New Hampshire’s stark granite mountains and quaint towns are some of the most picturesque parts of New England. For those who live nestled amidst this stunning natural beauty, connecting to their Jewish identity is an active choice they must make.
“Being Jewish in New Hampshire means you have to work hard to be Jewish because it really takes effort,” explained Allyson Guertin, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire. Allyson grew up and is raising her family in New Hampshire, so she knows the challenges firsthand. “Nothing is handed to you — you really need to seek out opportunities to find a Jewish community,” she said.
That’s why when Jewish Federation of New Hampshire board member Tracy Richmond brought up the idea of the Federation becoming a Momentum Partner Organization, the board jumped on it right away.
“Momentum offered the opportunity to enhance and encourage relationships within the Jewish community, and with Israel at the same time,” explained Allyson. “We’re really focused on programming for parents because being a parent can be a lonely and isolating experience as it is, and trying to be a Jewish parent in a place like New Hampshire can be even more alienating.” There are about 10,000 Jewish people in the state of 1.3 million people, with 15 synagogues scattered across the state.
No matter the distance
Tracy and Allyson were the Community Leaders for the first Momentum cohort from New Hampshire in 2022, and another cohort recently returned. “We’ve just hit our 12-month mark with the first group of women, and I have seen firsthand how committed these moms are to each other, to a deeper Jewish family life, and to the local Jewish community,” she said.
Four moms from the trip now serve as board members for the Federation, and many have started new family traditions like lighting Shabbat candles or encouraging their daughters to celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs.
Because the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire represents the whole state, rather than a small geographic metro area, the organization works to make sure they can reach people across the entirety of New Hampshire, said Allyson. It also means that the women participating in the monthly “Year of Growth” meetings after the trip sometimes drive over an hour each way to participate.
“I think this speaks to how important the Momentum experience is in New Hampshire, and how much they’re looking for this type of connection.”
A life-changing trip for moms – and soon, dads
Momentum has inspired so much interest across the state that it’s been a useful tool to spread the word about other Federation programs, Allyson added. A local dad reached out about organizing a MoMENtum Men’s Trip, but Allyson wasn’t sure it would garner enough interest – until more fathers shared that they, too, would love to go. With buy-in from eight dads and growing, Allyson and her team are now planning a MoMENtum Men’s Trip for 2024.
That first trip was life-changing for Allyson, who had never been to Israel before. “I remember the first night when all the moms were dancing and embracing each other,” she recalled. “It was this moment where people decided to take down their walls and leave their insecurities behind, and wrap their arms around one another.’”
“Watching these women walk into the Old City and see the Western Wall, or receive Jewish names for the first time, and build this connection to Israel was incredible,” Allyson said. “But at the same time, they were building this even greater connection to Jewish life. One of the biggest things to come out of this trip is that we’ve created an opportunity for seven lifelong Jewish mom friends. And in a state like New Hampshire, to be able to say you have seven Jewish mom friends is such an accomplishment.”