Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Note from the Authors of COUNT THE STARS

Every show has a Playbill that features photos of the show, production and cast lists. The Raise Your Spirits Playbill also includes a note from the authors, in order to explain the background, behind the show. This note was written by the authors and composers of COUNT THE STARS, Avital Macales and myself.
The Jewish people took center stage in humanity when Avraham and Sara stepped into the spotlight, journeying throughout the Middle East, spreading their message of faith in One G-d and a world based on goodness. The story of Avraham and Sara is epic! Av Hamon Goyim, father of many nations. What an honor and responsibility to bring the journey of Avraham and Sara lovingly, respectfully and entertainingly to the stage.
Well-known to the majority of mankind!! After all, Avraham is
Avraham’s ten trials are legendary stories upon which we have all been raised. But what stories do we tell? What do we omit? If we recounted all of Avraham’s ten trials, we’d be in the theater for a full day! Of course, we could order pizza and sandwiches to hold us over, but a better idea was to tell the account of our forefather in a more reasonable length.
First, we decided to leave out the midrashim and myriad of interpretations, and go with pshat, the straight story from the Torah. B”H, over the past year, we learned from a dozen sources and felt that we had really entered into the camp of Avraham and Sara. Our hearts became attached to them, just like the souls they had made in Charan. We studied the chapters of Lech Lecha and Vayeira with classic and modern sources, including Rashi, Me’am Lo’ez, Abarbanel, Rav Yosef B. Soloveich, Rabbi Abraham Trugman and more. We listened to shiurim from Torah institutions around the world.
In the end, we decided to tell the stories of Avraham and Sara, mainly as we read them in the Chumash, with a few exceptions. We began COUNT THE STARS with an introduction to Avraham, a man unafraid to stand up against the world, profess his belief in One Loving G-d, and decry the world of idol worship. We didn’t break the the idols, as the Midrash says young Avram did, but we broke today’s idols, as you’ll see in our version of “Mesopotamian Idol”.
We wrote our script to give as many people parts as possible. Actually, many of our performers play several parts. In fact, the COUNT THE STARS legend goes that we have 300 different costumes on stage. Wow! In order to give more teenagers a way to participate, we followed Me’am Lo’ez on Bereishit 16:8-14, who says, “The word ‘angel’ is repeated four times in this account, indicating that four different angels addressed Hagar.” That led us to four teen angels, or as another interpretation said - messengers.
There were some stories that we left out – so don’t worry, you won’t be here until midnight. We only hinted at the tragic story of Sodom and its aftermath with Lot. We didn’t reenact the complex war between the four kings and the five kings. And we didn’t delve into the fact that Hagar was pregnant, miscarried and then became pregnant again when she returned home, after running away from Sarai her mistress.
When Sara was taken to Avimelech’s palace, we scratched our heads whether to call her the daughter of Avraham’s brother or daughter of his father. The Torah says “father”, because Terach was Sara’s grandfather, but we almost changed our wording to “brother”, so as not to confuse the audience. Well, don’t be confused, just reread Bereishit 20:12.
We also wondered how to present Hashem’s words throughout the show. G-d speaks quite a lot to Avraham! Obviously, no person can symbolize Hashem. So, instead, we gave innocent little children the task of being the Voices of G-d’s Angels.
As we wrote COUNT THE STARS, some of the songs sang themselves to us. Suddenly, we had lyrics AND melodies. We feel blessed that we were able to create the music for this show, B”H, and we are grateful to Amit Ben Atar for taking our melodies and arranging them into what we hope are memorable songs that you will sing long after you leave the theatre.
This show would not have been possible without the support of our families and the devotion of our cast, our producers Noa Choritz and Sharon Katz, our music director Gayle Berman, our choreographer Sara Orenstein, the rest of our production staff and the Raise Your Spirits amutah. We’d like to specially recognize Toby Klein Greenwald, our director, who put in endless hours of caring, meeting with us, and bringing our vision to the stage. This production has been a joint effort of love.
Our gratitude to all of you. We hope you enjoy COUNT THE STARS. We’d like to bless you with the blessings of Avraham, “You shall be a blessing…[and] to your offspring, [G-d] will give this land.” (Bereishit 12: 2, 7) 
And if you ever need inspiration, remember to “look up high toward the Heavens”.

