring the benefits of the mission experience home to busy families and to strengthen ties to the Jewish community, Aish Detroit and Federation are partnering in an initiative of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) offering women highly subsidized trips to Israel with their peers.
A Movement with a Mission to “T.A.G.” (Transform and Grow)
Conceived as a movement, rather than a trip, JWRP’s T.A.G. program is designed primarily for women of Jewish backgrounds with children at home under the age of 18. Women travel as a group, bond as a group and continue their journey back to their communities as sisters, sharing a common vision to reach their potential as Jewish women, wives and mothers.
“Take a mom to Israel and you embrace the whole family,” says Estie Tolwin, Associate Director of Aish Detroit, Rebbetzin and City Leader. “According to a recent study of the New York Federation, mothers make 95% of Jewish decisions in the home. So we take a practical, yet holistic approach. By reaching out to moms first, we strengthen the fabric of families, and by reaching families, we build the future of our community.”
Based in Rockville, Maryland, the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project was founded in 2008 by Lori Palatnik, a Jewish educator, well known as an engaging and inspiring author, speaker and video blogger. As the Director of the JWRP, Lori has focused on building and refining the program which to date has brought nearly 3,000 women from 60 cities and 12 countries to Israel. Here in Detroit, Aish Detroit has served as a leading partner with JWRP since 2009, bringing more than 50 women to Israel.
As interest in the JWRP movement has grown, so too has community support. The gift of T.A.G for moms (a travel stipend of approximately $3,200) is made possible through the JWRP and Aish. The Detroit Federation will pitch in to send the women to the Partnership2Gether Region. JWRP trips have been organized six times a year, accommodating up to 200 women at a time. Participants are responsible for airfare, $50 in tips, a $36 registration fee, some meals as well as personal expenditures.
Based on the momentum of the program, the Israel Ministry of Diaspora recently has approved $1 million in funding to partner with JWRP to double the capacity of the program, bringing as many as 2,500 women to Israel this year. Aish Detroit has been earmarked for $250,000 to bring two buses – 96 moms in total, representing the largest delegation from any one city on the “mega-trip” scheduled for December 8-17, 2014.
“This is a first in many ways,” explains Estie. “Because of the size and scope of the trip, we are tapping Federation for some logistical planning as well as follow-up programming upon our return.” With the support of Aish and JWRP, Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education’s Lisa Soble Siegmann and Julie Yaker will serve as liaisons in the Partnership Region for the December trip. Additionally, they will collaborate with Aish in planning group activities throughout the following year to connect the women to the Detroit Jewish community.
“The JWRP’s T.A.G. model for community travel to Israel has opened eyes and has pushed our Federation to look at new ways in which we might do Missions,” says Lisa, Director of JFamily. “Our goal is to help connect our participants when they return, so all of their excitement is channeled back into their families and our community.”
The trip itself has three parts. First, there’s touring, heading North first to Tiberius and the mystical city of Sfat, then on down to the lush valley of Federation’s Partnership2Gether Region of the Galilee. In Jerusalem, the group prepares and celebrate Shabbat. From Jerusalem, it’s on to Masada and a dip into the Dead Sea.
The second part of the trip is described as The Experiences: Kabbalat at the Kotel, reading with school children practicing English in the Partnership Region and meeting soldiers as ‘brothers’ in an Israeli Army base.
And the third component is Jewish learning.“Everyone feels the spiritual connection in Israel,” says Estie.“It’s there when you get off the plane.We want to tap into it, not leave it to chance, so we bring in top Jewish educators and speakers to capture that spirituality we feel in the air.”
“It’s something you take home,” observes Julie, a past participant in Federation’s Grosfeld Leadership Mission and now Director of Federation’s JBaby program. “I love that this trip is about personal growth. It gives you the opportunity to reconnect, revitalize and reprioritize as a mother and woman while surrounded by a group of local women with whom you can share your journey.”
Lisa Knoll, a participant in one of the trips last year, was so moved by the experience and sold on the program that she jumped at the opportunity to work full-time as Marketing and Recruitment Director at Aish. “Connection is one of the words the women use most often on the trip,” she says. “Our connections come naturally as we talk about our families, our community, our connections to Judaism and to the land of Israel itself.”
“Aish Detroit is a Jewish Learning Center for everyone wanting to make connections to the community at large,” observes Estie. “We have some families that come to us for services and support for everything, from cradle to grave. We have a Sunday school. We’re starting a preschool; we have High Holiday services; we attract unaffiliated families from all streams of Judaism, as well as those who are members of other synagogues, but choose to join us for events or supplemental Jewish education. We have Jewish wisdom and a passion to share our broad menu of offerings. My husband, Simcha, always likes to say he’s an Orthodox rabbi for non-Orthodox people.”
Reflecting on the trip she took with Aish last year, Jennifer Krieger of Huntington Woods stated, “No offense to my dear husband and son, but a trip like this is once-in-a-lifetime. I was able to experience Israel and explore Judaism in so many inclusive ways with an amazing group of women, some of whom are now my closest friends.”
“I often joke with Jen that she should go back every year,” say Jennifer’s husband, Todd, “because the person who came home was the best version of my wife I’ve ever known. And that’s saying quite a lot!”
In reflection on the journey, Julie Yaker concludes, “As mothers with young children, many of us are hesitant to take such a ‘personal leave of absence’ from home. On the journey, we come to realize that we haven’t left our husbands and children, but rather we’ve come to Israel for them.”
Going? Going fast.
T.A.G. 14 for Moms, leaves from Detroit on Monday, December 8, 2014. Spaces are going fast, but still available. Click here for more information or contact Estie Tolwin at 248-327-3579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.