Saturday, December 13, 2014

JWRP Israel: Day 5

Day 5: My Shabbat in Jerusalem was like no other I have ever experienced. It was emotional. It was energizing. It was inspiring. It was as though the learning and events of the past week were synthesized into a true feeling of renewal. Through JWRP, G-d is presenting me with a window of opportunity. What will I do with this opportunity? What changes will I make in my household ... in my life? I need to go home and process everything I have taken in. But I am getting ahead of myself, so allow me to tell you about my last 26 hours.

As the sun began to set over Jerusalem, 400 women from all over the US descended upon the Western Wall and made our presence heard. G-d must have felt us. I KNOW he felt us, because I most definitely felt Him. We made concentric circles, held hands and sang Hebrew songs over and over. A group of female soldiers joined in with us and I felt so much gratitude toward them. I was in awe watching the sun set over the Kotel. "G-d, look at me -- it is Shabbat, I am in Jerusalem surrounded by women I have grown to love and — best of all — I am Jewish!" I truly felt like a link in a chain between my anscestors and future generations of the Jewish people. It was hard to keep myself from crying. I now understand why it is called the wailing wall.

We went on to Shabbat dinner at the Inbal Hotel. A lovely young woman from the west coast came over to speak to me, as she grew up in Long Island. We were talking about the experience at the wall that night. She expressed to me that she never considered herself “very Jewish.” And that before the world events of this summer, she never really gave Judaism much thought at all. But this summer she began to wonder things like, “Will it be safe for my children to travel abroad as Jews when they get older? Will it be safe for my kids to attend college in the US? Will Israel still continue to exist for Jews?” I expressed to her that while she may not always identify herself as being "very Jewish", the rest of the world does. We talked about the fact that in WWII, Jewish families were exterminated whether they identified as Jewish or not. I thought, instead of carrying the weight of being Jewish — like a burden -- appreciate the BEAUTY being Jewish.

Today we had Shabbat lunch at the home of a couple, formerly from Manhattan. They were such lovely people and it was great learning their stories. Our host’s father has spent his career involved with Zionist organizations and was instrumental in founding the Israel Day Parade in NYC. The father-in-law of one of our JWRP sisters is the official “Shofar blower” at the same parade. Then I had a thought: JWRP should be marching in the Israel Day Parade!!!! We have so many women from the NY area who are all so passionate about supporting Israel. So, Lori, you may be hearing from us because we’d like to make this happen for 2015!

Amazing Havdallah service on the Aish HaTorah rooftop, rounding out a memorable Shabbat. Shavua Tov, everyone … until next Shabbat!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

JWRP Israel: Day 4

Day 4: While the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, it certainly was NOT the low point of our trip! Today was amazing! I mean, what DIDN'T we do today?!! 

We started out with a drive through the dessert to Masada, on a picture perfect day. When we got to the top, there was a naming ceremony for women who do not have a Hebrew name. It was very emotional and we danced (surprise, surprise) and sang! We later found out some of the very emotional reasons these women chose the names they did. Then our guide Doron gave a us an engaging tour the ancient walled city built by King Herod, followed by an outdoor lunch.

We next moved on to the Dead Sea. We smeared mud on ourselves and on one another and enjoyed a fabulous float. The sea, the sand, the dessert ... all so beautiful. We even shared our mud with some young Israeli school girls who were excited to have a half-day off at school and spending their afternoon at the beach. They were as excited to meet and talk to us, as we were them!

We moved on to a beautiful dessert setting to Abraham & Sarah's Tent. We enjoyed camel rides and a drum circle, while the sun set over the parched Judean hills. The al fresco dinner was amazing! As the wine flowed, we all got to know each other a little better. We finished the evening with -- you guessed it -- more dancing! Looking forward to Shabbat in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

JWRP Israel: Day 3

Day 3: Today was a beautiful & busy day in oh-so-many ways! For starters, we are experiencing gorgeous December weather -- even by Israel standards. We know that rain is good for Israel. But as a New Yorker leaving the bitter cold, I would be lying if I said I wasn't appreciating the warmth of the Mediterranean sun!

We left the hotel and meandered through the old city to the stunning Aish HaTorah Center. We enjoyed this weather again from the center's rooftop, with an incredible view of the Kotel. Inside, we were welcomed by JWRP founder Lori Palatnik, who gave a fascinating seminar on personality types. Do you have the soul of a Chaim (thinker), a Bracha (extrovert), or Tov (Moral / Judger) ... or perhaps you are a combination of two or three. Take Lori's seminar to find out!

We then learned about the roots of the Aish HaTorah renaissance. This organization was founded by Rabbi Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory. In a filmed interview with the Rabbi, he quoted his father saying,"If there's no one else doing the job, then you've got to do it." And do it he did, with his establishment of a global network of educational and outreach programs throughout the world for unaffiliated Jewish men and women.

I am SO THANKFUL that JWRP is carrying on his important work with through these trips.The film was introduced by one of Rabbi Weinberg's students, Rabbi Ken Spiro. Can I digress to say that Rabbi Spiro's book "WorldPerfect" is one of my favorite books about Judaism?! I highly recommend this book, which is captivating from the very first page, and we are so fortunate to have him with us! Next we had an opportunity to spend time with women who have made Aliyah to Israel. We exchanged recipes and photos of our children. They were so nice to volunteer their time and most of us found we all had so much in common.

