Saturday, August 30, 2014

Avaham - An Example for All

You know how when you’re thinking of buying a certain item, suddenly, you notice that item everywhere. You never noticed it before, but now that you’ve got your mind on it, it seems to be everywhere.
Well, lehavdil, that’s how it seems to be with our patriarch Avraham.
Now that we’re in the midst of rehearsals for our new show, COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara - everything I learn, every daily prayer, every spiritual experience lately seems to deal with Avraham. So, I guess it won’t be a surprise when I tell you that I was excited to learn Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) today and find our father Avraham used as an example to explain Chapter 1 Mishnah 15.
“Shammai said: Make Torah study a regular habit, say little and do much, and receive every person cheerfully.”
The commentators on this Mishna gave Avraham as their example, they explain that when the travelers (angels) came to Avraham’s tent, he told them, “And I will bring a piece of bread…” (Bereishit 18:5), and then he proceeded to bring “butter and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and placed it before them.” (18:8)
And about the phrase…“receive every person cheerfully…” Well, no one had a kinder more welcoming demeanor than Avraham Avinu. One of the strongest reasons for his success in “creating souls” (bringing people under the wings of Hashem) was his cheerful countenance, the happy warm way he greeted each person and the loving way in which he gave over his teachings.

Let us all take yet another lesson from our father Avraham, and shavua tov to all.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sbarro's 13 Years Later

It was August 9, 2001. We had rehearsal that night. We had rehearsal most nights of the summer of 2001. There was too much terror and fear around us. The alternative to coming to rehearsal was to sit home under the blankets and cry. So, if someone wanted to cry, she could do it on her friend’s shoulder, then say some tehillim and get up on stage.
I had founded Raise Your Spirits two months before in order to raise spirits, to win our private war against the terror around us, after my next-door-neighbor Esther Elvan was murdered along with my friend Sarah Blaustein, HY”D. But the list of murdered Jews that summer was horrifically long.
So, on August 9, everyone showed up, hugged, and told one another where they were when the Sbarro’s bomb went off. One of our narrators, Miriam, a local Bnei Akiva head was very worried and beyond upset. One of her Bnei Akiva counselors, Malki Roth, was missing. Miriam had called a meeting of her counselors and Malki didn’t show up.
At the popular eaterie, Sbarro’s on the corner of King George and Rechov Yaffo, a suicide-homicide bomber had murdered 15 people - fathers, mothers, children. It was a horrible vicious attack, and we were all still reeling from the catastrophe.
Then, as today, in this horrible incident, the Hamas terror organization was responsible for the blood-shed.
Miriam found out that Malki Roth, HY"D, was among the murder victims in Sbarro’s. We were all devastated beyond words, beyond tears, beyond heartbreak. We said tehillim. Our knees shook. We continued on. A Jew has no choice but to continue on.
That was 13 years ago. Raise Your Spirits went on stage in JOSEPH and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to bring the women of Efrat/Gush Etzion together in a positive uplifting project, to give women of Israel a reason to cry in the darkness and then sing about the eternity of Israel.
Throughout the past 13 years, we’ve performed in seven different productions for 50,000 women. The situation in the country has fluctuated, sometimes from bad to worse. Today, we are faced with Hamas again (although all sorts of terror groups have raised their heads continually).
Today as war rages in the south, as sirens blare in different parts of the country every day, we are rehearsing again, aiming to raise our spirits with a positive uplifting activity – the production of COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Abraham and Sara.
May Hashem bless the women of Raise Your Spirits and the entire nation. One day soon, we pray the music we sing will be filled with pure joy.
(Photo from Keren Malki)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Abraham and Tisha B'Av

