“Greatness is not what happens to you. Greatness is who you are in the face of what happens to you.” – Adrienne Gold Davis
This was one of the first things I heard on my recent trip to Israel with Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and it really resonated with me. With this inaugural trip for a group of what was coined “media magnets,” I knew I was experiencing something kind of amazing and didn’t want to lose sight of the importance of this very signifiant statement.
I had been on many press trips in my time, and you’ve read about many of them here and elsewhere, but from the moment I landed in Israel a mere two weeks ago, I knew this would be different. For me, this particular invitation was magical and it was a total honor to be chosen as part of the group (Yes, I actually had to interview and go through a process to be selected as a Media Magnet). I had long yearned for an opportunity to share the country of Israel with my readers. It’s a place I have both lived in and loved beyond measure, and for eight days I would immerse myself in all the positives about the country and share them with the world.
And it was. The JWRP trip was a lesson in choosing to live the life you want, no matter how tough it can get. With a spiritual advisor, Davis who is quoted above, alongside our group every step of the way to provide spiritual guidance and inspiration, I learned so much about myself, starting with greatness. Only we can prevent ourselves from achieving it. The rest are just small detours before we reach our destinations, and this trip was not a detour but a pinnacle of my media career. It literally taught me to live out loud.
I had been chosen as part of a 30-person group of media professionals (you may have seen the hash tag #mediamagnets across all social media) to explore and experience Israel. Together we had more than 10 million followers on social media, and we would share our experience with our readers. I was traveling alongside writers/bloggers, authors, podcasters, media entrepreneurs, journalists, an actress from Casual and Transparent, a social activist who is currently helping to feed people in Puerto Rico, a brilliant gynecologist as well as a doctor who is also a parenting expert, two Latina lifestyle goddesses, a kosher chef, a cookbook writer from Toronto, an executive from a children’s entertainment company, twins who are blowing up Instagram, and so much more.
To be honest, putting this trip into words is challenging. I am still processing its power, meaning, and role in my life.
It was co-hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, who really stepped in to show us a more intimate and real side of Israel, far removed from what Americans generally see on TV, which is usually shots of fighting and turmoil in Israel’s West Bank. The group leading the tour purposefully did not raise the issue of politics as the topic can be polarizing. We did not hear about Palestinians until our last day in Israel when visiting David Saranga, President Reuven Rivlin’s Security Advisor, and while that was a struggle for many of us (including myself), we worked our way through it and grappled with their exclusion. Next summer I plan to return to Israel with my family and incorporate their struggle into my experience. The JWRP trip is a very different type of trip, showing us what lies beyond the state’s conflict. We learned about the country’s history, lifestyle, technology, business, culture, religious diversity, and social activism, all of which I am very proud of. So much good comes out of this small country.
I tweeted, Facebook’ed, Instagram’d and shot videos along the way, along with many of my fellow influencers, but the trip was about so much more than just sharing the moment. It was about what we felt, as well as the sisterhood factor. Somehow I was clustered with some of the most amazing women in media and I continue to feel so honored. Not only did I make incredible connections, many of whom I hope to work with in the near future as a marketer and communicator, but I made friends for life.
The trip was also about connecting with both the land, our Jewish identities and each other on a very personal level. We were 30 women at pivotal points in our lives – many of us middle-aged – some with children, some without. One was 26, a few in her 30’s, many of us in our 40’s and 50’s. We are all at critical junctures in our lives and whether we shared our struggles with each other or not during the course of the trip, there was a bond created that will most likely take us to another time and place where we will learn more about each other.
JWRP created a week full of unique and special experiences that unbeknownst to be would culminate in a feeling like no other. On the first day, we went on a graffiti tour in South Tel Aviv’s Bohemian Florentine neighborhood. It was a profound, insightful look and perfect introduction to Israeli culture. Much of the art has political and historical connotations and was incredibly thought-provoking about Israel as a diverse society with an intense history. Then we were taken to Zefat, a city of Kabbalah, mysticism, art and Jewish history, where we roamed the cobblestone streets and drank pomegranate juice. Kaballah is about tradition and connection, and as we walked, shopped, and met locals, we began to establish a powerful connection with one another.
