Spotlight on Orah Sydney
Orah Sydney means “the bright, feminine light of Sydney,” and the organization takes that description seriously.
When women from Sydney, Australia go on a MOMentum Trip, they stay an extra day in Israel for what is termed “Sydney Day,” which is focused on nurturing each participant’s inner light and finding ways to bring that radiance home to their families and larger community.
Participants have an opportunity to celebrate their Bat Mitzvah at the Kotel, take a Hebrew name, and participate in a ceremony at the Chain of Generations, a new site at the Western Wall tunnels.
“We tell them, ‘You are a Jewish woman. You are standing on the shoulders of other women who were born Jewish or chose to become Jewish, and you are the link through which your children are Jewish and stay Jewish,’” explained Dr. Sue Morris, the co-founder and current president of Orah Sydney, a Momentum partner organization.
“Only we have the power to keep the next generation engaged with Judaism, and I believe in the power of these women. We want to ignite that flame and keep it alive.”
Fostering a greater sisterhood
Orah Sydney was founded as a Momentum partner organization with a mission to help mothers in Sydney thrive by connecting them to their Judaism in relevant and meaningful ways. Since 2015, they’ve brought 132 women on the MOMentum Yearlong Journey, as well as 17 men on the MoMENtum Men’s Trip. Another 18 women will attend a trip in November 2023.
There is an enormous, unmet need for these types of trips in Australia, Sue said. Orah Sydney has at least 70 applicants for the 18 spaces each year. Fundraising constraints keep them from expanding their trip to more participants.
Sue, a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales who teaches about wellbeing, attended her first MOMentum Trip in 2014 when JWA Melbourne had seats available on their trip, and they contacted Ariane Schneider in Sydney to lead a small group from Sydney.
The trip was life-changing. Sue knew immediately that she needed to bring it to Sydney. “As soon as we returned, we set up Orah Sydney, with Ariane as the president.” Sue started as a vice president, and since Ariane moved to Israel, Sue has become the president, working closely with vice president Julie Klimt, who first experienced Momentum as a participant in 2018.
Although Orah Sydney was founded with the express purpose of bringing women on MOMentum Trips, their scope has expanded. In addition to the Year of Growth for recent returnees, they host four annual events, including a Hanukkah party. “Hanukkah is really our holiday, because it’s all about light,” said Sue.
They’ve recently connected with a local synagogue to strengthen their infrastructure and offer a variety of local programming, though their core purpose will remain offering MOMentum Trips.
“Because we’ve run trips since 2015, we’ve built this sisterhood of Momentum participants,” she said. “We know there’s a need for women to feel connected, and we’re trying to build that as much as possible with Orah Sydney.”
Passionate Zionism from afar
When Australian groups meet up with the larger MOMentum Trip, there’s always an intense pride in and for their Australian contingent, Sue said. That self-sufficient identity comes with a fierce loyalty to their home, their community, and their fellow “Ozzie” sisters.
“We’re very far away, so in order to get to Israel, you have to really want to,” said Sue. “And Israel binds us together.”
That distance also means that being Jewish in Australia can be very expensive. There are about 120,000 Jews in Australia, the majority of whom live in Melbourne. About 40,000 Jews live in Sydney, and the city doesn’t currently have a kosher butcher. All of their kosher meat comes from Melbourne, a nine-hour drive or short flight away. Passover cooking is based on what people can find on sparse kosher-for-Passover shelves in the supermarket. A lot of creativity is needed to concoct meals from slim pickings.
“It’s a problem when kosher food is so expensive, and synagogue fees and Jewish day school costs are so high, and it really creates a lot of barriers for people to connect to their Judaism,” said Sue. “One of the reasons we formed this partnership with a synagogue is because they will give our participants free membership for a year, with a discount for their family.
“We want to create a Jewish place where these women feel a sense of belonging, so they have a place where they can bring their children for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs,” said Sue. “It’s about getting their foot in the door, so they start to feel more comfortable.”
Precious moments in Jerusalem
Although they have to choose participants carefully since demand is so high, they’ve been able to create wonderful connections between those who attend, Sue said. “We’ve found that it’s ‘bashert’ or meant to be, that women come on our trip exactly at the moment they most need it,” Sue said. “It’s such an honor to take women who have never been to Israel before, and to see how it impacts them.”
Many Momentum sisters have gone on to volunteer with community organizations or get involved in Orah Sydney, including planning events and recruiting the next trip participants.
Sue has now been to Israel more than half a dozen times with Orah Sydney as a Madricha or Community Leader, and the experience hasn’t lost its magic for her. The highlight of the trip is when the group arrives in Jerusalem and sees the Western Wall for the first time.
“This last trip, I had the privilege of getting off the bus just before two women who had never been in Jerusalem before,” she said. One had recently lost her sister, and one was from the former Soviet Union and had only found out she was Jewish later in life.
“I was there just as their feet hit the ground,” Sue recalled. “And we walked arm and arm together, towards the Kotel, sobbing. Even talking about it now, months later, makes me tear up. It was one of the most precious moments of my life.”
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