Trip to Israel Empowers Jewish 'Women Who Do'

“Once I got back from my first trip I just knew I had to get Hadassah involved. After all, we are ‘women who do’.” Its 8:30 at night and Dr. Jill Schwartz-Chevlin’s naturally effervescent personality is bubbling through my phone line. She can’t help but be excited. In less than two weeks she’ll be taking her first group of Hadassah members on a Momentum trip to Israel in conjunction with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP).

JWRP began running 8-day Momentum trips to Israel for Jewish women in 2008. Think: Birthright meets Eat Pray Love. Working with a variety of community organizations, JWRP primarily markets to mothers with children under 18 with the belief that, “If you wanted to have the greatest influence on the direction of the Jewish people, whom should you target? The Jewish mother, that’s who.” Schwartz-Chevlin went on her first Momentum trip in 2012. Instantly, she became hooked on the idea of bringing Hadassah into the mix.

A lifetime member and current national co-chair of Hadassah Physicians Council, Schwartz-Chevlin credits Hadassah Israel’s Deputy Director Barbara Goldstein (whom Schwartz-Chevlin proudly calls both a role model and a “firecracker”) with inspiring her to make a match between the women’s Zionist organization and JWRP. “She looked me in the eye and told me ‘you have to make this happen.’ The Jewish mother guilt gets you every time.”

After networking side trips to Hadassah’s Jerusalem hospital locations on subsequent Momentum trips, Schwartz-Chevlin knew it was time to take the budding relationship to the next level. An informal meeting between Hadassah and JWRP led to a lunch date in Manhattan with Hadassah CEO Janice Weinman and National President Ellen Hershkin to press the idea of taking a Hadassah group on an upcoming JWRP trip. The two took the idea to Hadassah’s board which eagerly approved. “We received our official okay in July. At that point I was told to get a group together for JWRP’s November trip. I thought, November? That’s like, tomorrow!”

Fortunately, Schwartz-Chevlin was able to call on Rebbetzin Bassie Nadoff from the Shalom Heritage Center in East Windsor, NJ, for help in publicizing the trip to the local community. Nadoff, also a JWRP alum, was more than happy to distribute flyers and help guide Schwartz-Chevlin, a member of conservative temple Beth El, also in East Windsor, through the process of creating her first Momentum trip group. “The pluralism that exists among this group of women is amazing,” she observes. “This trip is trendsetting.”

Within weeks Schwartz-Chevlin had interviewed applicants and finalized a group of 12 women ranging in age from their late 40s to their early 50s—women with teenaged children, advanced degrees and busy careers in medicine, pharma or non-profit management. It’s no wonder then that these movers and shakers needed to be told that they’d be invited to turn off their phones during Shabbat in Jerusalem, a traditional move Schwartz-Chevlin found to be an appealing shock to the system.

“This trip is a liberating opportunity for working mothers to take the blinders off,” Schwartz-Chevlin reflects. Getting out of their everyday routine gives participants a rare chance to redefine themselves beyond career and family roles. “Each one of us has this spark,” she explains, and the Momentum trip is an opportunity to connect with that “living passion” that motivated family and career decisions made 5, 10, even 15 years ago. For the good doctor, taking a break from being “everything to everyone” translates into “improving the lives of those around you.”

JWRP makes family life the focus of growth and development. Partnering with Hadassah, Schwartz-Chevlin is taking the growth and development concept to the next level. “Every day has a theme,” she explains of the trip. “One day is focused on philanthropy,” a topic she felt particularly relevant to her group. As members of one of the oldest Jewish women’s philanthropic organizations, these women are looking to refresh and repair in order to give back to and through their Hadassah community.

Participant Amy Solomon echoed the spirit of her tripmates when she reflected, “Each one of us received a gift by being able to experience JWRP and Israel. This is something many Jewish women need, even if they don’t realize it. This trip enhances you as a human being and as a mother.”