July 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Jewish Moms Bring Home Much More Than Souvenirs From a ‘Mommy Birthright’ Trip

The plan was to inspire non-Orthodox Jewish moms to connect with their heritage and Israel. For the 110 Jewish moms who live in Bergen County, that turned out to be just the beginning.

In 2011, Julie Farkas from Bergenfield, NJ, with the help of JInspire, a grassroots Jewish learning initiative with chapters in NY and NJ, organized a group of 25 Bergen County Jewish women to join about 400 others from cities around the world on a highly subsidized Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) sponsored trip to Israel. Lovingly nicknamed “Mommy-Birthright,” the goal was to awaken participants’ Jewish identity and spirituality. These women have each come back from the trip with their own story of inspiration, and a newfound connection to Judaism as well as each other.

Once these women were home, it was important to make sure that spark of enthusiasm didn’t go out. At that point, the basis for Jewish Journeys of Northern New Jersey (JJNNJ) was born. With each subsequent trip, the participants returned with a newfound spirituality and motivation to continue the journey they had begun. Most were excited to better understand and participate in Jewish tradition, and wanted to learn more. They now attend ongoing events that include weekly Torah study, classes about holidays and traditions, a monthly challah bake, Hebrew classes, Shabbat dinners, social events and visits from guest speakers. More importantly, most of the participants want to inspire their families and share what they’ve learned (which is the reason it is open only to women with children under 18 living at home). As each trip has returned, the women who left as strangers return as “sisters,” with a connection not just to each other, but to all the women who preceded them on earlier trips.

“The physical trip to Israel allows women to make that connection to their roots in a way that nothing else could,” said Julie. Being right there and seeing everything firsthand—the sites, the speakers, the comradery and the music and dancing—all help to accelerate participants’ realization that they are a part of something special and grand, and that the gift of Torah is theirs too. Simply put, “When you’re there, you just get it.”

Since that first trip, Julie, along with other volunteers whom she recruited as “city leaders,” including Esther Friedman, Dena Levi, Andrea Portel, Phyllis Krug and Elana Kaplan, in addition to the continued support from JInspire, have led five more groups, totaling over 110 women from northern NJ on JWRP trips to Israel. “JWRP does an amazing job putting the entire program together, but the enthusiasm could all disappear if we didn’t help keep the spirit alive at home,” said Julie Farkas.

JJNNJ is running a fund drive to help support their efforts and also has openings for their next trip for moms, leaving on November 13, 2016. Through JWRP, JJNNJ has also started a trip for the husbands of women who have gone on the trip. For more information about participating in a trip, or donating to JJNNJ, please go to the website at www.JewishJourneys.org or email [email protected].

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