Sharon Katz Avital Macales

Photos by Bati Katz.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

From Avraham to Yitzchak


Today’s parsha Chayei Sara ends an era that is very dear to us all – the era of Avraham and Sara. We women of COUNT THE STARS have lived with Avraham and Sara for many months (Avital and I, B”H, for more than a year). Our first matriarch and patriarch are very beloved by us all.
This week, we welcome the new generation of Jewish leadership – Yitzchak and Rivka. We also see many connections to the previous parshiyot with which we are so immersed.
Avraham sent his trusted servant Eliezer to his old home to find a wife for Yitzchak, a wife with the qualities of the Abrahamic family – kindness, chesed (Rivka’s chesed to Eliezer and his camels is legendary) and a recognition of Hashem as G-d. Even Lavan (whom we know is NOT a good-guy) calls Eliezer, “Blessed of Hashem” and agrees that the shiddach between Yitzchak and Rivka “stems from Hashem.”
B”H, Rivka agrees to accompany Eliezer back to Canaan, and they travel to Yitzchak’s encampment.
“Now Yitzchak came from having gone to Beer-lachai-roi, for he dwelt in the south.” Remember that place – where Hagar met the angels for the first time. Sforno writes that this is the place where “Hagar’s prayer had once been answered, and it was there that Yitachak had gone to pray.” Of course, Hashem answered his prayers immediately, because he looked up and ta da da da (triumphant music), there was Rivka his bride.
Rasha says that Yitzchak had gone to Beer-lachai-roi to bring back Hagar to remarry his father. “This follows the tradition that Keturah, Avraham’s second wife was Hagar.”
It even states that after Avraham’s death, Hashem blessed Yitzchak his son, “and Yitzchak settled near Beer-lechai roi”. Isn’t it amazing that Yitzchak understood the holiness of the place - a place worthy of angels - and did not shy away from it, even though this was where Hagar was blessed with a son, Ishmael, “a wild-ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.”
Lastly, the parsha enumerates the descendants of Ishmael. Ishmael is called “Avraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Avraham.” Yes, he was the son of his wife’s maidservant, but Avraham still looked upon him as a son. When each of Ishmael’s children is named, Rashi explains that here we see that Hashem’s blessing to Hagar at the well was fulfilled, “over his brothers he’ll dwell.” “Ishmael’s descendants would be so numerous that they would have to expand beyond their own borders into those of their brothers.”
We begin the parsha with the death of our beloved matriarch Sara at age 127, and conclude the parsha with the end of the Avraham era (even though he didn’t really die here)  when he was 175 years old. “And Avraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people. His sons Yitzchak and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah….”
B”H, Avraham attained a long long life, and eventually one of contentment. Then, his sons, different as they were, and fated with totally different destinies, stood together to bury their father. In fact, Rashi said that Ishmael gave precedence to his younger brother – “and we infer that he repented.”
May Hashem bless our people always. May we have nachas from our children. May we see Hashem’s blessings to Avraham come true fully – “to your seed I will give this land.”

Come see COUNT THE STARS, www.raiseyourspirits.org/tickets.html

Photos by Bati Katz.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Abraham & Sara All Alone

One of the opening numbers in this year's Raise Your Spirits production, COUNT the STARS, is a touching duet between our beloved Patriarch and Matriarch (played here by Avital Macales and Rachel Moore), just as they are embarking upon their lives of teaching and gathering souls under the wings of G-d.
Avram and Sarai have run from their home in Ur Kasdim, and stopped in Charan. Sarai looks around at her new unfamiliar surroundings and strange new life, and shares her thoughts of their alone-ness to her husband.
It's a sweet song, but it tries to convey the difficulties of Avram and Sarai's life. Theirs was an existence of constantly starting again. That is not easy for anyone. Theirs was an existence of always being different and separate and ostracized.
It was a very solitary life. The Stone Chumash says, "Though Avraham and Sarah had many disciples (we call them "souls" in our show), they were essentially alone; they could never blend into whatever culture surrounded them." They didn't have friends to share popcorn with on a Saturday night.
We are reminded that Avam is called Avram HaIvri, not only because he came from the other side of the Euphrates, but because he stood on "one side side of a moral and spiritual divide, and the rest of the world was on the other." He rejected a world of paganism and immorality for what HaRav Soloveitchik calls an "ethical life". And even though Hashem had never said one word to Avram, Avram knew that there was an Infinite Being that ruled the world. He was willing to endure ridicule, hatred and isolation to follow the ways of the Creator. So too, throughout the centuries, Jews have drawn inspiration from our Father Avraham and strengthened themselves to endure anti-Semitism, expulsion, pogroms and all kinds of abuse in order to remain faithful to G-d.
May the Jewish nation always have the fortitude to follow the path of good and of G-d.

