I am a little tired of prefacing blog posts with excuses and explanations of my lack of posting.
Today, I am only posting a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post Blog by Varda Epstein, to explain my absence… more of my long and wandering thoughts on this life-changing experience in future blog posts…
Count the Stars: Finding a Glimmer in the Darkness
In the wake of the heavy pain that gripped the Gush Etzion community, a novel sort of summer stock group was founded by Sharon Katz
under the artistic direction of Toby Klein Greenwald
, both of Efrat. Raise Your Spirits (RYS), would produce musical theatre by and for women only. And 13 years on, the brave little theatre troupe is still putting on shows for women who come from all over the country to get a dose of theatre for the soul. The troupe is currently in production with Count the Stars, the Journey of Avraham and Sara
, set to premiere on December 3, 2014.It seemed onlyappropriate then, for me to interview the two principles of this show,AvitalMacales (Avraham) and Rachel Moore (Sara), the two “stars” who feature in Stars, an original musical written by Katz andMacales, and directed by Klein Greenwald. I thought the best way to explain this feisty theatre troupe would be to have the actors speak for themselves. As it happens, I had an in: this is my second time around as a cast member of anRYS production. So I hadAvital and Rachel come by and we had a nice long chat.I want you to get a real feel for what this is, so get yourself a nice hot cup of tea, sit back and relax, and get to know these two women who are bringing their own brand of light to the fore, to banish the darkness and raise the spirits of their sisters.
Rachel Moore, left, and Avital Macales
VE: Avital, how did you end up in the performing arts?
AM: I come from a musical family. Music was always a part of my home. But as a teenager, I was shy and quiet, and not many in my grade knew who I was and I didn’t know who I was. Also, this was in the 90s, and there still weren’t many artistic megamot [high-school majors], so there was nothing I could do in theatre at school.
Then when I got to my senior year we put on The Sound of Music. I auditioned and thought, “Maybe I’ll have a chance to be Leisl.” ( Far right, Sharon Katz, left Deena Lawi)
I was cast as Maria.
I decided to keep my role a secret from my mother until she sat there in the audience on opening night and realized it was me on stage. I kept the rehearsals a secret all that time and during the rehearsals I was developing into the real Avital. I began coming out of my shell, and that was the beginning of the rest of my life. The beginning of who Avital is today.
VE: Rachel, how about you? What’s your background in the performing arts?
RM: I started singing when I was about eight. I sang in my shul choir, and at a young age was apprenticed to the cantor, a woman. I started private lessons when I was twelve, thinking I would go into chazzanut. I was lucky to have as my teacher,Elizabeth Coss, a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera and a big advocate for classical training. She was friends with Pavarotti. I was twelve, mind you, and I said, “Whatever you do, do not make me sound like an opera singer.” (Laughs)
So I sang wherever I could; whatever musical theatre came my way, whatever choirs I could find; but mostly I focused on private lessons for over fifteen years – until my fifth child was born. I continued to study privately in Boston, Montreal and eventually in Israel.
I was in high school when my family moved to Boston, so I was able to participate in theBoston University Theatre Conservatory summer program. Many of the participants are professionals with agents and budding careers. It’s a very intense program where you are treated like a professional (child) actor and the staff is brutally honest – it was great training.
Some time after graduating university I began the process of making Aliyah. I came on a pilot trip and auditioned for singing teachers. I was fortunate to find Judi Axelrod and moved to Jerusalem to work with her and to prepare for entry to conservatory.
I became more religious and at one point Judi said, “You’re preparing to audition for conservatory and I think you can make it if this is what you decide to do, but I want you to think about whether this is still what you want.
“If you study opera, you will have to leave Israel, Shabbat will always hurt your career, and you’ll be lucky if you can have two kids, because that’s the life of an opera singer.”
Rachel Moore with daughter Shira and Avital Macales
So I took a deep breath and made the decision not to go to conservatory. It was a big moment for me to decide this would be a hobby and not a vocation after so many years. And then I basically stopped singing altogether when my fifth child was born. I didn’t realize I would be taking a decade-long break from music and theatre!
Other than, of course, watching.
And… it’s been amazing for me. Amazing to be back! I didn’t realize how much I would miss it. It was part of a different chapter of my life. It’s life-changing to have it back.
VE: Avital, what about the kol isha issue, the prohibition against men hearing women—other than close family members—sing?
AM: I came from a circle where it was a complete given. It was completely natural to me to sing in front of women only. In recent years, I began to better understand the complexity of [Kol Isha], and I challenged myself more about whether or not I wanted to get out there and perform in front of mixed audiences. I wanted to see where my boundaries were, as my understanding grew. After much thought I came to the decision that I’m still going to sing only in front of women and my personal reason is… Gosh, this is where it gets a bit tough… There’s a certain intimacy that I want to bring to the stage. I want to be completely intimate with my audience, and I don’t want anything to block that. I just want to be completely open, and I feel completely open in front of an all-women’s audience.
VE: What does RYS mean to you?
AM: RYS is unique in my eyes because while there are now quite a few theatres for women who put on musicals, RYS is one of the only ones who put on biblical musicals. It seems that as you go more to the right on the spectrum, religiously, there is less of a tendency to adapt a biblical story into a play because it is almost taboo to give righteous biblical characters a face, and to give a psychological and emotional interpretation to the biblical text. So RYS is one of the few who does that, and at the same time has clear boundaries based on Halacha and takes into consideration the geist of the target audience.
