Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stepping Back for a Sharper Vision

Winston Churchill once said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”  
Each of us has a dream, and hopefully a vision (my dear friend Anita Tucker said that each of us “must” have a vision). Our vision can be clearer if we step back a bit, and look from a longer wiser distance.
That was surely the thought in mind when my bat mitzva granddaughter Shir Tehilla and her parents developed an idea for her bat mitzva project. Shir would spend a day with each of her grandparents, and B”H bli ayin hara, great-grandmothers. She’d participate in what they enjoyed, or felt was important. She may not know it, but those feelings and values are inside her too, just like the brown eyes and sweet smile that she inherited.
So, today, it was our turn. My husband has a passion for growing things – fruit trees, plants, all kinds of fascinating green things. I love the people of Gush Katif and have been involved in their community for many years through the Committee for Gush Katif Bridal Showers and even preceding it. B”H, we took Shir Tehilla on an adventure that combined both of these passions.
We traveled to the renewed community of Netzer Chazani and met one of the most inspirational women in today’s world – Anita Tucker – a modern day heroine, a pioneer, a farmer, a Zionist, a leader, a builder, a backbone of Gush Katif’s past and its future, IY”H.
Anita told us the moving story of her life in Gush Katif and since the Expulsion. Shir was two years old when Anita’s home was destroyed. She doesn’t remember Gush Katif – only what we have told her.

Our subject for the day was trees. When Gush Katif was destroyed - its houses reduced to rubble - some of its trees remained. The communities of Gush Katif were living in hotels, in caravillas, in make-shift "towns", hoping one day to rebuild their lives, and of course, ultimately to return to Gush Katif, IY”H.
Five years after the destruction, Aviel Tucker found out that 1000 trees from Gush Katif had been saved by the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, which had replanted them in a nursery in the south until one day the communities would be built. Each tree – mostly palm trees and olive trees – was labeled with the community to which it belonged. Aviel found the Netzer Chazani trees. He cried.
The trees had fared just as the community had – some were flourishing and green, some were bent and broken, some were wild and aimless. Rooted in foreign soil, there they stood alone, until the day Aviel found them. He returned many times to hug the trees – yes, hug them - and tell them, “Hold on. We will get you. We will rebuild and we will bring you home.” Next year, he told the trees. And then…next year…and then…next.
It is almost ten years since the destruction of Gush Katif. Netzer Chazani is being rebuilt, and starting to look and feel like a real town. Aviel thought that this year might be the one when the trees come home. A few months ago, Aviel visited the nursery, and one of the caretakers said, “These trees are going to Palmachim. You never came for them.” No!!! Aviel argued that the Netzer Chazani trees must come back to the community. “But we waited so long for you to claim your trees. Palmachim is ready for trees.” After lots of negotiations, and with the knowledge that shmitta was almost upon him, Aviel knew the trees must be replanted in the new Netzer Chazani community immediately.
The cost was tremendous, but the community did everything it could to transport the trees (including a few from Gadid – there are Gadid refugees in Netzer Chazani’s new community, as well) to its new community. On long trucks, the palm trees were laid, on other trucks came the olive trees. Each was dug up with its original soil, still from Gush Katif.
This summer, 70 trees returned to their community. The trees were planted on the condition that they could be replanted when the Netzer Chazani community returned to Gush Katif, IY”H, may it be soon.
One Tree
Aviel was told to leave one palm tree behind – why waste the money. This palm tree was broken in half. It would never live. Why spend money on a lost cause. He refused. We visited that tree today, and my granddaughter Shir hugged it. It has an interesting shape, but it is B”H thriving surrounded by its family and those who are pampering it with love and attention.
All of us have challenges in our lives. Sometimes we seem broken and “unfixable”. But with love and caring, and of course, faith, the broken can be mended, and we can each have a strong positive future.
Thank you to Anita and Stewart Tucker, and Aviel Tucker for an unforgettable day. Thank you, Shir Tehilla, for inviting Sabba and Savta to share with you some of the things we care about. We love you and are proud of you. Mazal tov to you and your Ema and Abba on your upcoming Bat Mitzva, IY"H.

