As David Shevrin floated in the Dead Sea, hiked to the top of Masada, dined, prayed, and danced under the Kotel in November of 2019, he had no idea that the world would change dramatically in just a few short months.
After a year at home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, his trip to Israel remains a shining memory of friendship, learning, and connection with others during a worldwide lockdown. “During the trip, my South Jersey group was paired up with the delegation from Sydney for Shabbat lunch at a local family’s home,” he said. “Most of these guys’ families had immigrated to Australia from South Africa decades ago to escape anti-semitism. As we compared our life stories and perspectives on Judaism, we found many stark differences. Yet, underneath it all, our identity as Jewish men connected us and created a special bond.”
In our conversation, David reflects on his MoMENtum Men’s Trip – how it changed his relationship with his family, the impact of meeting Israeli soldiers, and his advice to other men who are considering this journey.
Why did you decide to participate in the MoMENtum Men’s Trip?
I was so excited for my wife Rhonda to experience the MOMentum Year-Long Journey because she had never been to Israel before. She loved her trip and became very close to the women in her delegation. To this day, they have regular get-togethers!
In the nearly four decades since I’d been to Israel for the first and only time, I’d always wanted to go back. Rhonda’s experience inspired me, and when a MoMENtum Men’s Trip was offered to Southern New Jersey, I reached out to see if there was a place for me, too.
How did the MoMENtum Men’s Trip impact you and your family?
I came away from the trip with several goals I work to achieve every day. As the “king” of our family, I remind myself that it’s my job to encourage everyone in our family to be the best they can be – but it starts with me. To be the best I can be, I try to be more patient in the interest of others, more giving of my time, and more helpful to my family. My family always comes first.
Looking back on your time in Israel, what would you say were your most memorable moments and why?
I will always remember the moments I was able to see and interact with Israeli soldiers.
While we reflected on the horrors of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, a group of young women in military fatigues was touring as well. They were there to learn the history of their people, so they could defend their country, armed with knowledge and passion. Their presence made me feel hopeful that “Never Again” were not mere words.
I was moved, spiritually and emotionally, by my time at the Kotel, the Western Wall. During a Shabbat service there, we were able to pray and dance with a group of Israeli soldiers. It is hard to describe how deeply affected I was as I put my hand on the Wall, said a personal prayer, and danced with new friends.
Perhaps most memorable of all was our visit to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery. Among the graves we visited was that of a lone soldier, Michael Levin, who died in the line of duty. Michael was from the Philadelphia area, and grew up not far from my own home. Several years before, I had chaired a program about Michael’s extraordinary life and had the chance to meet his father. At Michael’s grave, I was finally able to thank him for his service and say a prayer in his memory.
Most of the soldiers I encountered were younger than both of my children. It was and still is, hard for me to fathom the responsibility laid on the shoulders of these young men and women. Meeting and talking to soldiers allowed me to put a face to the powerhouse that is the Israel Defense Forces, and learn more about their essential task of protecting the state of Israel.
What would you say to a guy who is considering joining us on a MoMENtum Men’s Trip to Israel in 2021 or 2022?
Go, go, go. Be open-minded and go with the flow. Even if you think an experience will be outside your comfort zone, put your best foot forward and be an active participant to the best of your ability. Take the time to meet people from other communities, even when it is uncomfortable. The old adage certainly applies: You get out of it what you put into it.
The MoMENtum Men’s Trip is jam-packed from the moment you arrive, so I would suggest adding a few extra days to your trip on the front end. For most people, this is their first time in Israel and there is a lot to see and do. My group arrived in Israel a few days early and based ourselves in Tel Aviv. We used the days to adjust to the time zone and tour a few places that were not part of the trip itinerary.
What would you say to your pre-trip self if you could go back and talk to him?
I went to Israel once before, in the summer of 1982, and ever since, I have wanted to go back. With that in mind, I would say to myself, “You are very lucky to have this opportunity to experience Israel again in such a unique way.”
I also had no way of knowing that mere months after my November 2019 trip, the world and the way I lived my life would change dramatically. So, I would also tell myself, “Enjoy every second of the experience. Take in every detail of this beautiful journey – the food, the views, the people, even the exhaustion of the long days – and try your best to appreciate your time far away from home.”