The high holidays had just ended when Rebbetzin Natalie Ciner and Rabbi Yisroel Ciner received an email from two Irvine women – Stephanie Gavshon and Nadine Dubery Durbach. They wanted to experience the MOMentum Year-Long Journey, and to do so, they needed to create a Partner Organization in their area. So, they turned to the Ciners, and asked if the Ciners’ synagogue, Beth Jacob Congregation, would do it.
“We’d heard about Momentum and knew that we wanted to get involved one day – if other community members were on board, too. So, my husband and I immediately wrote back and said, yes, let’s meet,” said Natalie. “We didn’t exactly know how it was going to happen and what it would entail, but we opened our checkbooks, wrote grant applications, and got to work.”
Their first cohort included 14 women from Orange County, and the next year, they launched a MoMENtum Men’s Trip, too. Natalie said that Orange County women are interested in Momentum because they want to feel more connected to the Jewish community.
“So many women tell me, ‘I want to meet other Jewish moms.’ Or they’ll tell me that they have concerns about their children’s future and want to be part of a supportive community,” said Natalie.
On their MOMentum Year-Long Journey, Orange County women discover a deeper connection to their Jewish identity, their local and global Jewish communities – and sometimes, even to their family. On one MOMentum Trip, Momentum sister Nadine lost track of her group and decided to tag along with another Momentum group for the time being. A woman in the group noticed that they shared the same last name, and soon, they realized that they were cousins. Both women were from South Africa, but Nadine’s family had moved away when she was young, growing up in Canada and then relocating to California. She had always felt like she’d lost some of her identity along the way – and in Israel, she reconnected to it. The cousins kept in touch and a few years later, Nadine and her family reconvened with their family at a wedding in South Africa.
Momentum sisters call moments like these HP moments (Higher Power/Hashgacha Pratit). When they return home, they continue to share their HP moments on their WhatsApp group. They also meet throughout the year for events, which include a unity brunch and challah baking, and they contribute to the local Jewish Federation’s food pantry. When the Maccabi Games were hosted in the community, a Momentum sister mobilized other local women to serve dinner to participants – and many Momentum sisters got involved. Recently, the Ciners launched a Leadership Council, which empowers Momentum sisters to help with event planning, communications, and fundraising. Last year, Momentum sisters decided to make a group donation to their Partner Organization in honor of Natalie and their group’s volunteer leaders.
This year, the Orange County Jewish community has faced a slew of anti-Semitic acts. A swastika was spray painted on Beth Jacob Congregation’s exterior and a violent attack on the synagogue was foiled. Orange County students were found playing “swastika beer pong” nearby. Then, the Poway synagogue shooting happened. One hour from Beth Jacob, a woman was tragically killed and others were injured on Shabbat. In the face of these incidents, Momentum sisters are gathering together to talk about what the rise of anti-Semitism means for their families, and they are stepping up and asking how they can make a difference.
“Watching these women transform and become passionate about their Jewish identity inspires me every day,” said Natalie. “By connecting to each other, we’ve become stronger, impacting our families and community.”