Behind the Scenes at COUNT THE STARS: Me'arat HaMachpelah: http://youtu.be/yuj8NCQq_7M

Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Noah to Abraham

Throughout hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, a question has been asked, “Would Noah have been a better person had he lived in the time of Avraham?” Some commentators say, “Yes, definitely! In his generation, he had no support system. Think of what he could have accomplished, had he counted Avraham as a friend.” Others said, “No! In his unworthy generation, he alone was found worthy, but he could not have compared to our Father Abraham.”
I guess we’ve got to wait for Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) to come to answer that question.
Avraham Saved Noah
I also found another interesting connection between Noah, the second father of mankind, and Avraham, father of the Jewish people.
On Rosh Hashana, we read, “G-d remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and G-d caused a spirit to pass over the earth and the water subsided. And it is said: G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.”
Can you imagine? G-d saved Noah, his family and all the animals of the ark, because of Avraham and his children.
Avraham wasn’t even born yet. He hadn’t passed one trial yet. Yitzchak wasn't yet a dream in his father's eye. But G-d’s time is a continuum – past and future are the same to the Almighty. G-d saved Noah in the ark, because one day a great man named Avraham would be born and repair the wrongs that Noah could not fix. Noah was rescued from a world of violence and robbery, by Avraham who would build a world of kindness and caring.
The Signs of Noah and Avraham
A beautiful fall day, right after the rain. We look up in amazement and see a magnificent rainbow. Whether it is a warning or a wonder, we see the rainbow and remember Hashem’s words, “I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” (Bereishit 9:13)
Pirkei Avot teaches us that ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, and one of them was the rainbow. G-d created Noah’s rainbow at the beginning of creation, and then waited ten generations to use it as a sign that He would no longer destroy the world.
Two days before that, Hashem created the luminaries and the stars. The stars filled the skies, spreading over the expanse of the universe. Twenty generations later, Avraham was born, and began to change the world for the better. 
Hashem took him outside and said, “Look up high toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!...So shall your seed be!” The stars became a sign, not of punishment or non-destruction, but of countless children, of building a nation, of expanding a people. The stars were Hashem’s sign to Avraham that his children would reach the highest heights and be a Light to the world.
May it be so.

NOAH! Ride the Wave!

The year 2003 was a frightening one. Another year of terror. Another year of tears. For those of us who lived in Israel, it seemed that the whole world was devastated. In every city, on every road, Jews were targeted by Arab terrorists. Arlene Chertoff, Toby Klein Greenwald and I had written and were performing in ESTHER and the Secrets in the King’s Court, the story about Queen Esther and the miraculous rescue of the Jewish people from the hands of the evil Haman.
We performed with a background of almost daily terror. If terror continued, Raise Your Spirits would continue too. Arlene, Toby and I decided to write a new show. We asked ourselves, “How could our world ever rebuild itself after this destruction?” We thought of Noah, who had literally seen the end of the world, and then learned how to rebuild again.
And we wrote a poignant, funny, inspirational, fanciful show, “NOAH! Ride the Wave!” We performed in 2004 to sell out crowds, and we felt ourselves asking, as Noah did, “Why was I saved?” We felt hopeful when we sang, “Fill our world with colors…fill all our days with blessing from Above.”
If Noah could rebuild his world, so could we.


This is the tenth anniversary of “NOAH! Ride the Wave!” As I sat in the synagogue today, I thought of our Animal March as all the creatures of the world marched on to the ark, two by two. I remembered our animal’s talent show (well, what do you think they did for so long on the ark), I imagined the graceful flight of the dove, and the reluctant raven. And I thought of the rainbow, and remembered how we stood one night in Gush Katif, and waved our colored banners to our beautiful rainbow song, and then lifted our orange scarves high above our heads, and cried (photo at top).

















It was quite a show. To see photos and read more about it, you can visit http://www.raiseyourspirits.org/noah.html or http://www.bible-arts.com/productions.htm.

Photo credits Rebecca Flash Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com and Sharon Katz.

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.”