Last summer, a Jewish woman who grew up disconnected from the St. Louis Jewish community applied for the MOMentum Year-Long Journey at her friend’s request. She didn’t know what to expect – or if she would even like the other women in her cohort. But, as it turned out, the experience was life-changing. When she returned home, she met with the director of the local Jewish day school to learn about enrolling her six-year-old child. Now, she is an active member of the Jewish community and has a whole new group of Jewish friends.
This is one of the many personal transformations that Karen Sher has witnessed as the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’s Director of Community Engagement, as well as a Momentum Community Leader. While the Federation has run missions to Israel for years, Karen details the different approach of the MOMentum Year-Long Journey.
“The MOMentum Trip is first and foremost a personal journey – and not an exploration of Israel’s sites,” said Karen. “Women become very vulnerable, sharing their feelings and experiences. That deepens their connections with themselves and with each other, which, in turn, positively impacts the greater community.”
Since 2016, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis has brought over 50 women on the MOMentum Year-Long Journey. Each trip begins with a day in Yokneam and Megiddo, St. Louis’s sister city and region through the Partnership2Gether program, a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel. There, the women visit a few of the sites that the Federation invests in including, A Business of One’s Own, Economic Empowerment for Women; Gilor-Megiddo Elderly Services; Co-existence Project in the Megiddo Region; Leket Israel, Israel’s National Food Bank; and an Ethiopian community center. There, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant shares the trek she undertook through Ethiopia and Sudan to reach Israel, as well as the U.S.’s involvement in airlifting many Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Momentum sisters take part in an Ethiopian cooking demonstration, followed by a delicious meal, and learn an Ethiopian dance together.
"I love having the opportunity to elevate the power of women’s voices. When I see that thousands of women around the world are connecting to Jewish values and to Israel, I know that St. Louis is on the right track. It’s really special to be part of something this big."
Israeli women from Yokneam and Megiddo also join the MOMentum Trip, and the sisters share how different their lives are, while finding commonalities as women and mothers. Long after the trip is over, their joint WhatsApp group continues to be active, with frequent “happy birthday” and “Shabbat Shalom” messages popping up.
Back in St. Louis, Momentum sisters attend monthly Federation events, including a women’s seder; a Jewish community unity event, a celebration that brings women together from a variety of women’s organizations; a day of service at the local food pantry; and social gatherings. Many also take on leadership positions in the Jewish community, chair events, and increase their philanthropic giving.
Momentum sisters stay closely connected to one another outside of MOMentum Year-Long Journey events, too. Recently, one Momentum sister was named a Chai Society Honoree by her synagogue, and many of her Momentum sisters attended her synagogue’s tribute dinner. On a past MOMentum Trip, one woman learned that her father had died. Not only did her new sisters provide emotional support to her during the trip, but once home, they attended the shiva, showing up with food and making sure that she knew she wasn’t alone.
As a Community Leader, Karen feels fortunate to be able to forge a deeper connection with women in her community, to see them connect to Israel and Judaism in new ways, and to gain lessons that have impacted her parenting.
“I love having the opportunity to elevate the power of women’s voices,” said Karen. “When I see that thousands of women around the world are connecting to Jewish values and to Israel, I know that St. Louis is on the right track. It’s really special to be part of something this big.”