The highlight of the day for many of us was the time we spent at the Western Wall. Our group danced and sang together, then we each took turns going up to the wall for a private, very spiritual moment of prayer. Then we toured the old city, both above ground and below ground. There is so much more to Jerusalem than meets the eye. It's history goes back over 1500 years and much of it is buried below the surface. I'll tell you, they just do not build cities like they used to!

My JWRP "sisters" are out for dinner and I am here in the hotel room writing this blog. It was a VERY busy day and I am way too tired to venture out tonight. But I am enthusiastic about getting a good night of sleep so I can be ready for another BIG day tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

JWRP Israel: Day 2

Day 2: We woke up to a sumptuous Israeli breakfast -- some of us well-rested, others not so much! We were again treated to an engaging seminar with Nili Couzens. The topic was relationships. 

Yesterday's theme of positivity, carries through to our relationships with our significant others. We CHOOSE whether to focus on the positive or negative traits in our partners. 

I say "partners" because I am divorced. This means I may have made a have mistake or two in my past relationships. I am only human. However, being in a relationship of almost five years with an incredible man, this seminar resonated with me. I want to get it right this time! I thought about my boyfriend Leo and his many virtues -- his kindness, his creativity, his consideration. These are just a few of his traits which I value and love. Note to Self: Remind Leo every day that he is an amazing man! As Nili said, complimenting our partner is an instrument of love.
We then got on the bus to mystical city of Tzfad. As our bus climbed the Galilee Mountains to Tzfad, we climbed to a higher spiritual plain. We all felt very open and "available" to receiving spiritual signs. Many of the women experienced much emotion in the sacred sites we visited. We toured the mikveh and learned about the close-knit relationship between our physical and spiritual beings. We talked about renewal and fresh starts. We toured two ancient synagogues, then did some shopping at the many galleries and Judaica stores dotting the scenic mountaintop town. 

During our Tzfat dinner, (at an incredible location with a definite middle eastern flair,) we were seated with women from other geographic areas. I sat next to a lovely woman with whom I had much in common. She, too, is divorced and we talked about the morning's seminar, and relationships in general. The evening, again, ended with a spirited round of dancing. I think I might lose weight with all this exercise! Now we are Jerusalem bound. So excited to visit this holiest of cities!

Monday, December 8, 2014

JWRP Israel: Day 1

Day 1: We have most definitely arrived! We've been excited for this trip for so many weeks -- and for some of us months, even years. We arrived at Ben Gurion airport pinching ourselves that we finally arrived at this much-awaited day!

Each woman on this trip is at a distinctly different point on her journey. Yet we are all acutely aware that we have something to gained by being here. What we have to gain is immense, but not the same for any one of us. We are each on our own personal quest to be better wives, mothers, partners, Jews and people.

Israel is the charging station for the Jewish soul. That was the message of our dynamic speaker Nili Couzens tonight. We all have a tendency to get caught up in the day-to-day minutia of our lives, which can take its toll on us. A week in Israel with such inspiring company is the perfect antidote. It is a week we are claiming as our own ... to connect with one another, recharge our batteries, and --most of all -- recognize the many blessings in our lives. They are all right there in front of us, every day. We just need to CHOOSE to see them.

This theme continued during our conversation at Decks, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As we got to know each other (over an amazing array of Israeli food), we discussed how fortunate we are to be on this trip in Israel RIGHT NOW. Many of us have had the opportunity to go on previous trips, and have not been able to follow through, due to family or career obligations. We all agreed that we are here, because this is "our time." It is all part of G-d's plan that we find ourselves in Israel, right here, right now. It is our responsibility to "be present" and to make the most of this amazing opportunity.

As dinner wound down, the atmosphere wound up. The second that music came on, women bounded from their seats, grabbing each other's hands and instantly becoming part of something much larger than themselves ... over 200 women joyously dancing, like a giant bat mitzvah! No one was left on the sidelines to watch. Each of us was swept up in the fabulous, cohesive moment of togetherness.
When Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" came on, our leader Esti grabbed the microphone and cleverly inserted her own lyrics, "We are JWRP, I got all my sisters and me." Yes, we are already forming a sisterly bond. If this is just day one, I can't wait to see what lies in store for my sisters and me in the week ahead!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Capturing Memories

My boyfriend Leo is an incredible professional photographer. The real deal, educated in the art. He captures amazing, unforgettable moments from weddings and bar mitzvahs. If you are looking for a bar mitzvah photographer in Plainview, NY ... he is your man! He also does amazing pre-event decor shoots that make these kids look like models! It is so much fun watching him work and seeing the mazing art he creates.

But his wedding work is even more amazing! Wedding work is simply ... sexier, more artistic, more beautiful. He hustles is ass off at wedding to make sure he captures positively everything. If you are looking for a wedding photographer in Plainview, NY, I highly recommend you check him out.

A little bit about Leo, in his own words:

I was born in Buenos Aires and educated in Chicago, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Thus began a career in fashion and editorial photography. It was during these years I developed my creative technique and distinct photojournalistic style.

Photographs make memories tangible.
They render indelible those little details which time might otherwise erase. When it comes to your wedding, each image plays an integral role in documenting the events of your day.
As an artist educated in the world of film photography, I capture your moments at the scene employing creative composition and the beauty of natural light. These techniques cannot be replicated after the fact, even with today’s sophisticated software. And these are skills that take decades of experience to perfect.
The unique story of your beginning will be delivered in a style that radiates warmth and exudes personality — to echo the feelings surrounding your special day.