The very first word of the megilla, Eicha, which we read of 9 Av, recalls our patriarch Avraham (Abraham). According to the great commentator Me'am Lo'ez, citing another perspective: Eicha can be broken into two words - אי כה - Ei Cho - Where is Cho (thus)?
Hashem had promised Avraham, " כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ " Thus shall your seed be! (As many as the stars in the heavens!)
Therefore, when the prophet Jeremiah sees the downfall and destruction of the once lofty Jewish nation and the Holy Temple, he asks, "Where is that promise of Cho - thus shall your seed be?"
Hashem answers with His own question, Where is Cho?
G-d had commanded Moses, Cho, כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב , Thus you will tell the House of Jacob!
And now Hashem asks, "Where is the Nation that upholds Cho - G-d's mitzvot (commandments)?"
Friends, we have the opportunity to bring the Cho back by setting an example of blessing. When we keep Hashem's mitzvot and when we follow Avraham Avinu's teachings and ways of loving kindness, then Hashem's words to our Patriarch will be fulfilled.
Cho, thus shall your seed be - like the stars of the heavens.
May your Tisha B'Av conclude with meaning. May the joy of Tu B'Av follow with true joy and bracha (blessing) for Am Yisrael.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Abraham Takes the Stage and Saves the World

We learn in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) that there were 10 generations from Adam to Noah, and the generations were so evil, that when Noah came along, Hashem destroyed them all, and kept only the righteous Noah and his family alive.
We learn that there were ten generations from Noah to Avraham, and since the generations were evil, immoral, debased, and so wicked - angering G-d greatly - they deserved to be destroyed, as well.
But when Avraham took the stage, he was not only filled with goodness, he was filled with the willingness to share his goodness, so that Hashem saved all the world because of him.
Why? Why was Avraham’s generation deserving of life? The commentators say that people saw the purity and truth in Avraham’s greatness, and people were anxious to follow his ways and turn to G-d.
Avraham's Gifts
What were his ways?
Here are the first two:
The first was the midda (attribute) most associated with Avraham, the attribute of chesed (deeds of loving-kindness). Yes, he was full of kindness for others. That was his first step. He took others lovingly under his wing. He cared about them, no matter who they were, and he made them understand that the goodness he was sharing with them was because of G-d.
Avraham found this path through his inner search. When Avraham was 70 years, Hashem spoke to him for the first time. Lech lecha, Hashem said.
Go for yourself. Go for your own benefit to the place I will show you. (But that’s for another dvar Torah.)
Another interpretation by the commentators of Lech lecha was “go inside yourself”. And Avraham had been doing that long before these famous words - the words that changed destiny - were pronounced.
Avraham had looked inside himself since he was three years old in search of truth.
So the second attribute that will always be associated with Avraham Avinu is his search for truth. In a world of evil, he searched for G-d and what he knew was G-d’s goodness. He was only three years old, when he started searching, but this attribute of faith that there was something positive out there in the world absolutely changed mankind.
Learning from Avraham Today
Today, frightening realities surround us, but like the children of Avraham Avinu, we can stand up against the evil already, using the first two attributes of Avraham: His loving kindness for others, and his faith in the positivity of life.

I bless all of you (that’s another attribute of Avraham to be explored), I bless all of you with Hashem’s protection during this trying time, with Hashem’s Magen Avraham (Shield of Avraham) and with the faith that IY”H, a positive outcome will come about for our people.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Doing our job again - Our RYS Emergency Call Up