Cast members Racheli Ettinger and sister Chaya Lapidot
VE: Rachel, what is the scope of your part? So much dialogue, a lot of staging to memorize. I mean, how many pages is it? How many hours?
RM: Every word and every line and every thing that’s asked of me is a gift. Every single one, so I’m not really looking at it as this huge heap of how am I ever going to get all of that, but rather, I don’t know if I’m ever going to do this again.
So I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether I can learn it all. I spend time worrying that I can do justice to the other people, who have worked so hard and have learned so much and are so amazing and have been doing this for ten years, twelve years, and I’m just coming in, that I feel like I owe it to them.
To be performing in this show together with both of my daughters (Michal Moore, Ishmael, and Shira Moore, Yitzchak) is the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I never imagined it possible to have a theater experience that was such a supportive, kind, generous, holy group of people. It is like a dream.
The cast of Count the Stars
VE: What’s next for Rachel Moore?
RM: I hope I am blessed with lots more opportunities to perform. I don’t know where, but I will not be on a ten-year hiatus ever again. That will not happen.
VE: Avital, how did you end up in the RYS theatre troupe?
AM: It was very unpopular for religious girls in my circle to consider the performing arts in general, so it wasn’t an option for me. But after I finished high school I met a girl from Efrat in sherut leumi (national service), and she said, “We have a women’s theatre.”
And I didn’t even know where Efrat was. But she said, “You must come audition for ‘Ruth.’”
With some encouragement from my mother, I had just begun my studies with Nomi Teplow of Ginot Shomron. She’s wonderful.
So I did audition, but I thought, why am I auditioning? I live in Rehovot, what am I going to do with this play in Gush Etzion? I don’t even know how to get there.
But I went anyway, I got in, and the rest is history.
And all I knew was that there was something bigger than me that was making me willing to endure all this sacrifice that I was making. Wanting to be on that stage, on the Raise Your Spirits stage, was bigger than I could understand. In fact, if we rewind a little bit, the first Raise Your Spirits show that I saw – and frankly, the only one I saw, because after that I was IN the shows – was “Noah.”
At the end of that show that evening, RYS director Toby Klein Greenwald invited everyone onstage to speak to the actors, so I went over and I said hello to Noah and “his” wife Naama, when this strange voice came into my head out of nowhere, and said, “This is going to be your stage one day.”
Younger cast members have girly-girl fun in between rehearsing their scenes
VE: So what was it like, writing a musical?
AM: More than any solo, more than any lead role, creating this musical has been the epitome of so many things that I love, in one project. I love Tanach (bible), emotions, writing. I love composing, singing, and drama, and I got to do everything in one project.
There was a learning process, a lot of learning. We read any book we could get our hands on, looked at any website we could find. We learned, studied, thought, and analyzed. We spoke to scholars. We did all these things until we had our artistic idea, because you could take the same story and do it 70 different ways. So we had to choose our way.
And I found that I was putting my own stamp on Avraham’s story, because it could be told in many different ways, but that this would be my own journey that I’m going through in this particular period: the journey of singlehood.
Avraham wants to become a father. Avraham and Sara want to become parents on a universal level. They start a new nation, but they also want to become parents because they’re human beings and they want to have a child. They want to nurture, give. I want to become the head of a family too.
After I began co-writing this show, I started looking up at the skies whenever I despaired. I was searching for stars.
I’m looking for my stars.
There was a night I went with my family to payashiva calltoRacheli Frankel, the mother of one of the three boys who were kidnapped and killed. It was a dark night and there were no stars and I just wanted one star. I just wanted one star to glimmer and to… there’s a line in the show, “We searched for a glimmer to console us,” and there was not a single glimmer in the sky.So Avraham’s story of counting stars is my story and the Jewish people’s story, of just finding glimmers here and there: reminders thatHashem is here, “I’m here. You may not always see me. You may be in a dark time, but I’m here.”VE: And now you’ve co-written Stars. You’ve watched this thing grow from a glimmer to something real.
AM: Yes! It was all about the connection between my heart and my mind. As if my heart and mind connected and then flew forward.
And I want to write at least a hundred more musicals, a thousand more musicals!
I want to inspire people.
COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara
Opens December 3
Gush Etzion Community Center
For more information:http://www.raiseyourspirits.org/count-the-stars.html
(All photos, Bati Katz. Poster design, Chana Singer)
Click here to see the original at the Jerusalem Post
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If you are taking out time from your busy Pesach prep to read this, well, I am honored.
It seems that our family ends up with all kinds of interesting hospital visits around Pesach time. I don’t think it is a coincidence. Springtime + school vacation can equal broken legs, noses, bumps, scrapes, etc….. not to mention the fact that 6/8 of our children are Pesach babies! Thank G-d, so far this year all are healthy in our home this year, ptfu ptfu; so far, so good.
My son went for an MRI last night. This is not due to some recent malady, but rather a stubborn pitcher’s elbow that doesn’t seem to want to go away. The prescribed treatments so far haven’t seemed to work. He has been eager to have the MRI, and impatient with the process that is Israel’s socialized medicine. The MRI for him symbolizes our increasing attention and management of his problem, taking it seriously, and an intensified effort to get whatever treatment is going to help him make it “to the majors” in baseball someday.
