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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

CONGRESS, what did I do to you?

Yesterday my daughter and I flew to America to visit our loved ones. No specific events planned here.
Total vacation, IY"H. Total visit of togetherness, friendship, love, discovery and fun.
No news.
Nothing heavy, with G-d's help just a real traditional family vacation. 
Although we hadn't really planned out the week, on our New York itinerary included only three specific musts: buy new tap shoes, see a Broadway show, and visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
During our flight to the US, I was faced with a million entertainment choices. Everyone around me had screens tuned to movies, cartoons and sporting events. I turned to Fox News, and discovered that for the 18th time since 1977, the American government is shutting down over failure to pass the budget. 
Well, I'm sorry, and I hope it can be worked out. I'm not into politics, but even I understand that a budget impasse is very dangerous to the whole American people.
But this budget shutdown seems aimed at me!! And I don't even know President Obama or anyone else in Washington!
Fox explained the shut down's immediate consequences - all National Parks are closing. Well, sorry for the folks hiking in Yosemite, but thank G-d I wasn't
planning any nature walks this week.
Then I saw it - the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will be closed.
Are they kidding?
Those were the top items on my MUST SEE list.
And I realized that thousands of other tourists probably had those landmarks, as well as others on their lists too. And those folks in Yosemite might have been dreaming of visiting there for years.
Perhaps closing national parks and landmarks is a better choice than firing thousands of workers, but America's landmarks are not only about fun and photo ops.
They're about the spirit of America, the pride of its great nation, the face of courage that the United States put forth to the world.
Ground Air Force One for a week.
Stop this week's funding rebel insurgents wherever.
Save money this month not trying to topple some foreign regime.
Buy less nuts and bolts and supplies at inflated prices for government offices.
And I won't even mention Obamacare...
But reopen the national parks and landmarks!
The boat to Liberty is waiting for me and thousands others, as well.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What will be our children's memory?

On a road trip this week, we listened to a children's CD - Uncle Reuvain (not the Simcha Train, but I'm sorry I don't know the name). It was full of fun kid's songs that delighted our passengers.
We sang and laughed throughout our long trip. Then suddenly one song brought great tears to my eyes, and I noticed that those old enough to understand were teary-eyed, as well.
The song told a little boy's memories of the Friday night candles in his home.
It is the warmest and most loving Friday night song I have heard in a long time. And perhaps it was more meaningful to me, because it described Friday night in the eyes of a child.
This little boy explains that throughout his entire life, he will never forget how his mother lit her candles - her quiet tuneless hum, her embracing of the Shabbat, her lingering by the lights (in prayer).
It made me think, "What do my children and grandchildren see? What memory will they hold in their hearts from my Friday night 'licht bentschen'?"
And what will my grandchildren remember from their mothers?
I am decades older than the little boy in the song. My children are older as well. But I still hold on my own heart the sight of the Friday might lighting by my forever-beloved grandmother, of blessed memory. The same memory is reenacted every Shabbat by my own dearest mother, may she live and be well until 120.
Their candle lighting was no match, match, wave, wave, wave, Shabbat shalom.
Even today, although standing is difficult for her, my Mother takes every moment of her special hi/gh with G-d and shares her every thought and wish and worry. As with her mother before her, I watch her lips move as she prays for every loved one and Am Yisrael. I watch as her burdens (at least temporarily) go up in the flames of the Friday night lights, and the Shabbat serenity that envelopes her with love.
Every Friday night we pray, "...bless us with great blessings; make our household complete, crowning our home with the feeling of Your Divine Presence dwelling among us."
The little boy in the saw did not call the Friday night candles, Shabbat candles. He called them, "my mother's lights"
IY"H, as I light my Candles on this first Friday night of the new Torah cycle, I will try to make the candles my own, and bring my personal heartfelt prayer and love to my lights, so they can be remembered with happy warm tears by my own children and grandchildren for years to come.
This Shabbat, you can do the same.
Become your child's Friday night memory. It will hold him for his entire life.
Shabbat shalom.