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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

RYS Caravan Makes Way for School

A few years ago, Raise Your Spirits bought a caravan in which to store its costumes and scenery.
The caravan was located in the backyard of the regional council, along with other caravans and containers.
The area was quiet, pastoral, and if you listened, you could hear the crickets chirping.
"We could make a terrific Lag B'omer RYS bonfire here," we thought. "This could be a great club house," we said.
The years have passed. The caravan has deteriorated. The holes have expanded and increased. The mice have had their fun. The bees have found new homes. But we visited regularly to bring or pick up this and that.
Now a new school is being built nearby. Hooray. A school, children will fill this hill!! The RYS caravan is in the way of progress, so we went back to the caravan to try to empty it out. All the caravans were gone, except ours. The land was mostly cleared. A tractor worked on a level just below our caravan. The builders even came up to us and asked, when we'd be finished gathering our things.
We hurried through the sorting - different folks worked all the time, coming and going. Three cheers for Toby Klein Greenwald who spent days and hours in the caravan. She touched the untouchable, and walked in the unwalkable. She shook off poo poo from everything and kept an eye out for our RYS treasures. We salvaged this and that, placing them with our barest finger tips in garbage bags. Then we brought clothing and fabrics to the cleaners to be de-yuchified.
We went through some of the same experiences we had last year:
Toby asked me if I wanted my Achashverosh portrait. Um, no.
Should we take the animal heads that were tattered and torn? Um, no.
Would anyone like to open the mystery drawer? A definite NO.
But there were some costumes that made the cut - an orange salamander, a dozen large fish, our NOAH caterpillar bearing Gush Katif's logo, RUTH's Machlon and Chilion costumes.
And we still had some CDs from previous shows.

We loaded up the cars, and found a few homes for some things, but most of the stuff is in Toby's backyard.
We're looking for storage space. We're really looking for a place that RYS can call home, but we're willing to settle now for storage space.
Thanks to everyone who helped Toby move whatever they moved, and thanks in advance if you've got a place where we can hang our hats, plus our giant feet, our clouds and sunshine, our rainbow, our peacock, our animal prints and more.

Please write back to this blog.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Noah's Ark on the Rocky Mountains everyone knows that Noah's Ark landed atop Mount Ararat in Turkey, but Canada had its own version of Noah's Ark this year.
Three Shows that Have Seen the World
Ten years ago, after Raise Your Spirits completed the mega-successful run of the original "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court", co-authored by Arlene Chertoff, Toby Klein Greenwald and me (Sharon Dobuler Katz) [with music by Rivka Epstein Hattin], we three teamed up again to script the story of NOAH and the rebuilding of a devastated world.
It was a time of continued Arab terror. Destruction was all around, and we thought, "What Biblical figures had suffered horrific losses, and yet learned to rebuild their lives?"
Noah and his family! Noah's story had a message we wanted to share: Despite tragedy and sorrow, with G-d's help, we CAN begin again!
Then, our trio also scripted a third original musical together - "RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem".
Through our company Bible Arts Productions,, we licensed our three shows to different schools and groups around the world - to be performed both in English and Hebrew.
Every time we licensed one of our musicals to another school or organization, I was thrilled.
Bible Arts productions were on stage in women's leagues in Midwestern America, high schools on the East Coast, summer camps everywhere and even on the streets of far away India.
But I had never seen any of them performed until we traveled more than a month ago to see the Haifa high school version of "ESTHER". []
Children Board the Ark
Well, today I had the incredible treat of seeing "NOAH! Ride the Wave!" performed by a Hebrew Day School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Lions, tigers and bears and children of all ages!
The colorful costumes and eye-popping scenery were terrific. The leads were top-drawer, and the cast was full of energy and enthusiasm.
I was so happy to see "NOAH!" performed by these sweet children.
However, when the audience began to clap excitedly in rhythm to the Animal March, as our colorfully-costumed two-by-twos entered the ark, I burst put into tears.
I wrote a few weeks ago of how emotional I felt seeing "ESTHER" performed by another company.
The feeling is like seeing your grandchild do something extra-ordinary that instills in you such pride, you are overcome with emotion.
Over the years, our "grandchildren" have taken the stage in Bible Arts productions, just as Raise Your Spirits had in Gush Etzion. But hearing about them and actually SEEING them are two completely different things.
I pray that the messages of hope and faith, bravery and goodness of our Bible Arts productions "ESTHER", "NOAH!" and "RUTH & NAOMI" will continue on. And I invite schools and organizations throughout the world to take the stage in one/all of these shows, and to share with their communities our positive messages that are so sorely needed today.