There were two noteworthy aspects to the MRI. The first is that it was scheduled for 6.30 pm and happened closer to 11 pm. Not noteworthy at all, but sadly typical, right? The administrator at the hospital in the MRI department called us four separate times, each to alert us of the delay and to tell us to come later (and later, and later) to spare our waiting around in the hospital. A true Pesach miracle: the hospital went out of their way to be sensitive to us and reduce our wait time! What I love most about this is that the first time I told this kind man on the other line how busy we are getting ready for the holiday and how much I appreciated the heads up, so he took it upon himself to keep updating me. That Pesach informs hospital procedure is one of those little “only in Israel” moments that just never get old in this amazing country.
My son was shocked to learn that the procedure wasn’t simple, and that the IV he had to have for it hurt. He wasn’t being treated, and he had been looking forward to getting more information about his injury and closer to recovery. So to find out it was going to be annoying and painful was a big shock. He was upset, uncomfortable and scared. I did what I could to reassure him, and now that it is over, he is relieved and smiling (although exhausted).
But I see in this a true Pesach lesson, and the MRI is going to be my “teachable moment” at the Seder this year.
Very often in life when Hashem gives us something wonderful and special, we have to experience a great deal of discomfort first. Childbirth is an example that naturally comes to mind for me. But it is true for many other times in life too. For some, an excrutiatingly difficult divorce is the necessary pain before finding the love of one’s life, and many years of marital bliss. I had to have a procedure on my toe this week (you don’t want the details, I promise), and it hurt so much to have it done that I put it off for at least a month. And after a month of suffering and one day of pain, everything feels great now. The process can be true for a move, getting a PhD, or losing weight.
To heal, we often go through a great deal of pain, and it has to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if the reason is, as the Rabbis teach us, that we need difficult transitions to strengthen us enough to cope with a new reality. Or if it is a test and then a reward. Or, if it is simply the truism that change means coming out of ones “comfort zone” – and doing that is almost always painful. It is probably all three.
Leaving Egypt was painful and difficult. We weren’t zapped and then just left. We had to learn mitzvot, follow commands, get out of our slave mentality, stand up to our former masters, pack up in a hurry and run away (I can’t even pack up my kids quickly to run to the corner store, never mind out into the desert) .. and then choose between what must have seemed like certain death by drowning or certain death by oncoming Egyptians.
Lehavdil*, sometimes preparation for the Seder and the holiday is painful and difficult. I hope it isn’t for you! But Hashem is there in the pain, in the transitions. Our natural world is constructed that way to help us learn about our spiritual world. I think that leil haseder is about choosing to relive the pain and the transition of yetziat mitrayim in order to better appreciate the redemption and healing that followed. I think this is obvious to most, but I wonder if the MRI’s, toe procedures and childbirths in our lives can help us truly empathize and experience that process on an emotional level.
Chag Kasher v’Sameach. May you have an uplifting and transformational Pesach.
*Lehavdil is an expression that is hard to translate. My best effort is to say “Similarly, but of course not the same!”
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I have once again been failing you. The baby is 5 weeks, Chanukah vacation and Israel’s crazy snowstorms are over, but with our chayal boded home from the army and my stepson here, I am feeling a little like “ima2nine” and trying to love the insanity.
I hope to have a post up next week about the baby’s name and then a post up about how things are different this time around. I don’t think anyone needs to read posts about how “I am not perfect” or “we all have our mommy days” or even the funny/stupid/messy things my kids got into today…. I think everyone already knows that.
So while you wait
for the baby to give me more than one second to myself for me to get my act together, please enjoy the following educational guest post about Irene Sendler. Being a Chanukah baby, we named him after a hero; please enjoy Laurie Rappoport‘s piece about one of the heroes don’t often hear about:
Irena Sendler — Recognizing Unsung Heroes
In recent years it’s become popular to encourage children to adopt projects that will allow them to impact on their own educational experience above and beyond traditional schoolwork. Such projects traditionally take the form of genealogical research or a study of a particular individual whose life can serve as an inspiration to the student as well as to his or her family and friends.
One such assignment turned out to have implications above and beyond the lifetime of the project itself and has, to date, impacted on thousands of people worldwide.
In 1999 a group of Uniontown Kansas students were presented with an assignment that directed them to research and report on a historical episode of interest. None of the girls were Jewish but they decided to examine the Holocaust. A chance remark about a Polish woman who had saved over 3000 lives launched the girls on a long-term project that would, in the end, result in a website, a book and an award-winning performance.
Irena Sendler lived in Warsaw when the Nazis invaded in 1939. She joined the Zagota underground and, together with other Zagota members, devoted herself to helping Jews escape the Nazi dragnet.
In 1940 the Nazis constructed the Warsaw ghetto and interned over 400,000 Jewish in the small area. As a social worker employed by the Warsaw municipality Sendler was able to obtain documents that enabled her to freely enter the ghetto and she ferried in food and medicines to help the desperate Jewish residents.
Sendler quickly realized that the small amounts of food that she was able to bring in were not making a big enough impact on the situation and she decided to smuggle children out of the ghetto and find them hiding places where they could live out the war. With the help of other Zagota members Sendler sedated young children and smuggled them out in bags, toolboxes and even under garbage in garbage carts. She led older children out through tunnels and hidden passageways.
When Sendler began her work she concentrated on bringing out street children and orphans but as time passed she began to work to convince parents to allow her to take their children out of the ghetto. These decisions were nightmarish for the parents who had to decide whether their children had a better chance of survival with them, in the ghetto, or with strangers on the other side of the ghetto walls.
