Keeping people connected has always been Susan Battat’s “thing” – so when the pandemic forced her monthly learning sessions with her Momentum sisters online, she wasn’t nervous.
She knew the bonds that had formed among her Momentum sisters were strong enough to withstand several months of Zoom meetings. “Almost everybody came every time, which was amazing, and it was very relaxed,” said Susan. “It was a great way to get together.”
Even so, she quickly got to work planning a way to reunite safely in person.
Seeking out Jewish life
Susan grew up in a majority Jewish community – but it was only as an adult that she determined the role she wanted Judaism to play in her life.
In 1992, at 31, a friend invited her on a mission trip to Israel. “I said, ‘Sure.’ I just needed a break from work, I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”
It was more impactful than she ever could have imagined. “It lasted ten days, and oh my God, it was amazing,” said Susan. “I came home, and decided to become an adult bat mitzvah.”
“I took it on and made it happen during a very busy time in my life professionally because it was so important to me,” said Susan. Though the process was intense, the celebration was perfect. To represent that she had “done it backwards,” her cake was decorated with flipped and reversed 13s and 31s.
“My values are important. I need to share them, and I need to keep learning”
The magic of the “bus date”
Years later, when the opportunity to experience the MOMentum Trip to Israel arose, Susan accepted. “I had heard about Momentum, and my daughter was about to turn 18, so I knew it was my last chance.”
On Susan’s trip in the winter of 2019, many of the women knew each other – or knew of each other.
“I’m always saying hi to people, so I had a lot of acquaintances,” said Susan. Yet, on a life-changing trip to Israel, “acquaintances” weren’t going to cut it – so Susan’s sisters established a new rule.
“Every time you got on the bus, you had to sit next to somebody else – somebody new. You couldn’t sit with your roommate, or pick the same person every time, because we wanted everyone to get to know everybody. We called it ‘bus dates.’”
“You have your own impressions of people just without even knowing it, but I really wanted to get to know these people that I had said hi to for years,” said Susan. “The relationships became so real.”
The tight-knit group soon inspired the other buses: “People said to us, ‘We want to be like your group, how did that happen?’ So we explained, and we hope they got to know each other better, too.”
Susan’s link with her sisters – and the Israeli moms they met during the trip – has stayed strong over Facebook, WhatsApp, texts, and calls. “We are all still connected. It’s incredible to share stories and similar experiences between moms here and moms there. We’re all tied together by this common thread.”
Keeping the connection alive
Connecting to her Momentum sisters and her Judaism is now a constant in Susan’s everyday life.
“My values are important. I need to share them, and I need to keep learning,” said Susan. “That’s something that I feel like I got from Momentum.” She is currently taking a class on the Mussar movement, an ancient Jewish practice of boosting joy, gratitude, and capacity to help others through spiritual awareness and character refinement.
During the pandemic, she began baking challah each week for Shabbat. “It was the only way that I knew it was Friday, because every day felt like the same day… it made Shabbat so special.”
Those weekly baking sessions soon became a way to keep Susan’s Jewish community united, too. “I organized challah-making classes over Zoom for my temple as a way to help everyone connect.”
One annual tradition that Susan and her husband Michael especially love is building an enormous sukkah in their yard each year. As the one-year anniversary of her MOMentum Trip approached, Susan designed a Covid-friendly Sukkot holiday get-together that would keep everyone safe – and connected. For the event, she arranged a ring of chairs around the outside of the sukkah, spaced apart for social distancing.
“Everybody came up to the sukkah individually to shake the lulav and the etrog. We made it really special.”
Since then, Susan and her Momentum sisters have reunited for lunches and learning sessions, mahjong games, and Jewish holidays. In 2021, they were able to celebrate Sukkot again – and this time, they all sat inside the sukkah.
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