Growing up, my parents and grandparents always taught us the importance of family. When my parents decided to move our family from Chicago to Dallas, our grandparents quickly followed. They said it was so they’d never miss one of mine or my brother’s birthdays. We grew up in a traditional home, sharing Shabbat dinners and holidays together as a family. After I was Bar Mitzvah, I continued my Jewish learning with Rabbi Dubrawsky’s Sunday school classes. In college, I joined a Jewish fraternity. But it wasn’t until I graduated and came back to Dallas that I became really involved in the Jewish community.
For over fifteen years, I’ve sat on numerous boards and committees of Jewish organizations locally and on a national level. I also make time to volunteer together with my family. I’ve been privileged to be involved in our thriving Dallas Jewish community and I’m often asked, “why are you so involved?” “What inspires you?” I believe it’s the right thing to do and, selfishly, it makes me feel good. I am thankful to be so blessed and I want to do something to give back, to pay it forward, so to speak.
However, when my wife, Roxy, approached me to go on “MoMENtum,” the men’s Israel trip through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, I was NOT interested. I’ve been to Israel several times before, I didn’t need to be convinced to love Israel, I’m already involved in the Dallas Community, I didn’t want to leave my family or work, and I just didn’t feel it was something I needed. But, if you know my wife, she’s very persistent and doesn’t give up easily. She really believed me going on this trip would be great for me as an individual and for us as a family. So, she did what any determined Jewish wife would do and signed me up after I said I wasn’t going.
“This is something you should do,” Roxy said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for you to focus on your personal growth… How often do we get the chance to do that? You’ll learn…and at a minimum you’re going on a guy’s trip to Israel. Who wouldn’t want to go?!” She went on to name the all-star list of guys already signed up to go on the trip and let me know I got one of the last spots.
So, I committed to go. After all, it was an opportunity to spend seven days in Israel with an amazing group of guys, some of whom I already knew, and I was lucky enough that my brother, Adam, was also going. At that point, I was eager for this journey and appreciated the opportunity to become inspired and hopefully bring some of that inspiration back home.
Before we left Dallas, our whole group got together – 28 guys who were friendly but mostly only kind of knew each other through our wives or to smile and say hello at local Jewish events – and took a spiritual inventory. You know, if you’re going to go on a diet, you weigh yourself first. So we checked our spiritual levels, our connection to G-d, our connection to Israel, and to our families. Then we set off for the holy land.
We didn’t have any exalted expectations. We kind of joked that we weren’t going to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. But I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was clear from the beginning: from day one on our way to Israel through day eight as we made our way home to Dallas, our neshamas were polished to a brightness and power none of us had ever before known. We walked the ancient holy streets our ancestors knew, we heard words of Torah we hadn’t realized our souls longed to hear, we learned more about life than we could have possibly known without this trip.
On Shabbos in the Old City of Jerusalem, 200 guys, including us, held hands and danced at the Kotel. I closed my eyes and thanked G-d for the gifts of breath, and love, and for being included in the Jewish nation. At Shabbos lunch, we shared stories of our experiences. I thanked my wife for providing us a spiritual foundation and for our raising our family in a Jewish home. I also thanked the awesome men who I traveled and bonded with, and the Rabbis who led us on our journey. I’ve always wanted to deepen my religious connection and right there in Israel I felt a gentle spiritual push forward. I was growing closer to G-d and to who I want to be.
The power and beauty of this journey was that I wasn’t alone. We 28 Dallas guys experienced this together and bonded as a brotherhood who had grown closer to G-d, closer to our wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters, and to all the children of Israel. We agreed we wanted to keep growing. We talked about how to bottle this spiritual power and bring it home, how to integrate what we had learned into our relationships with our homes, into our parenting, into our work in the Jewish community, into our professional lives, into our interactions with everyone.
Chuck Butler captured the transformation that had taken place among us when he said: “From this day on, we’re not going to give each other a handshake when we meet, we’re going to give each other a hug.”
Gary Haymann introduced another ritual we “brothers” practice. When we got home, that first Friday afternoon he sent us all an email:
“What’s a good way that we can continue to keep this fire lit and shining as we move forward in our everyday lives and also strengthen the community in the process? Here’s an idea: What if we establish a rotation that each week someone sends a motivational Shabbat message on Friday morning? This message will contain three parts: 1) Share a motivational message/ story 2) Share the one thing you are going to add into your life from the trip 3) Point out the next person on the list that will share next Shabbat morning. I’ll go first.” And he did.
What gifts did we bring our wives and children from Israel? Besides the Tchotchkes, we brought home better versions of ourselves. Most of us now have Shabbat dinner, just as we had it in Yerushalayim. One of the guys makes sure to bless his children every Friday night. I do this, too. Roxy and I have Shabbos dinner and I read blessings our children. One of the guys from our trip is taking “The Tefillin Challenge.” He’s never done this before but, for 90 days, he is going to get up in the morning, put on his tefillin and daven. Another guy is seriously thinking of putting his kids in a Jewish day school so they can get the religious education he craves for his family.
None of us grew up Orthodox or went to yeshiva or had ever learned much Torah, but we decided to take our experience in Israel and appreciate life more deeply, to do as my buddy Richard Fine advises and “water the flowers, not the weeds” of life. Change is not easy but we are changed men as a result of this journey together and we know that being committed Jews is what will enable us to be the best men we can be.
Here is some Torah I learned but that I actually already knew, deep in my soul:
When Abraham was faced with a challenge and was unsure what to do, he consulted G-d. And G-d said: “Listen to Sarai, listen to your wife.”
A woman of valor, who can find? I found one. I found mine. Thank G-d and thank Roxy for making sure I didn’t miss out on this incredible experience. She was right to sign me up for this trip. I’m glad I signed up for Roxy!
Brett Diamond is First Vice President, Financial Advisor at The Park Cities Group, where he focuses on advising high net-worth individuals, often linking clients with philanthropic opportunities. His counsel is sought by those who value Brett’s specialty in “advising to make a difference.” Brett is married to Roxy and they have two children, Ava and David.