Sendler and her comrades from the underground located hiding places for the children who had been smuggled out of the ghetto — in convents, orphanages and with sympathetic Polish families. Sendler carefully recorded these names on pieces of tissue paper and placed them in glass jars which she buried in her neighbor’s yard. All together it is estimated that Sendler helped save over 2500 children.
In October of 1943 Sendler was captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned. She was tortured but she didn’t reveal any information about the children’s whereabouts or about her Zagota friends. The Germans scheduled Sendler to be executed but Zagota members bribed a German guard and secured her release.
Sendler was honored by Yad VaShem in 1965 but after she returned to Warsaw her story was forgotten. It was only when the schoolgirls in Kansas began to investigate the story that Sendler’s actions became widely recognized. The Irena Sendler project, Life in a Jar, led to the creation of the Lowell Milken Center that has propelled other students to research “unsung heroes.” It serves as an inspiration to parents and teachers who want to motivate young students to stretch themselves and take responsibility for their own meaningful educational experience.
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We are finishing up the storm of the century here in Neve Daniel, our little mountain in the Judean Hills (Har HaBloggerim)… it has been one more experience of many that is a window into how true community can transform a place, and transform people. The trading of goods, offers of heaters, and of all kinds of help of all kinds shows the power of this place as people see each other’s problems as their own and opportunities for chessed.
The coordinator of youth programs in Neve Daniel has been advertising that she has a cadre of teens ready and willing to help today. Someone organized some Torah learning for kids this afternoon, the librarian decided to open up for the bored, and those who managed to get out by car today have offered rides to others before leaving the yishuv.
As the social being and true extrovert that I am, all of this community sharing is like a dream for me. At the same time, as a part of any community, you invite upon yourself to share in the pain and loss of others, just as much as their happiness. Just as others share in your problems, their sadness becomes yours.
Like most of us, I am a part of different communities, like circles on a Venn Diagram of my life. One is my beloved mountain here… but another is my [Jewish] blogging community.
Both communities have been rocked by the loss of Stella Frankl, wife of our own Yarden of both Neve Daniel and of his blog “Crossing the Yarden.” It hurts all of us, and many of us have written about his loss – and his heroism.
So it makes the pain even worse to learn of Phyllis Sommer’s loss of Superman Sam. Of the world‘s loss of Superman Sam. Phyllis, you have shared your life with us on line, and you have shared your families struggle and pain. And now we share your pain, too. Phyllis and I have never met, nor do we have that much in common. But through her blog her heartache hurts me too; her Sam has touched my heart, her loss is shared, and her tears are mine.
It would be so much easier if bloggers could drop off a cup of sugar or update a fellow writer on the roads or electricity, like a neighborhood community in a snowstorm can.
But what we can do is spread the word and pay tribute to those loved ones so dearly missed. Please visit Phyllis’ blog and lend your support however you can.
Baruch Dayan Haemet, and Goodbye, Superman Sam.
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“This is your seventh baby? This one is going to just pop right out, you will see…”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that over the past few months.
My youngest is 5 1/2 – which means it has been a while since I have been pregnant. I was younger, fitter, and while I had my hands much more full with a house full of little ones, I also had more energy.
This pregnancy was harder. Much harder…… but it was nothing compared to the labor/delivery.
None of my other deliveries were easy, but they were pretty straightforward. I have shared with just about any woman who will listen that I proudly delivered twins without an epidural or surgery at 40 weeks – and 6.5 and 8 pounds.
This labor was more than a day, on no sleep, with a “failure to progress”. I was spared a c-section, but at the price of tremendous amounts of strain on my body, the likes of which I have just never experienced.
… I don’t know if it is my age, the hormones, the difficult labor, the very full house or a grand combination of them all, but this time post-partum hit me BIG TIME.
I found myself just crying for what seemed like no good reason. I felt overwhelmed, and mostly I resented every single person that tried to check in with me, asked me what I was doing, expected me to be chipper, friendly, happy, open or affectionate. Including my own children.
“Can’t they see I am trying to recover?”
“What is wrong with them? Why are they calling me? ”
“How can they possibly ask me for a hug.”
“Just stopped by? Seriously?”
More than anything else, my moodiness, touchiness and lack of ability to be a charming friend and hostess to others seemed to be met with consternation at best, horror at worst, rather than compassion.
I am in week two now, and what an amazing difference a week makes! My milk is flowing, my child is occasionally sleeping for a whole couple of hours not in someone’s arms. I am no longer taking pain medication round the clock, feeling achy and weak the minute it starts to wear off. I can put on my own shoes. There is a rush of relief that the Shalom Zachor and the Brit are both over. The trauma of the birth doesn’t come to me in flashes like it did last week. Neither do the unexplained bouts of tears. I am able to smile when someone walks in the door, and you might, just might occasionally find me answering the telephone.
The help, advice and meals I have received have been just amazing.I think that religious Jews who have a community that takes turns at lifecycle events being there for each other, are the luckiest people on earth. And I count myself as one of the most blessed because I live in Neve Daniel. The love and support expressed from around the world has been so touching, so wonderful.
The most positive experience has been the communal celebration of this birth by our neighborhood, family and friends.
Why write such a negative post during this weekend of thanks??? Why bother writing this? Because I think that when we are truly happy for people we want to connect to them. To reach out and let them know. I also think that 9 times out of 10 a new mother, at least for that first week, needs exactly the opposite. Sometimes love means giving someone space.
