Interview with Lori Palatnik

Lori Palatnik is the Founding Director of Momentum (formerly JWRP). She is a world-renowned Jewish educator, speaker, writer, and media personality, who has lectured all over the world.

Lori has authored four books: Friday Night and Beyond, Gossip, Remember My Soul, and Turn Your Husband Into Your Soul Mate. In 2014, Lori was named one of the ten “Women to Watch” by Jewish Women International in recognition of her contribution to Jewish women throughout the world. Hadassah named Lori one of the “Most Outstanding Jewish American Women of Our Time” and Izzy included Lori in its “Global Jewish 100” list. In 2020, Lori was selected to light the “Diaspora” torch at the national ceremony for Israel’s 72nd Independence Day. Lori lives with her husband in Jerusalem. 

Q: Lori you are a world-renowned Jewish educator, speaker, writer, author, and media personality, and you have lectured all over the world. What drives you?

I love people. It is caring about people. I think that’s what it is all about.

Q: Who is your role model? 

My number one role model is my mom. She was my inspiration in terms of my journey and the choices that I make. May she live and be well.

She was a hippie mom who tie-dyed our clothes in suburban Toronto, Canada. She was not afraid of doing her own thing. She went back to college, got her degree, and started working and traveling. She showed me that you have to follow your heart and soul. Even if the whole world is saying that is not what you should be doing, but if you feel it very strongly, then you have to go with your feelings. 

Q: What do you see as your purpose in life?

There is a Jewish concept that says we are all here for a reason and we all play a role in G-d’s world. 

G-d made this huge and incredible world and each one of us is a piece that completes the puzzle. G-d wouldn’t have created the world without you. You complete G-d’s world.

We have to ask ourselves, why am I here? How do I complete G-d’s world? So, one way to do it is to look at your passions and strengths. What gives you the most pleasure? For me, it is helping other people to see their potential.

Q: How old were you when you came to Israel for your first visit and what were the circumstances surrounding your visit?

Israel was not on my map. I grew up non-observant. I studied communications in college and when I was 22, I won a national award for a Christmas commercial I wrote. I worked in radio as a copywriter. My whole journey to Israel began with a Christmas commercial! 

I went to Europe and ended up in Israel. I started exploring the country. I started to have these feelings but didn’t understand what they were. But I knew that I wanted to live in Israel forever.

I continued traveling and moved to Ottawa and got a job in public relations for McDonald’s restaurant.

Christmas commercial, McDonald’s. It is a classic Jewish journey. 

One year later, an Israeli organization offered me a Jewish Fellowship which brings college students and post-college students to Israel, in order to teach young people to be Jewish leaders. This was before Birthright. As a result of this experience, I knew that I wanted to come back.

Q: What inspired you to start “Momentum”? And, what is its mission?

I spent the first 13 years of my married life in Toronto. We were four years in Denver and the last 13 years in the Washington DC area. By the time I got to DC, I had become a little bit of a personality in the Jewish world. I was teaching and using the wisdom I gained from my education and from my husband who is a Rabbi.

While flying around the world and speaking in communities, I noticed many were not going in the right direction. They were getting weaker and weaker in terms of their Jewish identity. So, I brainstormed with a group of seven women. They were married, single, religious and not religious so we could arrive at a common vision and purpose. As a result, we established what is now called “Momentum” –  with the idea of bringing women to Israel.

Q: Why bring women to Israel? 

We decided to focus on mothers because it was strategically smart. In my community work, I found that if I inspired a 20-year-old boy on campus, I only inspired a 20-year-old boy. This was the case even though he has a 17-year-old sister, a 14-year-old brother and parents. But, if I can inspire the mother, I get the whole family. 

We partner with over 200 organizations including the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. We have now brought 20,000 women from over 32 countries. And, we have just begun.

Q:  As a result of your efforts to bring so many Jewish women to Israel, how many of the mothers increased their presence in Jewish community activities?

When the women came back from their trip to Israel, they were on fire. Some 80 to 90 percent of the women are now learning more, giving charity in their Jewish community, are volunteering, and putting their kids into Jewish schools and camps. They are really creating Jewish homes. It is said that when you inspire a woman, you inspire a family. If you inspire enough families, you inspire communities. And, if you can inspire enough communities, you can change the world. 

Q: Do you have an “only in Israel” moment you would like to share?

When the pandemic hit, my husband and I were alone for Seder in our home just outside of the Old City. We realized that an 84-year-old Israeli woman lived above us and was going to be alone for Seder. We couldn’t have her as a guest because she is older and we needed to separate. So, we told her to go out and sit on her balcony which overlooks our balcony. We set up our Seder outside so she could hear Kiddush and be a part of our Seder. We wanted her to know that we are still one family. 

Despite the language barrier, there was love, caring, and smiles. During Israel’s 72nd Independence Daylighting ceremony in 2020, my upstairs neighbor watched me light the “Diaspora” torch on her TV. Wow! I was no longer just her downstairs neighbor lady who was watering her plants. I am so blessed to be in this country. 

Check out Lori Palatnik’s website Momentum