Nineteen women from Greater Phoenix went to Israel on the Momentum trip.

Marcy Lewis has known about Momentum for years.

“I have been following this trip for years, watching all my friends, all these people I know, post Facebook Lives and updates, and I would just watch from behind the screen, crying, I wanted to do this so bad,” she said. But the timing never worked out, until recently.

Momentum, often jokingly described as a Birthright trip for Jewish Moms, began in 2008 to empower and inspire Jewish women to transform themselves, their families, their communities and the world. It is a year-long program that starts with a trip to Israel and is followed by monthly meetings for the next year and a half, which cover a “Year of Growth” curriculum.

Lewis and 18 other women from Greater Phoenix returned from Israel Tuesday, Nov. 23, after a 10-day trip, just before Israel closed its borders Sunday, Nov. 29, due to COVID-19’s emerging omicron variant.

Lewis finally applied to be a part of Momentum in 2019 after realizing her eligibility window was closing. Momentum is open to Jewish moms of kids under 18, and Lewis’ sons were 18 and 15 when she applied.

“I never put myself first,” she said. “It’s always my kids, my husband, my job, and I never do anything for me.” But since her kids were now older she felt it was time to pursue this long-awaited program.

She immediately called Robin Meyerson, co-director of Project Inspire Arizona, who organized the Momentum trip for Arizona participants.

“My second phone call was to my sister,” Lewis said. “I said, ‘You need to apply for this trip. We’re going.’”

The pandemic postponed that trip for two years, however, and navigating the logistics caused by COVID was a whirlwind, Meyerson said.

“We all just dove in saying it’s going to work out and if it doesn’t, it won’t. We bought tickets, we took PCR tests and vaccines and all these other things. And we just all went in with a really positive attitude and it was incredible,” Meyerson said.

The women went sightseeing, connected with each other and learned in unison. The program offered classes on parenting and marriage.

“You go on this trip, and you come back and you’re nourished so that you can be a better mom, a better wife and a better woman,” Meyerson said.

The trip showed Meyerson that she is able to lead a group. Like Lewis, she waited until 2019 to sign up and so was also forced to wait out the pandemic’s delays.

DeDe Sandler first learned about Momentum when her daughter was 6 years old. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving her daughter at the time. But about six weeks before the recent trip, a spot opened up.

“My girlfriend called me and was like, ‘You have to apply for this right now. Stop what you’re doing,’” she recalled. She was at a Goodwill store trying to find PJ Library or other Jewish books for her daughter. It happened to be one of those days where she felt “ready to sell my child,” she joked. Now that her daughter is eight, she applied. Within 24 hours, she was accepted and bought her airplane tickets.

It wasn’t her first time in Israel, but it was her first time in Israel as a parent. She felt empowered. Two of her biggest takeaways were: “There is no one right way to be Jewish,” and “It starts within the home. And if you can change a home, then you can change enough homes to change a community. And if you change enough communities, you can change the world.”

She learned the value of tzedakah and decided to up her giving. On Nov. 30, Giving Tuesday, she incorporated “giving Jewishly” and donated to several Jewish organizations.

Sandler is looking forward to the next year and a half of learning and continuing to grow with the group of women on her trip. “They inspire me, and they are definitely people who I want to learn from and learn with.”

Lewis was thrilled to be able to go to Israel for the first time with this group of women on Momentum.

“I went with my sister, and I came home with a whole new and amazing group of sisters,” she said. “These women will now be a part of my everyday life.”

Lewis said the trip was life changing — spiritually, mentally and physically.

After applying for the trip in 2019, Lewis learned she has a rare type of cancer, carcinoid cancer. She no longer needs intensive treatment, but she sees life differently now and she doesn’t want to take any opportunities for granted.

“This trip just came up at the perfect time to rejuvenate me as a human, as a woman,” she said. JN