I have always dropped off donated dinners to new moms with a note and a delivery person, and I have never thought to make a visit or a phone call in the first week. But I also doubt I have ever been sensitive enough to avoiding asking “how are you” for a week, or assuming that maybe a hug for the new mom is not in order at a bris. I never knew that difficult sleeping when your baby sleeps is a primary symptom of post-partum baby blues, but I have always known that lack of sleep makes everything else harder.
I have had many friends who suffered from post-partum depression, but I didn’t see it – that is part of what I am describing, which is a desire to shut everyone out during such a dark time. I heard about it after the fact. Until now, I never understood why it was traumatic enough to cause some of them to think twice before having another child.
I haven’t enjoyed the experience, but I do hope it is going to make me a better friend, relative, neighbor and eventually mother to new moms. That I will have a newfound appreciation for that space.
If you ever give birth and I seem aloof during your first week, please don’t be offended, I will just be giving you your space, whether you need it or not. My guess is that if you are a brand new mom, you will be FAR too busy to notice, no matter how you are feeling.
One last note: our beautiful new baby’s name is Yehuda Chaim, and I will post our thoughts and words on the baby and his name just as soon as this little newborn will grant me the time. In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and Chanukah!!!
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I once had the honor of enjoying a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Green from Jerusalem who was visiting New Jersey. He said that everyone has “that person”; ” That person that drives you up a wall, that you simply cannot stand. That every little thing they do is so annoying it is like fingers on the blackboard – just for you…. but don’t worry he went on; you are undoubtedly that person to someone else!”
I burst out in the laughter of surprise and recognition. I am a second wife who has been dealing with a first wife, who hates my guts, for many years. Enough said, but far be it from me to assume I am only “that person” to her. I may be that person to a lot more people.
I also think, however, that the flip side is true. Many of us have “that person” that has made some huge, life-changing impact on our lives.
And quite often, I believe that “those people – ” the angels that appear as humans to us – don’t think of their own actions or behavior as anything much at all. Just as the people who seem to have no raison d’etre other than annoying us often aren’t even considering us for one instant, those that have a hugely positive impact on our lives aren’t trying to change us, or our lives, or even inspire us. They are just living.
My now 8-year old daughter had to go through the difficult process of aliyah only 15 months ago. She went from a small school, 5 minutes from home, where the staff were also members of her shul and community, were her Ima’s friends, gave her hugs, and were her extended family, to a huge public school with 30+ kids in a class, over 200 to a grade, and not a lot of personal interactions between individual students and staff…. all in a new language, of course.
Idit is one of the secretaries in the office, and I very much doubt that she realizes just how much she is “that person” for my daughter.
Shira began last year surprising Idit with hugs. While it certainly wasn’t the norm in her big Israeli public school, it was definitely my daughter’s norm from New Jersey. Idit responded with cookies. She didn’t realize that we don’t give our children cookies, except on Shabbat. It was most definitely the way to my daughter’s heart, as well as the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The cookies have stopped, but the daily hellos – and hugs – have remained. Shira knows she has a friend, a go-to person, a safe harbor in the storm that is aliyah.
I had to drop off a forgotten assignment this week, and since I couldn’t find Shira, I gave it to Idit who assured me that she and Shira would find each other before the next class. She called me in before I could leave to tell me how much she loves my spunky daughter. She also wanted to add that Shira often comes to the office during recess, or stays inside, saying that she doesn’t know who to play with.
One of the hardest parts of aliyah is getting past kids being friendly to really making friends. (It’s true for the adults making aliyah too – a different blog post…) Idit suggested that I send Shira to school with a toy from home for the playground or something new that she can share with friends – or potential friends – that will both give her something to do and attract her peers. What a simple, easy idea. The next day Shira went to school with some sidewalk chalk in her bag and I am already hearing reports of improvement in her social life at school.
The teachers are busy, dealing with 30+ kids throughout the day, and they are not assigned to monitor the playground every day. When they do, they are literally watching hundreds of children. They are watching out for fights and violence (I am not confident they even catch most of that) but certainly are not on the lookout for the lone immigrant child that quietly opted to stay inside. Idit noticed. And her quiet, quick word to me was all that it took to bring a little more sunshine into my daughter’s life.
I will continue to try to convey to Idit how much more of an impact on my daughter she is having than she realizes, and I hope there is a point in her life where she comes to understand that by doing what must be a relatively thankless office job in a public school, she is meriting being an angel on earth for at least one little girl, and by extension her family.
… So what does that mean for me? It means yet one more reminder that I need to live my own life consciously, trying to be “that person” in the lives of others, rather than “that [other] person”….
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While most people have written and filed their experiences and impressions from the President’s Conference in Jerusalem two weeks ago, I am only getting this published now. While it may only be an excuse, I doubt from what I saw that most of the participants, especially writers, at the conference were leaving behind 6 children finishing up their first year of school in Israel. For me, there has been a lot of “pay back” for that precious two day absence, so I hope this interview comes better late than never.
Of the many fantastic moments for me at the President’s Conference, meeting Rita definitely stands out as the highlight. This was for me a rare, unforgettable life-moment. There is the rush of fandom, of meeting a star, but this was something else.