Friday, October 24, 2014

To Live as a Jew

In Hadassah Hospital, a 21 year old girl is fighting for her life. Actually, as she lies in a coma, others are fighting for her life, sitting by her bedside, praying for her, saying psalms in her behalf – Yemima bat Avraham Avinu.
Correct, “bat Avraham Avinu”, the father of all Jewish souls. Only a few short months ago, Yemima, originally from Ecuador, received her conversion certification.
Terror in Jerusalem
On Wednesday, an Arab terrorist plowed down a group of Jews at the Ammunition Hill train station. Infant Chaya Zissel Braun was murdered in the attack, and eight others are in various stages of injury. Yemima Mascera Barera is in critical condition, on life support systems. It’s ironic that Yemima, who wanted so much to be Jewish and come closer to Hashem in His Holy City, became a victim of Arab terror just for that – being a Jew in Jerusalem.
Yemima has been living in Israel for the past two years, strengthening her connection to G-d, Judaism and Israel. Her friends and teachers all say she was always very single minded, focused on one goal - becoming a Jew, coming ever closer to Hashem, marrying a Torah-observant husband and raising a Jewish family here. Completing the dream would be bringing her mother and sister to Jerusalem.
As of this writing, Yemima’s mother and sister are on the plane to Israel, but not in the way the 21 year old had hoped.
Searching for G-d
Rabbi Gavriel Guiber of Un Mundo Mejor (who teaches Torah in Spanish) has helped Yemima for the past five years, since she first wrote to him on the internet, asking him for guidance in leading a more observant life. Her questions had such depth, the rabbi thought she was Jewish. Yemima told him that while she was not Jewish, her mother lit Shabbat candles, and the family had a tradition that the grandmother and great-grandmother had done so, as well. Her family name is one of anusim (forced converts who tried to observe vestiges of Jewish practice), but the family had no documentation that they were Jewish.
Rabbanit Chaya Engel, one of Yemima’s teachers in Machon Roni, a Spanish-language seminary for women, said that the Zohar states that when G-d asked the nations of the world if they would keep the Torah, as a whole they rejected it. However there were small voices within the nations that answered, “Yes!” “No one heard them, except HaKadosh Baruch Hu,” Rabbanit Engel said. “Before Meshiach comes, Hashem is bringing back all those neshamot (souls) that wanted to accept His Torah, because they deserve it.”
Yemima is one of those souls.
Tradition in Ecuador
Back in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Yemima lived as traditional a life as possible with her mother and sister. Her parents are divorced. While they all wished to become Jewish, since the family had little money, Yemima’s mother gave her whatever they had in order to come to Israel.
Rabbi Guiber helped her, and brought her to Machon Roni where other Spanish-speaking women learned Torah. He said, “She is a model example of a gentile that wanted to convert, and also an example to us.”
In order to support herself, she worked in a senior residence in Bnei Brak, and commuted to seminary daily. Rabbanit Sara Yalta Katz, director of the seminary, located in the Old City of Jerusalem, said that Yemima traveled the farthest to learn, but she never missed a day.
When she moved to Jerusalem to be closer to Machon Roni, Yemima worked cleaning houses. Her best friend said, “She would have done anything to learn Torah.”
Rabbanit Engel teaches many Spanish-speaking girls who are preparing for their conversion. “These girls come to Israel, having a relatively high level of education or standing in their home countries. They were teachers, clerks, and today they clean floors. But they are willing to be nothing here, like the Biblical Ruth, in order to be Jewish. We were born Jewish, but they chose to be Jewish.“
Rabbanit Katz said that Yemima decided at a young age that she wanted to become Jewish, but she was always hoping for a sign proving that “Hashem controls the world”. Yemima told her that once while praying the Amida (the Silent Prayer), an earthquake hit. Her family went scrambling under the table, and everything was falling around her. Yemima said that perhaps she was concentrating so intensely on her prayers that she did not feel the earthquake at all. She told herself, “This is it.”
Critical Condition
While Yemima has completed her conversion process, she is still working through the bureaucracy of citizenship. IY”H, may she recover and fulfill the entire dream – living as a Jewish woman in Israel and one day raising a Jewish family that will be a tribute to our people.

