We've been friends since 2001 when we performed together in JOSEPH & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. JOSEPH was the first production of a women's theater company that I founded that year. Raise Your Spirits was just what it sounded like, a project to raise the spirits of the women/girls who took the stage and of the audience members who came from all over Israel and beyond to see our productions.
Cheryl was RYS' comic relief. In JOSEPH, she played a Hairy Ishmaelite. In our next show ESTHER & The Secrets in the King's Court, she played a eunuch. In NOAH! Ride the Wave!, she was the raven who refused to leave the ark. In RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem, she was Elimelech's slave and an African dancer. Most recently, in In Search of COURAGE, she played her first serious role, that of a social worker.
Over the past three years since I founded the DAMES of the DANCE extravaganzas, Cheryl has been the leader of a group of Saturday Night Dancers who performed to 60s music.
Yes, she's been charming audiences in Gush Etzion for almost ten years now.
But it is another role that puts her on stage on Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers). It's Cheryl's own role as a mother of a fallen soldier. No, it's not funny. It's heartbreaking, but it's true.
On Erev Pesach 2003, only a few hours before bedikat chametz (when Jews are frantically working to rid their homes of leaven bread), Cheryl Mandel was standing next to the grave of her son Daniel, HY"D, who had been killed only a few hours before - during a military operation.
Her friends surrounded Cheryl and her husband and children, but no one was laughing. They were all too stunned.
On 13 Nissan, April 15, in the wee hours of the morning, in the city of Shechem while tracking down wanted Arab terrorists, Lt. Daniel Mandel was shot. The bullet hit its mark right above his bulletproof vest, and Daniel Mandel was killed. Incredibly, the mission was a success. Daniel's men, an elite unit of Nachal, nick-named the Mendel Team, continued the battled and captured the terrorists - members of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade and Hamas. But their commander was gone.
Twenty-four year old Daniel Mandel had a great future ahead of him. He had the brilliance, dedication and love of Torah that would have made him a talented rosh yeshiva. And he had the military prowess, love of country, dedication to service and commitment to the Army that would have made him a gifted general. But none of this was to be.
Instead, on the eve of Passover, Daniel Mandel was buried in the Gush Etzion cemetery.
Cheryl could have succumbed to depression. She could have withdrawn from public life. Instead, she held her head high and became an example of true faith and inspiration. From that day onward, Cheryl and her husband David dedicated their free moments to meaningful projects to perpetuate Daniel's name.
They donated to a Bet Midrash (study hall) in a local school, brought Daniel's friends to volunteer in many chesed (good deed) projects, donated a parochet (holy ark cover) of a neighborhood synagogue and more. Their next project is their most ambitious - DANIEL'S PARK. They want to build a beautiful musical park for the Alon Shvut neighborhood where Daniel was raised. It's going to enhance community life and provide joy to adults and children alike.
Work on the park will begin soon, IY"H. You can still participate in the building of Daniel's Park. If you'd like to, contact Cheryl.
Cheryl in Toronto
Cheryl is in her hometown of Toronto right now, preparing to speak to the Toronto Jewish community about her son Daniel. I'm sure the audience will shed a few tears as it learns more about Daniel and comes to understand the unique one man that was lost to Am Yisrael. But I'm sure they'll laugh too, because Cheryl is still Cheryl.
Cheryl will be speaking about Daniel and all fallen soldiers at the central Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmaut ceremony on Monday April 19th at 7:30 PM at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue on Glencairn Rd.
Then she will be speaking again on Wednesday April 21st at 8:00 PM at Shaarei Shomayim. She will also show a 30 minute movie – Dancing Through Life – which basically tells her life story. The Jewish community of Toronto is invited to both evenings.
Whether you can join Cheryl in Toronto or not, you can find out more about Daniel Mandel, HY"D, by visiting http://www.daniel-mandel.co.il/ .
In the past seven years since Daniel Mandel's death, many of his friends have married and had children. Bli ayin hara, dozens of little Daniels are running around today. Cheryl and David Mandel have attended just about every one of their britot. These babies are all tributes to the memory of a unique and talented scholar-warrior Daniel Mandel.