Men inspired to live their best Jewish life
By Alexandra Lang
Maintaining the growth and progress that young Jewish adults gain from experiences such as their bar or bat mitzvah is challenging. With limited free time and few Jewish programs available to them, these adults can unwittingly allow the connection to their faith to dwindle.
Jewish Education Texas, or JET, is a non-denominational organization that provides programs for young Jewish families in Dallas to connect with one another and their faiths outside of their synagogues; it is one of the Dallas-based Jewish organizations that sponsors an annual trip to Israel for Dallas Jews through another organization called Momentum, formerly named Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. Momentum provides eight-day trips to Israel for Jewish adults, with both women’s (MOMentum) and men’s (MoMENtum) trips, inspiring them to improve their lives and communities through a renewed connection to their faith.
Rabbi Tsvi Wachsman, one of the founding rabbis of JET alongside Rabbi Shalom Rodin, decided to implement the trip to provide the chance for Jewish adults to reignite their connection to their faith and continue that path once they return home.
“We felt that the MoMENtum trip was an opportunity for someone to take the time away from their families to connect with themselves and their Jewish souls,” Wachsman said. “For us, it wasn’t a trip to Israel [for the men] to connect [with their faith] in a vacuum, but it would be a springboard for sparking the Jewish neshama, the soul, to want to explore Judaism more.”
In 2016, JET first sponsored the women’s trip, MOMentum, and it started sponsoring the men’s version of the trip, MoMENtum, in 2018.
In November, a group of 30 men embarked on the second JET-sponsored MoMENtum trip for eight days.
Each day had a different theme and location; among other topics, the men discussed how to strengthen their relationships with loved ones, deepen their connection to God and leave a lasting, positive legacy for their children and future generations.
The men visit a variety of important landmarks in Israel, including the Latrun army base, the Dead Sea and Yad Vashem, which is Israel’s memorial for the victims of the Holocaust.
A highlight of the trip for some participants is the visit to the Kotel, or the Western Wall. Mike Cohen, one attendee, said it was the most meaningful part of the trip for him.
“We’d spent the morning at Yad Vashem, and we were brought to the Wall at the end of a very emotional day, so we didn’t go to the wall until really sundown and it was an extremely emotional day,” Cohen said. “I’ve been to Israel a handful of times but for this trip, not seeing the wall until the end of a very emotional day, I think, was very impactful.”
For some of the men, the trip leaders and tour guides were a highlight. One of the men’s trip leaders, Charlie Harary, has been described by some of the men as a Jewish version of Tony Robbins; he spoke to and motivated the men during the journey. Lev Skolnik, one of the trip attendees, said that Harary and the tour guides were one of his favorite aspects of the trip.
“[Harary] really helped set the tone for everything that we did as a group,” Skolnik said. “We also had some incredible guys that, outside of being tour guides and telling us about the landmarks, were discussing some really thought-provoking things and tying them to the place we were visiting. Everywhere we went, we came away with some food for thought.”
Brett Diamond serves on the board of JET and is also member of the men’s council for the MoMENtum trip. He has attended the trip twice, the first time, attending with his brother through a different organization. On his second trip, he was able to go as one of two madrichs, or leaders; Rabbi Wachsman and Rabbi Rodin also attended the trip. As a madrich, Diamond used his unique leadership position to support the other men on the trip.
“[A madrich is] someone that really wants to make the experience the best it can be, because with 28-29 guys, there’s only so much the rabbis can do,” Diamond said. “The guys on the trip may look at and respect the rabbis differently as they may respect us two [leaders] because we don’t come from a rabbinical background. So the way we can influence may be different.”
For Diamond, the trip was a meaningful opportunity for self-reflection.
“A lot of us on the trip were what I call on ‘the treadmill of life,’ where we’re working very hard in our career, are married, have children, and are looked on as leaders of the community,” he said. “There’s never really a time that one can take a pause and get off the treadmill and really reflect on oneself. And that’s the beauty of this trip: It really focuses on growth individually and it makes [one] a better person.”
Skolnik decided to attend the JET-sponsored trip after realizing that he, too, wanted a break from life’s metaphorical treadmill.
“I’d been busy with three kids, marriage and work, and I felt like I could benefit from some perspective and a readjustment,” he said.
The men are all at different phases in their lives: they’re at various stages in their relationships, their children are at all different ages and their only commonalities before the trip seem to be their religion. But despite these dissimilarities, the men returned from the trip with a newfound group of Jewish brothers.
“All of us were able to be vulnerable, and when you have the vulnerability in a group setting with guys you may not even know, with the backdrop of Israel, it really brings a sense of brotherhood and a bonding feeling among the guys,” Diamond said.
To maintain their connection after the trip, the men organized a weekly group meeting with the rabbis to read the week’s Torah portion; they have meaningful discussions about Judaism and the difficulties they face in their everyday lives.
“We have a very intimate, confidential and inspiring discussion on self-growth and Torah,” Diamond said. “We are, literally, keeping momentum from the trip.”
Choosing to attend the trip can seem daunting, but Cohen advises people who are unsure to decide to go.
“Don’t consider it, just commit. Once you do, you’ll realize that the hardest part is the commitment to go, and once you’re there, you recognize why it was important to go,” he said.
Some of the best resources, for people who are hesitant to go, are the men who have attended the trip.
“It’s never a good time to go on the trip because life is busy,” Diamond said. “If you want to take a step off the treadmill of life, have an amazing time in the most beautiful country in the world, be around your Jewish brothers from all over the world, eat good food, have very deep conversations…then I would tell [you] to talk to the guys and see what they say.”
Throughout the trip, the men were encouraged to “choose awesome” in their lives once they returned home.
“It’s very easy to go through life cruising: doing what you have to do to be successful, being a husband [and] being a father. But choosing awesome is saying, ‘I want to have a life filled with happiness and meaning,’” Wachsman said. “Let life be awesome, and how [does one] do so? That’s the Jewish journey. It’s not just the trip; it’s important to choose awesome for your whole life.”
The next JET men’s trip is set for November 2020. The land cost is $1,200; men whose wife or ex-wife have participated on a MOMentum trip within the last five years will receive a $300 discount, bringing the the total to either $1374 or $1074 including fees. Participants pay for their own airfare. To be eligible, one must meet some requirements, including living within 30 minutes of the sponsoring organization and having children under the age of 18 who are raised Jewish. Information on other local sponsoring organizations is available at the Momentum website, www.momentumunlimited.org.