Your psalms for Yemima’s recovery are vital.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Thanks to Mickey Rooney for His Inspiration

It was June 21, 2001, almost a month since the murder of two beloved Efrat residents, olah chadasha (new immigrant) Sarah Blaustein, HY”D, and youth group leader Esther Elvan, HY”D. My community of Efrat (and the greater community of Gush Etzion) was reeling from the Arab terror on the roads of Gush Etzion and across the country. We were all in a huge depression. Tears flowed easily and often. Smiles had long been forgotten.
The much-awaited summer vacation was filled with dread. Folks didn’t drive on the roads. There was nothing to do and no place where we could escape the deadly realities of the day.
On the Efrat list, which I had established some years before, Efrat residents were writing their ideas of ways to cheer up the community – a town fair, cowboy-and-Indian movie nights, etc. All cute, but nothing that captured the imagination.

I sat at my desk on that Thursday night and looked up at a poster on the wall – an original advertisement for a 1939 Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie musical, “Strike Up the Band.” In those days of post-Depression America, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were constantly trying to think of ways to bring their community out of its depression. The answer always ended up being a show.
He’d say, “We're gonna put on a show. And it’s gonna be the greatest thing this town has ever seen. And everyone’ll be in it.”
The idea of the show was to raise everyone’s spirits! Well, by golly, it worked for Mickey every time! And if a show could cheer up post-Depression America, maybe it could help depressed Efrat/Gush Etzion.

With Mickey's Inspiration
So, I wrote an email to the Efrat list:
WE’RE PUTTING ON A SHOW. It will be the greatest spectacular in the history of the Gush Stage. A cast of thousands, or at least dozens. You’ll leave the theatre singing and dancing and feeling good.”
“We’re going to spend our summer preparing a fantabulastic show for women only (sorry guys – if you want a play, put on your own).”
Thirty-five women joined at my first meeting, and we had enough of a staff for two directors, two choreographers, a stage manager, a scenic designer, a producer (me) and lots of other stuff.
That night, I summed up the meeting. “I explained that the goal of the play is to give everyone something positive to do all summer, and to bring us closer together in HAPPINESS, instead of in SORROW. We’re going to sing together, dance together, work hard together, sweat together and smile together. And at the end of the summer, IY”H, we’re going to invite all the women of Gush Etzion to come see the show. I know all of them won’t come, but we hope several hundred will. We’re even going to invite the women of Chevron, Kiryat Arba, Beit El and Ofra. They all really need something to sing about.”
Little did I, or anyone else know, that the Gush Etzion Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company would not only attract hundreds of women, but more than 40,000 women/girls from Israel and the Diaspora would see our shows over the past 13 years, and B”H, bli ayin hara, we would become one of the most acclaimed community theater companies in the country.
And it all began because Mickey Rooney taught me the lessons of joyous song, a common goal, community effort, inclusion of everyone, and dedication to a dream.
They were right on target in 1939, they were right in 2001 and they still hold true today.

Mickey, 93 years young
Mickey Rooney passed away this week at the age of 93. Those lucky enough to remember him for his upbeat undefeatable energetic young man roles will always have a reason to smile and an example of unending positivity.
Those who remember him for his 200 movie roles will surely keep the legend of the tiny dynamo in their hearts.

Mickey, the women/girls of Raise Your Spirits Theater and their audiences thank you.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Someone Else's Shoes

Too many years ago to count, I was a young working mother. I had the sweetest infant son at home, while I was racing around the entertainment industry, working as Eastern Editor of the Hollywood Reporter at 1501 Broadway in New York City. Whenever I came home at a normal time, I'd speak to my friends and compare notes.
"What did you do today?" I asked.
"Abby and I walked the babies in their strollers up the avenue. Then we went for pizza."
I was so jealous. My two best friends had spent the whole afternoon together with their babies.
"Oooh. I wish I could have been there."
"What did you do?"
"Typical day. I had lunch with one of my columnists, and we shmoozed for a while in Sardi's with Mary Tyler Moore."
"Oooh. I wish I could have been there."
I have spent a good part of my working mother life, doing incredibly exciting things, meeting fascinating or important people, and traveling to fascinating places. I have loved every minute of it. But I also missed being a traditional mother. I don't even think I'd know how to do that.
When I want to impress my granddaughters with my domesticity, I open a cookie mix, and let them put chocolate chips on top of the dough. We watch the cookies rise in the oven, and they think I'm a genius. (Well, that was the point, wasn't it?)
If they get time to spend with their other grandmother, they probably know that I am a bit different. But meanwhile they've never complained. 
Thank G-d, my kids and now my grandchildren have never said, "Why can't you be like David's mother?" They have never flinched when I answered a "Mother, can you do this for me today?" question with, "Sorry, dear, but I'm filming a movie."
But I do feel sad that I can't be more like Donna Reed or Mrs. Cleaver or even Mrs. Doubtfire, or whoever the 2014 equivalent is.
So, when a new blog came out, by Magi Sumers, called "Grandma's Girls",, I both hated and loved Magi.She's the perfect grandmotherly grandmother that I have always wanted to be. She makes pom poms with her kids on a snowy day. I went out and filmed a music video.
But you know what? She's a fabulous girl!!! She's an arts and crafts queen. She's a domestic imaginator. She has given me dozens of ideas to do with my children and grandchildren. 
I don't have to come up with ideas that will make my grandchildren think I'm a genius grandmother. I can copy Magi, and that's okay. Because if she didn't want us to copy her ideas, I do not think she would have started a blog about them.
So, I'm excited to keep making my movies, performing on stage, interviewing famous folks, and traveling on new adventures, IY"H. And I'm super excited that I can also do terrific grandmotherly things with my family, thanks to Magi Summers. Magi, whenever I can, I'm going to step into your shoes. I wear a size 8. How 'bout you?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