(Note: The talented Mitch Clyman of MUSO Productions was the composer/arranger of "NOAH!" and "RUTH".)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ESTHER in Haifa

Tomorrow night the cast of Raise Your Spirits' "ESTHER and the Secrets in the King's Court" is getting together for a traditional cast party.
Well, maybe it won't be so traditional. We'll have the popcorn and pasta, but the entertainment will be unique. We're hoping to show clips of the performance of ESTHER by a girls' high school in Haifa.
The school licensed ESTHER (from its owners, Bible-Arts Productions) and decided to perform it in Hebrew. The opportunity to see ESTHER in Hebrew was too good to pass up, so one of my co-lyricists Toby Klein Greenwald, as well as our star, Avital Macales (who plays ESTHER) and lyrics translator Michal Yechieli traveled by train to Haifa for the event.
Haifa was like old Israel from a 1950s movie. It had an old movie-set feel. The terrain was ultra-hilly like San Francisco, and the view of the ocean was everywhere. And of course, if we were already there, we stopped off at the beach to pick up some sea shells (so we could say truthfully, we went to the beach in Haifa :) ).
We got off the train right next to an old storefront that declared it sold Camels cigarettes. I didn't even know they still sold Camels.
Time stood still here. Even the "extras" in the street were "period" folks.

We went to the Haifa's Bahai Gardens, which were closing. We looked down at the beautiful layered garden paths, chatted with fellow tourists, and even got to wish mazel tov to a bride and groom. Her sleeve was falling off, so I made her stop so that I could fix it. (A bride has to look her best, you know.)
We traveled to the theater, which held about 500. It was filled with mothers and sisters. We went backstage and met the cast from Ulpana Amit. The girls were so enthusiastic about our visit, they sang and danced back stage. I asked to meet my Haifa counterpart, Haman, and we posed for a photo together.
Avital met Haifa's ESTHER and they even sang, "Give me the courage!!" Avital sang it in English, while Haifa's star sang it in Hebrew - MAGIC!!
The show was adorable - just what you'd expect from a high school music with all the enthusiasm and good cheer there could be. And since the girls learned our show from watching our own ESTHER DVD, some of their characters' actions and expressions exactly mirrored our own.

It was just so strange watching someone playing me. I'm sure Avital felt the same.
The most memorable part of the evening was ESTHER's finale, "The Return." On stage together, we sing, "They'll come down from the mountains, they'll come from the skies...." Etc. etc. It is a song about the ingathering of the Jewish people from the four corners of the world.
In Gush Etzion, Raise Your Spirits sings the song in English and in Hebrew.
In Haifa, the girls sang "The Return" in Hebrew, Amharic (there are many Ethiopian students there) and in Sign Language. As soon as the music for the finale begin, the audience began applauding wildly. And when the girls sang in Amharic, they went wild. When they sang in sign language, I don't think there was one dry eye in the house. In fact, I think I probably cried my way through the entire production.
It's a strange, yet fabulous feeling to see a show you have written performed by an outside theater company. At first, it felt odd to hear ESTHER in Hebrew, but then it felt great.
I was beaming with pride, as I know Toby was. We just wished our third co-lyricist Arlene Chertoff had been with us, as well as our composer Rivka Epstein Hatten. That would have made it perfect.

I'm so looking forward to other schools performing ESTHER in Hebrew, English, or maybe even Amharic. You never know.