They say that your Momentum experience will affect you in ways you never imagined. But Alisa Vass never expected that a camel, of all things, would be responsible for an emotional transformation.
“I’m someone who’s really put together and very professional,” said Alisa. But when the camel she was riding got close to the edge of a cliff in the desert, she lost it.
“I saw the edge of the cliff, and I completely panicked and unraveled,” she said. She’s always had a fear of heights, and the sheer drop and the leggy, unpredictable animal equaled a “complete and total panic attack.”
“When the other women in my group saw me flipping out, they asked what was going on, and I told them, ‘I can’t do this!’” – but instead of making fun, they were supportive and understanding, and successfully coaxed her through the experience.
Afterwards, she was able to laugh about it, and her trip mates told her they were touched to meet the more open and vulnerable Alisa – “a totally different side of me they may not otherwise have gotten the chance to see.”
If I’m not perfect, life will go on
The learning sessions focused on communication and shalom bayit, or peace at home, were one of the most important parts of Alisa’s MOMentum Trip to Israel this past May. She’s seen a difference since her return.
“I think I brought back a calmer attitude towards other people, and I’m better at letting things go and not putting as much pressure on myself to be so perfect all the time,” she said. “I learned that if I’m not perfect, life will go on. I’m definitely more patient than I was before I went – although my preteen daughter tests that all the time.”
The trip also helped clarify and crystalize her relationship with Judaism. “I didn’t realize that the way I do certain things is because I’m Jewish,” she said. “We’d talk about Jewish households, and I’d think, yes, that’s how I run my home – but I never attached that to being Jewish until Momentum.”
Alisa said she has always put an emphasis on family dinners and holiday gatherings, but the trip helped her connect those experiences to the larger Jewish community and understand why celebrating her family’s Jewishness is so vital.
“I think raising kids makes you feel more Jewish because when your kids are complaining that they want a Christmas tree, you need to have the language to explain why that isn’t what we do,” she said. “So you have to seek out and stick with being Jewish to have a conviction about what you’re not doing.”
It’s never going to be a good time
Alisa, a partner and the chief financial officer at a venture capital firm, had never been to Israel – and she almost didn’t come on this trip, either. There were a litany of reasons not to: the kids weren’t in camp yet, she traveled too much for work anyways, her husband might have a business trip, she probably couldn’t get the time off from work.
Her friend Alyson, who had also signed up for the trip, set her straight. “She said to me, ‘Alisa, it’s never going to be a good time to go on this trip, so just suck it up and say yes.’”
Her family and her job gave her the green light, so she decided to “take a leap of faith” and go – and she is so glad that she did.
“My favorite part of the trip was exploring Tsfat, which I wouldn’t have expected,” she said. “But I just loved the feeling of being there. I loved seeing the old temples and all the art, the shopping, the food… It was nice to see Judaism everywhere, in a way that I had never seen it before.”
No excuses… I’ll be back
Alisa had such a good time on her trip she’s already planning to return – on another Momentum trip! She’s volunteered to be a madricha, an alum who steps up to assist the Trip Leader and guide new participants.
“I think more people need to experience this trip,” she said. “When I talk to my friends, they say, ‘I can’t because of this or that,’ and I just say to them, you have to go. You have to learn how to prioritize this,” she said.
“What my friend told me was so perfect: Don’t let life get in the way. There’s always going to be an excuse.”
And the camels? Well, that part is optional.