Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Snow in Modi'in

There are some children in Israel who have never seen snow. And there are some children who grew up with snow in their former Diaspora lives, and miss it very much in their new homes in Israel.
To give joy to both kinds of children, the city of Modi'in has trucked in five large containers of snow from Mt. Hermon so that children from the city could play in a winter wonderland.
Modi'in's temperatures are usually too warm and mild for snow, but this storm was trucked in specially for family fun.

The snow was set down outside the Azrieli Mall. Hundreds of children climbed snow mountains, threw snowballs and made snowpeople. (Some just wondered, "What on earth is this? I'm freezing!") 
The snow is only available today and tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday, February 14 and 15), but if the folks from Modi'in want to drive a bit, we're expecting traditional snow from the heavens to descend this Shabbat in the higher elevations.
So, everyone's invited to join us on Saturday night or Sunday in Gush Etzion for giant snow ball fights, "skiing" in the park and sloshing all over the streets.
I cannot wait!!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"J" Dates for Tu B'Shevat

This might not be something to be admitted on Tu B'Shevat (the holiday when the Jewish people celebrate the land of Israel and its produce), but I never l-o-v-e-d dates. They were okay, but that's about it.
However, when you live in Israel, not loving a date, one of the seven species of the Land of Israel is, lehavdil, like living in New York City and not loving hot dogs. 
Over the years, I've learned to be fine with dates and other Israeli produce and be proud of them too.
My date-ing life really changed for me on Chanukah. At a charity Chanukah fair, organized by my friend Sophie Amar, held in the local community center, folks sold their wares - home-made hats, scarves, baby items, sweaters, dates. Dates?!
A lovely young woman stood behind a mountain of date boxes. "What are you doing here?" I asked her. She replied, "I am a Jewish date grower from the Jordan Valley and I came her to sell my Jewish dates."
I explained, "I'm not a big date lover, but I am a big lover of Jewish growers, so I'd like a box." (I should have bought two.)
I brought my dates home and put them in the freezer without another thought. A few weeks later, I decided to open the dates and add some to my morning cereal. This would be my new ritual, eating my cereal with dates grown by Jewish growers in the Jordan Valley - "J" Dates. IY"H, this would make my day more meaningful right from the start.
The box (which I can't seem to turn around for a better view - sorry) held dates from the Einot Kedem Organic Farm - the Medjoul variety - the yummiest plumpest kinds of dates. Medjoul dates moist sun-ripened dates, a truly delectable sources of fiber, potassium and other essential nutrients. Win win.
When I opened the box, I was very surprised to find King Kong-sized dates. I quickly grabbed a different box of Medjoul dates from a another company, also tucked away in the freezer. I held them side by side. Big brother, little brother. The organic dates are on the left above. And the taste was so unbelievable that I actually called my children to tell them about it. Really.
Last night I spoke about my dates at the Tu B'Shevat Seder. I said they were about half the size of a small banana, and so pulpy, they sort of reminded me a banana. Everyone looked at me in disbelief, unable to hold back their amusement/confusion about my sudden "J" date enthusiasm.
With the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, my Einot Kedem dates are now finished. I wrote to the farmers, Naama and Omer to ask where I can get more. And if I have to drive to the Jordan Valley, I will. (I already gave my husband notice.)
I'd like to see Einot Kedem anyway. The web says they farm 250 dunams of olives, 100 dunams of dates, and raise 550 sheep. Good for you, Naama and Omer!!! Redeeming the arad Jordan Valley one olive/date/sheep at a time.
Turn on to "J" Dates
I guess I am now hooked on "J" Dates, especially Medjoul Dates from the Jordan Valley. All Jordan Valley Jewish communities grow their dates under the Hadiklaim umbrella organization. Its site says, "Hadiklaim growers combine traditional devotion to this precious fruit with the latest agronomic techniques." 
Other Jewish growers participate as well - from the Kinneret to the Dead Sea, Beit She'an to the Arava Desert.
Next time you go shopping, pick up a box of Hadiklaim dates and support the heroic modern day pioneers of the Jordan Valley. And when you drive up to the Golan Heights and see seas of date trees on the side of the road, be proud of this national industry - "J" Dates.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Growing a DIFFERENT Flower in Israel

