Thursday, September 11, 2014

9-11 and Raise Your Spirits

9-11.
That's the catchy term the world uses. 9-11 and everyone knows what each person is referring to.
The Arab terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in the United States, plus two other attempted sites.

The towers came down in death and destruction, and smoke and steel, and horror and loved-ones-lost.
In Israel where I live, we had been living our own mini-9-11s every day. A shooting here, a suicide bomber there (the most infamous being the Sbarro bombing).
It was a beyond-frightening time for all - so scary that many folks would have just stayed locked up in their homes, rather than face the outside world.
But we women of Raise Your Spirits were determined to go on with life. And, live life ourselves and with our friends and families despite the hells around us.

So on 9-11, we went on! The show went on! Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
We had debates and even borderline- fights with those who disagreed, but we knew we had to go on. If we stopped living life at every terror attack, we'd still be home under the covers.
In addition to that, the WORLD had now just joined the people of Israel in what had been our private trauma.
We needed to be together with others, and we needed to believe that life would go on, that the earth would keep turning.

So after complex discussions, we sent cast members to synagogues around Gush Etzion, collected prayer books and handed them out to our audience.
We turned our performance into a giant prayer rally - 450 women praying together in complete faith. Our performers prayed behind the curtain and the audience in their theatre seats.
And then the show went on - one our best shows ever. The audience weeped and they laughed, and they were able to put the evil world out of their hearts and minds for one hour, as they traveled with us through the stage version of "a silly-sad-serious-shiny" life of Joseph and his brothers. 

And there we stood on 9-11, Raise Your Spirits and our sisters, united, believing, supportive, loving - getting through the worst day the world has known TOGETHER as a family of Jewish women.
[http://raiseyourspiritstheatre.blogspot.co.il/2014/07/doing-our-job-again-our-rys-emergency.html]

May Hashem bless the world and finally soon destroy evil from our midst.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Avraham's Strength to "Go Out"

While learning this week’s Parsha Ki Teitzei, I opened Orchard of Delight by Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, and what did I find? You guessed it. Rabbi Trugman used our patriarch Avraham to help teach the topic, “Going Out to War on a Personal Level”.
Rabbi Trugman said that because Ki Teitzei comes out so close to the High Holy Days, we can look at the words about going out to war against our enemy, and think of them in reference to our soul and inner force.
He asked, “Where does the Jew find the strength to go out into the world and fulfill the injunction to be a ‘light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6)? As we learn in Bereishit, the actions of our forefathers engraved this lesson on our collective consciousness.”
“Abraham consistently found the strength to follow G-d, no matter what stumbling blocs were placed before him. He left his country and family to venture forth into the unknown, wherever G-d directed him.”
“After arriving in the Land of Canaan, famine forced him to leave for Egypt, but he returned wealthier than before.”
“…Abraham’s devotion paved the way for Israel to leave Egypt in the middle of the night, to follow G-d into the desert and the great unknown and ultimately to enter the Land of Israel as a strong nation.”
Rabbi Trugman continued, “When Abraham complained to G-d that he had no children to continue his work G-d ‘took him outside’ where he showed him the stars and promised him that his progeny would be as numerous as the stars.”
He explained, “The Hebrew word for took (hotzi) has the same root as the name of our portion (teitzei). As we learned in Lech Lecha, G-d taught Abraham that he needed to go outside of his nature, to go above the stars…This power is the inheritance of every Jew – but each and every Jew must work hard to bring that potential to fruition in his own life.”


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.