Meeting someone for the first time that has left a fingerprint on your soul and having the chance to tell them personally is truly incredible, and something I do not take for granted. The fact that Rita was personable, charming, beautiful, interesting and kind is really icing on the cake.
For those of you that do not know, “Rita”, Rita Yahan-Farouz is an Iranian--born Israeli pop singer and the most famous female singer in Israel. She has had an unprecedented career in Israel in film and on stage, and has sold countless albums and sold-out concerts.
In 2011, she also became popular in Iran as an underground singing sensation after the release of various pop records which she sings in her native Persian language. In 2012, her album “All My Joys,” also sung in Persian, was popular in both Israel and Iran, going gold in Israel after three weeks. She has since been referred to as a cultural ambassador between Israeli and Iranian citizens. You can learn a lot more about Rita, her stardom and her career here.
When I was 17 years old, I came to Israel for the first time on what was then a brand new program called “USY High”. Although it has since changed, at the time it was a Conservative Movement form of the standard AMHSI two-month high school in Israel program based in Hod Hasharon.
My teacher, Yossi Katz, who still teaches at AMHSI, could see right away that I was one of those kids that was falling in love, very quickly and deeply with the country. Yossi is the author of “A Voice Called” and is someone I have always described as someone who creates zionists for a living. The number of Yossi’s former students that have made aliyah is staggering.
As early as my first week in Israel I explained to Yossi emphatically that Israel could never be home for me. It would of course conflict with the long, successful stage career as a singer that was waiting for me back in the United States. Yossi reacted by creating a mantra that I could be the “next Rita in Israel” over and over, and backed this up by giving me my first taste of Israeli music, a Rita cassette.
I spent the remainder of those 8 life-transforming weeks on a bus, learning the history of the land of Israel from the time of Avraham until today almost entirely on tiyul. And every minute we were on that bus, I was looking out the window wearing a walkman and listening to Rita.
She was the background music for my burgeoning love affair with Eretz Yisroel. 24 years later, as I drive to work on a mundane commute, I still feel pangs of fierce, passionate love. And I still hear the background music.
…. and in Binyanei Hauma, I got to tell Rita herself.
I tried to assure the true (well-earned) Diva that I wanted to talk to her about HER and not me, but opened with the personal connection anyway. She responded by gasping, telling me that I gave her the chills and giving me a big hug. I know she has a successful long-standing career as an actress so perhaps I should be cynical about the reception, but it certainly felt amazing.
We spoke first and foremost about motherhood. Since I explained that this is the subject of much of my blog, we both talked about being musical moms raising musical kids. As if we are “both” in any category. But when she stopped her manager in her tracks to exclaim in shock the number of kids I have, insisting that it is impossible because I look 26 years old, she had me even more hooked than ever.
She explained to me that motherhood didn’t change her as a musician, it just changed the centrality of her very successful career in her life. “Being a mother just instantly became the most important thing in my life, and remained so.” She spoke about the challenges of finding the right balance of (stellar) career and motherhood. She had a neighbor that would needle her incessantly about not being home for her children, as this neighbor of course was. She was so irritated by the constant badgering that she wound up going to a family psychologist who asked her one simple question. “When your daughter grows up, gets married and has a family. Will you tell her that you think she should drop her life-passion and stay home to be with her family? Will you tell her to table her own happiness for the sake of her children?”. Rita didn’t need any more information and went home empowered to find that balance every one of us struggles with.
How telling – and familiar – that the the social pressure to please others’ is at least as much a part of that struggle as the personal balance we each have to find.
We talked about the most significant influence on her as a musician. It was not a particular band or favorite album… but the rich singing and dancing her Persian mother did around the house.
She described very, very early memories of resting on her mother’s legs as she sang constantly to her children. It wasn’t appropriate for a Persian woman to publicly dance and sing, she explained, so she would perform with flair around the house for her entranced daughters. And these are the sounds that have informed and influenced Rita throughout her career. I restrained myself – with effort – from launching into my background as a Music Together teacher. Music Together teaches us through science and study the profound impact that this kind of musical behavior by any mother has on every child and their love of music. Rita knew through her gut and didn’t need my affirmation. (And it wasn’t about me. I wasn’t going to make this a two way conversation of “sharing” no matter how much it is my inclination. This was an interview.)
It made so much sense when she later talked about her 2012 album, All My Joys, which is sung in Persian, as a deeply personal “return home”. The fact that it has seen unprecedented international success and has turned into a surprising bridge-builder between Israeli and Iranian people has been a wonderful unintended outcome. I now understood how despite meteoric success and international attention she could still describe the effort as a deeply personal one.
We discussed the raising of her musical kids. Both of her daughters are very musical which is even less surprising when you know that their father, her ex-husband, is Rami Kleinstein a hugely successful Israeli artist in his own right.
Meshi is 21 and very well may pursue a career in music,” Rita told me, “I don’t think she can run away from it. She is so talented… She sings in English, Davka.”
Her younger daughter, Noam, is 12, is also an incredibly creative musician. Rita tells me she is “so talented at so many different instruments. And she seems to have rhythm and blues down in her kishkes. It is amazing. But she very well may decide not pursue music as a profession…. she knows very deeply first hand the price that one pays to be in this business, and isn’t sure she wants to pay it.”
I asked Rita if she had any message for my very musical 13 year old daughter who also has the “bug” and wants a lifetime of singing. With the added challenge of being Orthodox and all that that means in Israel today. I didn’t know how Rita would react, and how careful she would want to be to veer away from religion or politics. I didn’t know if it would be an opportunity to criticize the limitations of religion on musical expression (particularly for women). She didn’t go there at all, and impressed me yet again.