Tonight ushers in the holiday of Tu B'Shevat in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. But it is here in Israel that Tu B'Shevat has real meaning. Here, we reconnect with the soil beneath our feet, the earth, the land of Israel. Here, Jewish children (and their parents) from every home, no matter what stripe of Judaism, go out onto empty hilltops or even in their own front yards to plant flowers and trees, and add more life into Israel's living earth.
Here, Tu B'Shevat is a memory that each of us carries forever - the Tu B'Shevat we planted on Efrat's Zayit hill when it was a desolate windy hilltop of our future dreams; the Tu B'Shevat we planted in Gush Katif before the destruction; the Tu B'Shevat when we all gathered in Efrat's B'erot Yonatan with Esther Pollard; the Tu B'Shevat last year in Gush Etzion's Netzer; and this year IY"H on Efrat's vast Eitam hill.
In our home, the table is set for the Tu B'Shevat Seder, which we hold every year with our children and our best friends - celebrating the Land of Israel and the bounty it produces, B"H.
You don't have to be a gardener to plant a tree on Tu B'Shevat. Or maybe I should say that on this holiday, all Jews become gardeners.

My daughter is a different kind of gardener. She is growing a "Perach". Perach is Hebrew for the word flower. So, it 's appropriate that today I speak about her flower, and the thousands of other special perachim (flowers).
As I said, perach means flower, but it is also an anacroym for Proyekt Chonchot, "mentoring project". My daughter is the gardener of a little girl from an underprivileged home. She tutors her and talks to her, makes projects with her and gives her the attention that she needs (because she, like many other little flowers, is from a home that could use a little extra help).
B"H my daughter is a great role model, but so are the other thousands of college and university students that raise their own flowers.
The Perach project began in 1974 with a handful of student at Weizmann Institute of Science. Today, about 15% of all college and university students mentor tens of thousands of needy children.Olam chesed yibaneh. The world is built on loving kindness. The Perach model is the largest one in the world, and has been a source of inspiration and support to other organizations that have used its model to help society in just about every country.
On this Tu B'Shevat, I bless my gardener, her flower, and all gardeners and flowers everywhere to grow and flourish, to blossom brightly and beautifully and continue making the world a better place.
To find out more about Perach, click here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mom for Safety on the Roads

I had loads of fun today acting in a music video for Safety on the Roads.
At left with me are my fellow performers Meir and Eden from Jerusalem, and filmmaker Amit Benatar.
No, I didn't dance in the music video, but thanks for thinking I'd be asked to do so. I performed as a loving caring mother. B"H, not a difficult thing to do.
On the eve of Chanukah, my town of Efrat inaugurated a new life-saving traffic circle at the Southern Entrance of the community. On that occasion, in the presence of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and local dignitaries, Efrat's young people's choir performed a terrific song about Safety on the Roads. You can see the ceremony and a clip from the song here
Today choir master Amit Benatar (who's also a filmmaker) created a music video around this song.
The video portrays a family in which the teenage son takes the car to school, and you can guess the rest.
As the devoted mother, my first job was to make a sandwich for my son on the way to school. I worked very hard on this role, because in the kazillion years that I sent my children to school, I wasn't usually the sandwich maker. So I had to really fake it.
Then I had to open the door at the end of the day to the dreaded policeman. Our policeman, Moshe, was very smiley. He said he's always smiley, but this wasn't a smiley part. So, with his police cap on, and his radio murmuring, Moshe appeared at "my door" with a solemn expression.
The filming was fun, even though I had to make my peanut butter (Skippy creamy) sandwich and then greet the policeman from every angle. Amit didn't miss a trick.
And if this video encourages teenagers to drive more carefully, YAY!! Kol hakavod to Matnas Efrat, Amit Benatar, the choir and everyone else involved. IY"H, your song might save a life.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Safe Haven for Women's Creativity and Empowerment