Just as our soldiers have been called into the service until the emergency Tzav Shmona orders, we of the Raise Your Spirits Theatre feel that we have answered the call, as well.
When I founded the Raise Your Spirits theater company in 2001, I did so because terror surrounded us. No matter where we lived, we were afraid to drive the roads and go on with our daily lives. We especially feared Summer Vacation - those long days and nights with nothing to do during the intifada, and no where to go. We were afraid to put our children in the car, to drive somewhere for a visit or fun.
We were a nation held hostage by fears and tears. We never knew when a suicide-bomber would strike, and we repeatedly mourned friends, neighbors and fellow Jews who were murdered by Arab terrorists.
At that time, I founded Raise Your Spirits to give women everywhere, and especially in Efrat and Gush Etzion, a reason to dry their tears, something positive to think about (putting on a show), a reason to look forward to the evening (with its uplifting rehearsals), a sense of hope and anticipation for tomorrow (and the day we would soon go on stage).
The Show Must Go On
In a summer filled with terror attacks, we met in the evening, hugged, recited Tehillim and then got on stage. 
No excuses. No absences. The adage, "The show must go on", is not only about show business, but about life! Life must go on, despite the fears, the tears and the terror around us. We are Am Yisrael - an eternal nation.
So, last night our cast of the upcoming COUNT THE STARS production about the Journey of Avraham and Sara gathered for rehearsal.
My mind returned to 2001. We were under attack again. Once again, we worried about the safety of our fellow Jews and our soldiers. And once again, we had one another to comfort, to join in Tehillim and then in song.
We raise our voices in RYS, not only to learn a new song, but as a show of faith that Hashem will watch over our nation.
Last Night’s Songs
Last night, we heard two significant songs – one from our upcoming show, Sa Na Einecha/Lift Up Your Eyes, the promise of this blessed land to Avraham and to us his descendants, and the second Prayer for the Troops from a previous RYS show JUDGE! The Song of Devora.
Prayer for the Troops, written by our director Toby Klein Greenwald who co-authored JUDGE! with Yael Valier, beautifully expressed the love and concern we feel for all our soldiers, and the unity of our nation. It was sung magnificently last night by the original stars of JUDGE! – Deena Lawi and Gayle Berman, who also serves as our music director.
Together, we cried, we prayed and we went on.
Our Prayers
Our prayers are directed to Hashem for the safety of the soldiers and our nation. Some of our members have sons and sons-in-law that have been called up to fight. May G-d watch over them.

And IY”H, we will continue on together until we can one day raise our voices in pure joy and thanks to Hashem for the miracles He has shown us.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Timing! Raise Your Spirits and Abraham!

What timing!
This week, Raise Your Spirits Theatre zoomed back into action, auditioning and soon casting its newest production, COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara.
The entire search for the perfect folks for each role in Avraham and Sara’s story has been enjoyable (even if we had to listen to “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” ten times) and challenging (How do we choose? Everyone is terrific in her way).
And what about the timing?
Well, precisely this week’s Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 5 reminds us how special and pivotal a character Avraham was, contrasting him to the sorcerer Bilam, about whom we read in this week’s portion of the Torah.
Mishnah 19 says, “Whoever has the following three qualities is of the disciples of Avraham Avinu, and whoever has the three opposite qualities is of the disciples of the evil Bilam: A good eye, a humble spirit and a modest soul makes him of the disciples of Avraham Avinu, whereas an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a greedy soul makes him of the disciples of the evil Bilam….”
Our Patriarch Avraham tried to see the good in each person. He took each person under his wing, and taught him the righteousness of G-d’s ways. He opened his tent and his heart to all. Hashem gave Avraham a unique gift, he was made a blessing. Not only could he bless others, all those who blessed him became blessed. (And anyone who cursed him would be cursed by G-d Himself.)
Bilam on the other hand, had an evil eye. The prophet of the 70 nations, Bilam could have been an example of belief in G-d and His ways. He could have been the nations’ “Avraham”. Instead, Bilam used his special talents to curse, instead of bless. He was able to determine the exact instant when G-d is angry, so that he could curse his victim at that moment, and subject him to Hashem’s Divine judgment.
In this week’s parsha, the Jewish People are the object of Bilam’s desired curse, but G-d turned all Bilam’s words into blessings that remain with the Jewish People forever. “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael.” (How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.)
Shavua tov. Looking forward to introducing you very soon to the cast of COUNT THE STARS.
STARS was written by Sharon Katz and Avital Macales.
Its staff also stars Toby Klein Greenwald as director, Gayle Berman as musical director, Sara Orenstein as choreographer, and Noa Choritz and Sharon Katz as producers.


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-DepressionAmerica, 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.