We also visited Israeli doctors and a social worker treating Syrian refugees at the Ziv Medical Center in Zefat, a particularly meaningful experience for me given the work that I have done over the past year having co-created a non-profit to support refugees from countries where they have been persecuted. When asked how he can treat people who may want to hurt him and his countrymen, Dr. Ran Katz told us he refuses to pass judgement when he doesn’t know what the people he is treating are doing and that it is his duty to treat and care for them. Approximately 1,000 Syrian refugees are brought there by the Israeli Defense Force a year. Some stay for days, weeks or months until they heal. When they leave, the hospital typically never hears from them again, though one patient we met had returned for a prosthetic leg. It was easy to feel a certain sense of camaraderie and hope while in the room with four wounded Syrian men.
There were other profound moments. We went to Nalagaat in Jaffa (meaning “Please Do Touch” in Hebrew), a theater for deaf and blind actors, where we met Uri, an actor from the Ukraine, who came to Israel at age 19 suffering from an illness called Usher Syndrome. There was an interpreter conveying his thoughts and feelings, and it was crystal clear that his profession (he has a full time salary) has changed his life for the better. He was a proud Israeli and again, I was proud of Israel for stepping up to help people – this time with disabilities.
Soon after we heard from Miriam Peretz, the mother of not one – but two – Israeli soldiers who died defending their country in the West Bank and Lebanon, offering strength and words of inspiration. We laughed when she spoke of the meatballs one of her sons used to love and how she continues to serve them to her grandchildren in his memory. She believes that her children both fell so that children today can go to school, and so that people like us can visit the Holy Land. Peretz meets with 1,000 soldiers a week to convey her words of hope because she chooses life, telling us, “Life is not how many years you live. It’s what you do in this moment.”
There were so many other stand out moments during our week long visit. From a visit to Yad Vashem, a museum memorializing the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, where several members of my group learned about members of their families who perished during that time. The tour guide ended our tour by reminding us that Nazis turned victims into numbers. By remembering them as individuals, we are honoring their memories. Remembering the past helps us get where we are going. During our visit to the Kotel on Shabbat, I prayed for my recently diseased father and later planted a tree in his honor. We climbed Masada and swam in the Dead Sea, tracing thousands of years of Jewish freedom. We also met and heard from entrepreneurs from Hagar Alembik, a fashion designer to a group working on inventions for people with disabilities at WeWork to representatives from IsraAID and Innovation Africa, who talked about Israel’s humanitarian efforts to help people on other continents. We celebrated an Israeli Shabbat with a beautiful young American couple who invited us all into their home where we shared intimate stories about ourselves.
And the food. Where do I start? I’m hummus-obsessed, and this trip took care of that obsession to the max. From our dinner at Moshav Livnim’s Roberg Restaurant near Tzfat where we had multiple platters of delicious food to an elegant, extraordinary dinner at Jerusalem’s 1868, a historical stone restaurant to lunch at Medita in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood where they serve the most heavenly hummus to a sublime dinner and cooking workshop with Chef Moshe Basson at The Eucalyptus. Chef Basson talked about Chefs4Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and coexistence through food. Chef Basson makes the most amazing dishes, and I tried everything, from Fire Roasted Eggplant to Fish Falafel to Artichoke Soup to Figs Stuffed with Chicken, and I loved watching my colleagues at the cooking station in aprons making our feast.
We saw even more of Israel. From a food tour and hanging out with friends in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehudah’s market to free time on Tel Aviv’s Rothchild Avenue when a group of us went to a bar to digest what we had seen to a private concert with David D’or, an Israeli singer, composer, and songwriter. The man has performed for the Pope, President Obama, at Shimon Peres’ funeral, and for us. It was an unbelievable honor to be in his presence and when he sang “Aveinu Malkenu,” I cried.
And after my return, with Trump’s announcement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, bringing violence and insecurity back to the region, I feel even closer and more connected to the State. The trip focused my attentions back to a country I’ve always been drawn to. I need to read up on the conflict so that I can better voice my feelings and opinions. I know that more than ever.
I think you’ll be hearing more from me about my #mediamagnets (yes, that was the hash tag) experience. I plan to do as Adrienne Gold Davis said, and to live out loud. Yes, you heard me. LIVE OUT LOUD. Because now I know that I can.
I need to write about the women, my sisterhood traveling pants, my posse. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, find out more about JWRP here and if you are interested in attending a future trip, leave a comment here and I’ll lead you in the right direction.
Disclosure: I was invited on this JWRP trip as a guest but all opinions are my own.