Israeli society is hysterically trying to prove lately that it is notprejudice against women, or preventing them from advancing in any aspect of life - whether business or social.
Unfortunately many people are confusing women's advancement with women's rights. And by pushing women or girls into various co-ed environments in which they themselves do not wish to enter, they are abusing women's rights. They are imposing upon women a new set of parameters that may be detrimental to their growth and development. In fact, forcing women into different life situations could in fact develop into a form of sexual harassment. 
In Israel today there are many opportunities for women to advance in all segments of society. For the past sixteen years, I have been editor of a monthly publication and now editor of an on-line TV channel. I have never been held back because I was a woman. My goodness, a former prime minister was a woman (Golda Meir) and the current head of the Kadima Party is a women (Tzipi Livni).
As a performer, I know that there are women who wish to perform in a mixed production for a mixed audience. There are many opportunities to do that in Jerusalem and throughout the country. They have never been denied their spotlight.
There are also women and girls who, for halachic or for personal reasons, wish to perform with and for women only. If there were no women's productions, these women would be side-lined forever. Instead of holding them back, my productions have always given them an opportunity in the spotlight that they never would have had - performing and growing creatively and personally in a safe supportive women's environment.
My productions - both Raise Your Spirits and Dames of the Dance, B"H, have empowered women to reach their full potential freely and vigorously. Besides all that, we know that girls' and women's performance is a special energizing experience. Women's performances for women  have a power that can never be realized in mixed audiences. There is a sisterhood at a women-for-women performance that transcends the stage and unites women in an intensively positive bond.
Women for Women
Women for women productions, or projects of any kind, are not new inventions. There are women's banks, because some women feel more comfortable dealing financially with women. There are men's bathrooms and women's bathrooms, because women (and men) would rather maintain a certain level of privacy.
There are thousands of women's exercise programs or Zumba classes all over the world - only some for religious reasons, but mostly because women don't want the pressure of men watching them sweat in their leotards. They don't want to have to constrain their activity (whether dance or anything else) because men are watching.
Thanks, Men, We Don't Need Your Help
Men may say they don't want religious coercion, and therefore want to be able to watch women perform, but that is religious coercion - forcing women or girls who halachically do not wish to perform in front of men to be bullied into doing so. Men may say they don't want sexual discrimination, so therefore women should perform in front of men, but that is sexual discrimination itself, and is actually abusive.
Women who wish a safe environment to grow and flourish without the involvement of men should be able to find one. Girls, who physically are self-conscious about their developing bodies, should not have to worry that men or boys are watching them. They should find their own voice in dance without being inhibited by men.
B"H in my town we have a community center that is a a safe place for women/girls – a place for women to be able to express themselves freely in a supportive environment without the pressures of boys and men around them. Matnas Efrat nurtures women from childhood onward to reach their creative potential, to develop a freedom of expression that they could only achieve without the strains of the presence of men/boys.

There are many kinds of community centers in the country - some with women's performance, some with mixed performances. People can find the option that is right for them - whether they're men or women. My community center knows that for the social rights of women, women/girls should not be forced to dance in front of men. My community center also know that for the religious rights of women, women/girls should not be forced to dance in front of men. The Efrat Matnas promises women/girls a safe environment in which to express themselves and grow.
My hope is that every community should have the option of such a supportive nurturing environment for women and girls.
(Thanks to Hardy Girls, Healthy Women for their art:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Miriam the Prophetess and Her Gift of Dance

