For years I’ve been hearing about a so-called “teen tour to Israel for Moms” or “Birthright for moms.” I’ve noticed (OK, stalked) the trips through Facebook all while telling myself that these kinds of trips were not for me because I’ve been to Israel several times. I told myself that the next time I go to Israel it should be with my kids. What’s more, I didn’t think I could ever leave my kids and husband for 10 days. Even as my interest in going to Israel on a women’s trip grew and I accepted that I wanted to go eventually, I kept insisting that I would have to wait for the right time.
If you have kids, a job, a spouse, and a life, then you know there’s never a “right time” to fly to the other side of the world while leaving everything else behind. Nevertheless, with the support of my husband and the help of grandparents and the best babysitter anywhere, I decided to go on the October 2015 trip hosted by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP), started by the prolific Jewish writer and teacher, Lori Palatnik.
And before you ask, no, I was not asked by JWRP to write about my experience. I simply feel it’s my duty to let other Jewish women know why it’s OK—and more, why it’s amazing—to go to Israel for 10 days even if you’re no longer in high school or college, and even if it’s without your family.
Here’s are four reasons why moms deserve a trip for Israel, too:
1. A women’s trip is significantly different from a teen tour and from Birthright. Thank God.
Since I’ve participated in both a teen tour to Israel and helped lead a Birthright trip, I can say that seeing Israel along with other moms who have kids under the age of 18 bears no resemblance to either of those experiences, even though it’s the comparison I often heard before I left. This is nothing against either type of Israel trip, as they both have their place in the Jewish community and were great for me at the time, but spending time in Israel with fellow mothers from all walks of Jewish life is extraordinarily special and unlike any other Israel opportunity.
It was a tremendous relief to experience Israel and discussions of Judaism as someone comfortable in my skin, yet open to learning. Unlike in my teen tour years, I felt perfectly happy sitting next to anyone on the bus or during a meal. There was no drama. We had all worked hard to clear our work schedules and find care for our kids, which meant we were there to enjoy Israel and get as much as could out of the classes and informal discussions with other women. We were not there to worry about saving seats on the bus.
2. Going to Israel with other adult women is more than a physical tour of Israel. It’s soul work.
Yes, we visited the Kotel, Masada, the city of Tzfat, and other popular tourist sites, but we also had classes woven throughout the week on subjects like gossip, marriage, the body vs. the soul, an analysis of personality types through a Jewish lens, and more. The most “soulful” opportunities, however, happened casually as I talked to other women on walks or during bus rides. Some of the women I spoke to at length live their Judaism differently from me and some are similar, but in all cases we spoke and listened with respect and curiosity. We didn’t spend much of our casual conversation time talking about what we feed our kids for dinner or how we manage the after-school homework hours.
It was refreshing to spend this kind of time with other women talking about what we want for ourselves and our families on a deeper level than the day-to-day frustrations (and joys) we are mired in when we’re back at home.
3. It’s never too late to experience Israel, and you can never go too many times.
My role in Israel on this trip was twofold. First and most importantly, the time I invested was for me to feel the inspiration of Israel, especially during a hard time for Israel, and to feel re-energized in my Judaism. The secondary reason I went was to bring that inspiration back home to my family, but the first reason cannot be stated enthusiastically enough. I think it’s crucial, for the sake of support for Israel and for excitement about Judaism, that our community continues to invest in adults.
Plenty of the women from around the world who went on the trip had never been to Israel, had no formal Jewish education when they were young, or ended their Jewish educations at the age of 13. If all the community’s dollars and efforts are focused on children and teens, then we miss the chance to educate adults from an adult perspective or to potentially reach an adult for the first time.
4. It’s never too late to make new friends.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to go all the way to Israel as an adult is to make new friends in your own city. We get stuck in our routines, which means that the women I met on my trip who come from every variety of Jewish background and who have kids ranging from the baby stage to well into the college years are all women I might have gone another few decades without exchanging more than a passing hello.
And now that I’m back . . .
When I returned home I was mopey for days like a kid back from overnight camp. Not only did I have to make my own meals again (and everyone else’s), but I also felt the acute absence of the Jewish spirit that flowed so easily throughout the trip and is a special part of life in Israel.
The good news is that knowing my husband and kids survived without me makes me feel like I can go back to Israel without them again one day. There’s no question I would jump at the opportunity to do so, however, I would like my next trip to Israel to include them so that I can experience Israel in an entirely new way again, this time through their eyes.