“Tell her that singing is mentioned even the Kabbalah – that music has a vibration that is like a prayer. It is the strongest way to connect to Heaven, to G-d. Like a straight cable to connect directly to G-d. You can’t tell someone to run away from such a love. She has to find her own destiny.” She said. “And tell her to never, ever stop singing.”
She had described for me her earliest memory of being asked to stand up at a large family gathering when she was only 4, to stand on a chair and sing for everyone. The world stopped, and she felt this incredible “oneness”. A moment of pure joy and clarity that has always stayed with her, and was the defining moment in which she knew this is what she had to do for the rest of her life.
I asked Rita for her proudest career moments. She said that the two peaks for her were singing “Hatikvah” at the Knesset for Israel’s 50th birthday celebration, and her recent performance at the UN General Assembly in March as a representative of Israel, where she sang in Persian, English and Hebrew. She explained that three of the tickets were taken somehow by the Iranian delegation, but they will never know how or by whom.
When I pointed out that these are both moments of national representation as opposed to commercial success, she explained that her 8-year-old immigrant self is still inside her, remembering her move to Israel, being mocked and feeling “different” . That that little girl jumps for joy when she has these moments as the representative of Israel.
Once again, I restrained myself and didn’t talk about how much I can relate, as I watch my children struggle through their first year of aliyah. I pushed down tears of emotion and made a mental note to simply share this insight with my own little immigrants as soon as I got home. (Which I did.)
These were the highlights for me of what felt like a too-short intimate conversation between two people who live in different worlds but could so easily be friends. I wondered then, and still do, if she just has an amazing gift of making everyone feel that way, and it really has nothing to do with me?
I hope Rita will get an opportunity to read this, and that she feels it has done justice to our conversation. She had so many fans approach her on that one day alone, and it must go on throughout the year. But if she does see it then she will know that she left a second fingerprint during our conversation and there is a strange part of me that is absolutely convinced that it will not be our last.
If you missed Rita at the President’s Conference, you can watch her on the panel here.
For more information about Rita’s amazing career, her latest album, or how to order any of her music, be sure to visit her website.
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Some of you know that I had written a while ago posts about the tragedy for the children of Nachlaot, starting with “Terrorists have destroyed Nachlaot“. The other posts can be found here and here and here.
Jewishmom.com has an important update about the sentencing of one of the perpetrators, and much more.
Please read her post:
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I haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately. I haven’t had a lot of time to blog since I decided to move across the world with six kids. Then deciding that taking a job outside of the house, albeit half-time, sort of put the nail in the blog coffin.
I am making some changes in my life over the next few months and hope that with some much-needed balance will come some specks of time for writing. Stay tuned.
Someone I do not know, who has never commented here, made a kind comment about my blog. But he also said that he would love to hear my journey, not just stories. And he is right. I haven’t done that. Mostly because I have yet to ever feel like I have “arrived” anywhere on the journey. I feel like it is hard to tell the story when I am still in the middle of it. That is how a blog works, though, isn’t it? So I have to do that, and am making the commitment to it right now.
Today, however, is not the day I am going to tell you my journey. I have written much about my love affair with Israel, with the intense joy that I feel about being here. And I do feel it – every single day. I get emotional and grateful on a simple drive to work, looking out at the Judean Hills. I don’t see a checkpoint and rush hour traffic. I see the land of my forefathers; I really do. And I hope the naive rose glasses remain there for a long time to come.
But this week? I am sorry. It has just been…. well NOT FUN. Actually, it has been more like a month of health issues all up, down and around my family and I have honestly HAD ENOUGH. I am officially, here and now, crying uncle. Like, we really, really could use a break.
My daughter has some horrible stomach thing that won’t die with the many antibiotics she has taken. We have been to emergency rooms, I have fought with attendings, ordered tests, been completely let down by specialists, and am left with a daughter missing school, tired and frustrated while we keep poking around in the dark for a solution. *
My son has asthma, and Lag Bomer in Israel is not exactly the very best holiday for an asthmatic. For those of you that don’t know, the national tradition is to light bonfires and stay up late, breathing in the smoke and eating nasty hot dogs and marshmallows, while reports of fire damage come in from around the nation.
Even if I had made my son stay home from the “everyone-is-doing-it-I-get-to-stay-up-late-and-bond-with-my-peers-over-a-bonfire” experience his very first year here, the smoke from the entire country would have caused his flare-up anyway. He hacks, he cries, and I slowly go out of my mind.
My other son decided he had to go and break a toe.. we must have missed a day at the doctor’s office. He can get around, but was told no sports for three weeks. I am not sure which is worse for his overall mental and physical health; the broken toe or his being cooped up that long. I know which is worse for mine.
My dad has had a minor “thing”, and is now going for more tests. He is fine. He really is. Thank G-d. But the reality is that my parents are getting older and I now live 6,000 miles away. The worrying didn’t help him when I was a 6 hour drive away either, but it always felt like I could hop in a car and run over to see them. With this many kids and responsibilities that sounds funny even as I type it, but it felt like I could. He doesn’t need my care, energy and attention right now like my brood, but the additional worry and distraction just adds to the heap.
I am barely – just barely – making it with the work-aliyah-support the husband-raise-all-of-these-kids plates all spinning in the air.