As Long as It Slides

Everyone knows Israel’s in the midst of a SnowZilla right now. There have been enough posts and photos to flood the internet, greater than the flood that will result, G-d forbid, when the massive white mounds melt.
There’s been a lot of bad in the snowblitz – the worst being 30,000 freezing families. (May that never happen again.) There’s also been a lot of good – kind deeds and brotherly cooperation (that’s for another blog).
Besides the life lessons and the logistic lessons of the largest snowfall in 120 years, thank goodness, we've broken through the shock of the storm with some fun, F-U-N. I bet you didn't know Israelis could get their  minds off the Iranian Crisis, the Palestinian Crisis, the Bedouin Crisis, the Economic Crisis, the Boycott-Israel Crisis and who knows whatever crisis to actually have fun for a change. Well, many of our kids may never have seen so much snow, but they were fast learners in the snow-fun department - traditional snowman building, snowball fights, and a chavaya (incomparable experience) of enjoying the immense white wonderland.
Down We Go
Across the street from my house is a fantastic hill – a perfect 45 degree angled rise – begging for skiers and sledders to take advantage of its slope. Yesterday I noticed two boys riding (or really, sliding) bikes down the hill. That was a first for me.
In my mind, that rates just about as high as watching folks "shovel" away three feet of snow with kitchen brooms. (I even offered a kid a real shovel, and he said, "No, thank you." Swish swish swish.)
I watched outside a little longer, waiting for the sledders, but not one traditional sled made its mark on the hill.
What has happened to the little wooden sled? Not necessarily Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud”, just a real sled. We had one in America. If we’d have brought it here, it would have sat for 21 years waiting for this moment. Maybe that would have been a waste. But I guess no one else brought their sled either.
Rachel Meir's rare real sled.

Except for one family that was using its uncle's childhood sled from England, the little wooden sled was mainly missing, but the sledding went on.

Esther Margolis vintage photo
Sleds from high chairs.

Ari Fuld does an "Obama selfie" while on his saucer.
Sleds from saucers.

Sleds from oven pans.
April Selditch, "Yonatan Abrams swapped his luxuriously comfortable beach-boogie-board-garbage-bag sled for his friends roasting pan which does 360's at light speed."

April Selditch, "Maayan Abrams  (5yrs) of Efrat in Park Asor sledding on her boogie board/garbage bag combo."

Sleds from boogie boards and garbage bags.
Tamar Rund and her kids hit the slopes with agricultural plastic in Pnei Kedem.
Sleds from agricultural plastic!

Judy Rosenstark's kids on today's version of a sled.

Sledlike knock-offs.

Rachel Meir snaps a sledless sledder.

Sledless sleds.

(Plastic sheet sledding in Pnei Kedem, courtesy of Tamar Rund)

Menachem Begin might have wanted to “conquer the mountain or die”. Not today, baby! Folks all over Israel’s snowy hilltops are conquering the mountain and living it up on whatever slides. SHWOOSH! And that’s okay too.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The ONENESS of Israel

Israel is a place of ONE. 
We've got One G-d. One Torah. One Land. One People.
One, that's how we like it.
So, we're thrilled on those years that we get ONE day of snow.
It's enough for us. We go outside and make our snowfolks. We have a snowball fight. We take enough photos to fill facebook and overload all our email carriers.
One day of snow.