This past Shabbat, in synagogues throughout the world, the Jewish people read about Exodus' mega-miracle that climaxed the ten previous miraculous plagues that G-d brought upon Egypt. This week's miracle (totally Cecile B. DeMille times 10,000) was the Splitting of the Sea. Moses held out his staff and the children of Israel walked through the sea on dry land.
After the Jewish nation passed safely through the alleyway of water, the Egyptians pursued them, but were drowned when the waters returned to their proper place.
Moses and the Israelites sang a song of praise to G-d, a symphony of revelation and glory. Then "Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron, took the drum (tambourine) in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances." (Exodus 15:20)
As a dancer and producer of dance extravaganzas, I want to personally thank Miriam, the prophetess, for giving women of every generation DANCING GENES. Her dance at the side of the sea with the women of Israel beside her and around her embedded on our national soul (or perhaps the national soles of our feet) the characteristic of dancing at life's pivotal moments - at a wedding, a simcha (joyous occasion), even at a demonstration.
On this past Thursday night at Parent-Child learning, Rabbi David Marcus asked the children how the women knew Miriam's dance. My granddaughter and I discussed the question, and I suggested that when people are very happy, even small babies, they just naturally get up and do a happiness dance. I know that I surely do. :) Perhaps that's what Miriam did. She and the women were so full of happiness, they naturally danced.
My granddaughter laughed, but she wasn't sure that was the right answer, so she asked Rabbi Marcus himself.
His answer surprised me. Rabbi Marcus said that while the Jewish people were in Egypt, Miriam was very busy. She spent her time heartening the women, advising them to put on make-up, encouraging them to give support and love to their husbands and families. And she raised their spirits by teaching them to dance. Yes, Rabbi Marcus said, Miriam choreographed dances for the women in Egypt and taught the dances to them in order to keep their morale high.
My granddaughter liked that answer, and I did too. Miriam was a prophetess after my own heart.
Thinking of the women of Egypt working on dances together for the benefit of each other's morale and heart was a very beautiful idea.
Miriam's Descendants
For the past three months, about 100 women and girls in Efrat and Gush Etzion have been rehearsing for the latest season of DAMES of the DANCE - working on more than a dozen dances to express their creativity, to feel the empowerment and joy of dance, and especially to raise money for the needy through their dance.
The women and teens of DAMES of the DANCE thank our ancestress Miriam for bestowing upon us the internal and eternal love of dance, for handing down to our choreographers the talent and the vision to design such inspirational and unique dances.
The women of DAMES are proud to be in a line of dancing women that stretches far far back and hopefully far far forward.
DAMES of the DANCE performs on February 26, 28, March 1 and 5. All profits from the show go to feed the needy for the Passover holidays through the Gush Etzion Foundation.
If you're in Israel at the end of February and would like to come to the show, you can order your tickets here: .
It will be a terrific show, IY"H, and it's for a great cause.
Here's an idea what we're all about through a previous year's clip about DAMES of the DANCE:

DAMES photo by Rebecca Flash Kowalsky,

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Youth Clubhouse Opens in Dekel, Efrat

The dedication of Efrat' new youth clubhouse in Dekel was an exciting milestone for the community. Young people rejuvenate every neighborhood, and bring life to it.
The multi-purpose building will serve all kinds of youth, and be a meeting place for the Ezra youth group. The clubhouse's opening coincides with the marketing of 300 housing units in the new Dagan and Zayit neighborhoods of Efrat. Mayor Oded Revivi thanked the Minister of Housing Ariel Attias for his help in enabling young people here to qualify for mortgages by slightly bending the mortgage criteria. He added that Efrat Resident Yisrael B'Aliyah Dudu Rotem was also instrumental in receiving financial assistance for this project.
The building had stood empty for several years, because there was no money to finish the structure. With the help of the Housing Ministry, MK Rotem, the Municipality of Efrat and the parents of the area, the structure has finally been completed.
In praise of Israel's young people today, Chief Rabbi HaRav Shlomo Riskin commented that there have been few generations of young people who are as dedicated to Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael.
MK Dudu Rotem told the Housing Minister that the three hundred future housing units are important, and in those units will be young families with children. "So, next year, we'll need a new clubhouse. And you'll give it to us!"
CEO of the Ministry of Housing Mordechai Mordechai affixed the mezuzah to the building. The building was officially opened to Efrat's youth who have already made their energy and excitement welcome in the Dekel neighborhood.