407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

As we all prepare for Shabbat this week, I am preparing to travel to Israel. I leave on Sunday as part of the Orlando contingent of the Momentum Men’s Trip. (The women’s trip leaves October 31st.) Momentum is a special program designed to bring men together using Israel as a crucible for Jewish connection, involvement, and meaning. This year, the program is launching an advanced track for those who have been on the trip before; our Orlando group is lucky to have several participants on that track, as well.

I think it’s fitting that during COVID, this trip will be my 18th trip to Israel. 18 is the number of life in Hebrew—chai—and Israel certainly is the lifeblood of the Jewish people, and holds a special place in my own life. Each trip I have taken has been different, enhancing my life in new ways, and furthering both my Jewish identity and Jewish journey. I have no doubt this trip will do the same.

For those of you who have been to Israel, you know and understand what I mean. There is something special there. The air smells different, the water tastes different. I remember realizing on my first trip in 1998 that the people collecting the garbage were Jewish—the bus drivers were Jewish—even the beggars were Jewish.

This trip will be more about introspection than seeing Israel itself. I look forward to the opportunity to use Israel as a tool for my personal growth and journey. I’m excited to spend more time in Tzfat, one of my favorite cities that I never get enough time in, and to immerse in the ancient mikvah there. To wake up early, to be able to pray at the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple) as the sun rises. To spend Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem. And of course, to bond with the other men on our trip, creating and deepening friendships.

Israel is an amazing country, and also an amazing concept. If you haven’t yet been, I encourage you to do so. And if you have, I encourage you to return again and to get involved with the Federation’s Israel and Overseas committee. The task of this committee is to identify the focus we want to have in Orlando with Israel and the wider Jewish world—to identify the relationship we want to build. It imagines how we bring Israel to Orlando, and how we bring people from Orlando to Israel. It reviews our funding to Israel, and makes recommendations about where and how that funding is used. It’s a great way to get involved in the Jewish community, here in Orlando and beyond.

This Shabbat, I will be in Orlando—next Shabbat, in Israel. I consider myself very lucky and privileged to once again visit our Jewish homeland. I’ll be blogging and filming videos while in Israel, so if you are interested, be sure to watch the Federation’s website, social media, and emails for updates.

As a Jewish community, we are lucky to have Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,