These sick kids are like an angry bird that has swooped in to knock every single one of the plates out of the air.
I have friends, family, more family, and more dear friends coming to visit in May. I can’t wait. I want to show them how happy we are here. How settled we are in our new home. How well we are doing, and how I scaled the heights and have mastered starting over at 40…..
… I fear that they will arrive and instead all they will see is fallen and smashed plates that were once spinning…. in a heap all over the floor.
*Please don’t write in a comment suggesting something I ought to get my daughter tested for. I know you mean well. I have heard them all, and yes. We tested for that. I assure you.
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This edition of the Haveil Havelim is dedicated to those that have fallen or have been injured due to terror. In Boston, in Israel, in the world. When the world wakes up to global jihad as an international problem, perhaps we will finally stand up to evil and end the suffering.
I haven’t had the time to post my many thoughts and feelings about my first Yom Hazikaron back in Israel, my first Yom Haatzmaut back in Israel, and the rattling of my former home in Boston. I am fortunate that so many other wonderful bloggers have written their thoughts and I can share them with you in digest form.
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week, jointly coordinated through our Facebook Group. The term ‘Haveil Havalim,’ which means”Vanity of Vanities,” is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other ‘excesses’ and realized that it was nothing but ‘hevel,’ or in English,’vanity.’
What a roller-coaster week!!! If there was ever a time to remember to hold life precious, it would be now.
Boston Marathon Terror attack:
Batya looks at the horrific tragedy this week in Boston through her Israeli lens, positing that America is a “more frightening place”. Does it strike the world as odd that there are ‘settlers’ like us that feel that way? See if you agree and weigh in at What Was The Point of That Boston Marathon Bombing? over at Shiloh Musings.
Yaelle brings us her take on the Yom Hazikaron experience in Yom Hazikaron l’Chalelei Maarachot Yisrael… at Yaelle Yells… Softly
Having begun work recently as the Spokesperson at OneFamily Fund in Jerusalem, my experience of Yom Hazikaron has become very different, sharper, harder, and more real. I invite you to watch this very brief and extremely moving recap of the ceremony at OneFamily. It is a safe haven for bereaved children, who have a second home where they can share their loss openly. What a blessing for them…. and what a horribly difficult thing for the rest of us to hear.
It is because of that experience that I have learned so much more the truth in Batya‘s posit that “Time Doesn’t Heal” over at Me-Ander.
A late edition that’s worth the read: The Real Jerusalem Streets shows us in beautiful images the reality of Yom Hazikaron in Jerusalem….
One follows right after the other in the blog roll, as in life. Some love it, some hate it. I am surprised no one weighed in on just that.
… and Sharon once again captures the day on The Real Jerusalem Streets in Yom Haatzmaut Favorites in Jerusalem.
Batya connects Yom Haatzmaut to Shiloh’s local, important – and very long – history in Celebrate Israeli Independence Where We Had Our First Capital City, Shiloh! at Shiloh Musings.
First, let’s start with the Temple Mount. Always a great source if you are looking for some people to disagree about stuff:
Esser Agaroth shares a Palestinian article about a Jewish demonstration about the Temple Mount, in Palestinian Press Posts Pretty Pictures…Of Temple Mount Activists
… and follow us with a very insightful – and humorous – rant (forgive me for calling a spade a spade) on MK Miri Regev’s recent declaration to tour the Temple Mount, in Jewish Prayer on The Temple Mount. Sigh… I personally cannot wait until such a decision is no longer a “declaration”. Kudos, Esser Agaroth.
Then…. let’s move down below, to the Kotel, an equally generous spot for dissent and ill-will, while we offer up our holiest supplications to our Creator.
I had to include this post, because in addition to being a radical and often unheard point of view, I couldn’t agree with Leah Zakh Aharoni more in Times of Israel’s The Misogyny of the Women of the Wall.
The Torah Revolution is tired of the fighting too, and gives his own suggestion as to what we are all doing wrong, in Strange Coincidence.
I learn from Tomer Devorah that the missiles that rained down on Eilat may have been targeting a US military target in Missiles on Eilat. Chilling, and logical.
Why all of the interest by women in going out to daven in public if “Women Don’t go to Shul?” – Hadassah Levy generates some great discussion in her Times of Israel piece on Why Women Don’t Go to Shul. Don’t forget to read the comments and of course weigh in.
Tomer Devorah presents an interesting set of coincidences regarding explosions in Texas in Very Coincidental. It sounds like the makings of a great new Gabriel Allon novel. Are you reading, Daniel Silva??
Shlomo writes a Re-review of Siddur Nehalel BeShabbat in Thinking Torah: This post looks at how the siddur uses images to enhance the meaning of Psalm 92 – Mizmor shir l’yom haShabbat.
Two final thoughts:
If everyone reading this invited one blogger to submit to HH that hasn’t before (or hasn’t in a long time), we would all get to enjoy some new blogs and spread the Jewish-blogger-love. Why not send a brief email to a blogger you love right now? Or just a little fb post?
I also want to give a quick shout out to Trip’n Up’s Amy today, because, well, she could use it. Find a post she has written that you like and just leave a comment or a hello. Just stop by, and tell her that Ima2seven sent you. : )
Wishing everyone a happier, easier week than last. With no terror attacks, no memorial days, no strife and maybe, just maybe a little bit of seasonally appropriate sunshine!
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