The kids are so happy, they talk about it for a whole year until we're possibly lucky enough to get another day a year later - even a few flurries are appreciated.

But this year, Mother Nature over did it. Mothers usually know what their children want and need. And Mom, we didn't need this:

"From Wednesday night through Saturday afternoon, approximately 80 centimeters of snow fell in Efrat, 50 centimeters in Safed and 60 centimeters in Har Bracha, near Nablus in the Samarian mountains, an Israel Meteorological Service weather forecaster told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.
Areas in Jerusalem ended up receiving between 40 and 50 centimeters of snow, despite predictions that the capital would get up to 1 meter." (Jerusalem Post)

Okay, we had a lot of snow on Thursday. Fun, fun, fun. See our snowmen. See our snowball fight.
But then when it snowed again on Friday and Shabbat, that was too much!!

Besides the fact that there was no transportation, and folks were stuck wherever they are, the electricity went out in 35,000 homes (1.4% of the country). Three of those homes belonged to my own children, who were freezing INSIDE their homes with their babies bundled up as much as possible.

I don't blame Israel Electric Corporation, and I know they were working around the clock to restore power. I don't even mind (now) the two six hour black-outs we had, but I can't stop thinking about all the children and senior citizens and ill and well, everyone, freezing in their homes, apartments or caravans.

Mother Nature, we thank you for wanting to give our children a little bit of excitement. I thank you for the beauty of the wadis and hills blanketed in white. I thank you for the opportunity to see the smiles on my granchildren as they made snow angels. I thank you for the walk I took with my friends in the stillness of the white night.

But for future reference, here in Israel, let's keep with the theme - ONE. Only ONE day of snow per year fits in just fine. That's the way we like it.
(My thanks to all the emergency workers and government/ electricity/ hospital/ security folks who tried to keep us all safe over these days. May you be blessed.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Efrat and Chanukah

My hometown of Efrat is especially connected to Chanukah. We’re like this! (Okay, I know you can’t see my fingers, but they’re as close together as they can be!)
Yes, I know all of Israel loves Chanukah. I know we are all proud of the bravery and faith of the Chashmonaim. We all tell their stories to our children, and marvel at their victories. Everyone in the world knows the miracle of the little jar of oil.
But Efrat puts its “money where its mouth is” where Chanukah and the Holy Temple are concerned.
Our Zayit hill is packed with references to both Chanukah and the Temple. I know that many folks head to Modiin to uncover our connection to the Chanukah story, but I invite you to join me in a walk around Efrat.
In Efrat, Rechov Matityahu HaCohen honors the father and founder of the revolt against the Syrian-Greeks.
Rechov Yehuda HaMaccabee and Rechov Yonatan HaChashmonai recall two of Matityahu’s five sons who led the Jewish people in overthrowing the occupying forces of the Syrian-Greeks. (Who were the other three? Yochanan, Shimon and Elazar.) The Chashmonaim dynasty ultimately lasted for 100 years. (It ended when the megalomaniac king Herod “killed every member of the house of the Chashmonaim in order to claim the throne of Judea for himself.”)
Rechov Menorah commemorates the menorah that stood in the Holy Temple – first the golden menorah, then the simple menorah of the Chashmonaim, and one day, IY”H, the magnificent menorah of the Third Temple.
Rechov Zeit Shemen reminds us of the oil that was used daily in the Menorah. (And also the little jar of pure oil that Yehuda HaMaccabbee found in the Temple.)
And Rechov Nataf and Rechov Tziporen stand for two of the spices used in the Temple’s holy of holies. In Efrat today, as in Jewish history, Nataf and Tziporen are attached Rechov Ketoret, the incense offered twice a day on the Temple’s Golden Altar. The incense with its eleven very-varied spice ingredients parallels the unity of the Jewish people in serving G-d. We hope Efrat is a place that promotes that unity.

From different points on Efrat’s Zayit hill, we can see the site of the Holy Temple. One day soon, IY"H, we pray we will be able to stand on our hilltops and see the Temple itself and the light emanating from its golden Menorah. Until then, our longing for it continues to grow as we drive upon our streets, and raise our children in the legacy of Yehuda HaMaccabee, Matitiyahu HaCohen and our Holy Temple.