Posted by Chava Tombosky
I have been getting many texts and emails asking me to weigh in on the latest New York Times article entitled, ‘Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own’, regarding the reports of horrific sexual abuse cases that have gone ignored or have been swept under the rug by religious leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community.
After much deliberation, I have decided this particular crisis deserves a critical response.
And because silence is a form of inaction, I have decided to act through the written word.
This topic is a difficult one to approach without a little silence before proceeding. A momentary silence that allows one to take a deep breath before trying to process such a tragedy. A moment to gather one’s thoughts before responding from a place of pure raw emotion.
My momentary silence is out of deep respect for the silent pain that has been inflicted on the innocent victims of abuse - many of whom have been forced into a coerced silence for years or even lifetimes. It is to these victims that I dedicate this essay.
My immediate and visceral emotional reaction to the New York Times article was one of rage, frustration, and sadness for the victims. This was followed by a deep disappointment and disgust for those who still attempt to conceal these heinous crimes that can and do occur in the Orthodox Jewish community, a community that has yet to fill the Citi-Field Baseball Stadium with the masses to discuss this issue openly and to apologize to every abused child forced into their own silence. I have personally experienced this pain and have had firsthand experience in dealing with the long term psychological trauma caused when a community attempts concealment as opposed to open dialogue. However, I wish not to speak of my own personal experience but rather on my own complex reaction to these heinous crimes and some thoughts on how we should build from it. Thus, I am making my own Cyber-Asifa on the matter. Because I can.
There are many reasons for deep rooted pain over this issue. Innocence lost. Victims being treated as villains. Abusers posing as protectors for their own manipulative domination. After taking the time to reflect on the root of its darkness, I was reminded of an axiom my father often shared, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Secrets, dishonesty, and lies are the hallmark trade of the abusers and when those charged with leadership of the community choose to engage in the secrets, lies and dishonesty they inadvertently create very fertile ground for these malignant abusers to fester and grow. The exact behavior men and women who tote a higher calling are sworn to defend against.
It is this duplicitous behavior that torments the victims of sexual abuse long after the abuse has taken place, for closure and healing cannot be fostered while community leaders are preoccupied with misguided efforts of concealment. When I say victim, I include the child, as well as, the parents and the siblings of the child. Of course I can expand that scope to the community and the world at large that suffers when dark secrets are kept behind curtains of lies as well.
Secrets are at the root of chronic and long-term psychological pain. When we are secretive about our secrets, we become ill and allow our souls to be filled with a poison that it fights to purge.
At the core of every human being is the determination to be loved, to be acknowledged, to seek purpose, to fight for justice and truth, and to belong to a personal and collective consciousness of goodness, innocence and G-dliness.
Chassidic thought teaches us that a person’s soul is inherently created to be on a quest for honesty and truth. When this quest is interrupted by being forced to accept lies and corrupt behavior in the form of a “higher calling” or as norm it can wreak havoc on a person’s self esteem, spiritual relationship and emotional well-being. It is a toxic contaminate that battles against the natural order of how our holy souls flourish. Since we are part of a collective consciousness, this does not just interrupt one person’s quest but every person the innocent tormented soul then goes on to experience. Thus when one soul is wounded, an entire world is indeed affected.
The soul is the most precious gift we have for it is the most intimate connection that links us to our creator. The soul is the slice of a Higher Power inside all of us. Sexual abuse is the kind of abuse that torments the body for the purpose of stealing the soul. No one ever has a right to steal another’s soul for their own personal gain. Judaism vehemently abhors this offense. Embezzling truth and larceny of the soul is a malignant cancer that threatens to destroy the very Jewish values that we are entrusted to uphold. The world is watching as stories and claims of abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community unfold on the media stage and the world is eager to see the Jewish response. The world is watching as we re-examine how we are passing our core values on to our children and to the rest of humanity. Even G-d himself is watching to see how His children are reacting in the face of such dark and deplorable corruption.
To be part of a community is a privilege and a right. To exist with others who share a moral code is a given we are all entitled to. It is time for new communities to arise with like-minded individuals who will not stand for secrets to lurk in the shadows of our neighborhoods.
As G-d stands watching our reaction, we are forced to create an initiative that I dare say, can take on a new day if we are willing and open.
As a first step in destroying the silence I invite you all, Jew and non-Jew alike to belong to a new community and a new higher consciousness. This community is one that rejoices with authentic Chassidic fervor over the human right to own one’s soul without it ever being exploited. This community has no place for elitism, for ego, superiority, or dominance. We all equally have the right to be loved with sincerity and without control or manipulation. This community has no room for secrets nor does it have room for others to force their own agendas. This community raises our souls to solicit truth and abhors deception. This is a new age. We will no longer be silenced. We will no longer cower in the corners waiting to be hurt, judged, or demonized. We are taking back precious faith into our own protection.
We are all the victims of sexual abuse and we are taking back our souls. In broad daylight.
Let us offer a moment of silence for those who have suffered. NOW let us make some noise, because this new community needs a cheering squad.
Indefinite silence in the face of corruption is a form of inaction. Who’s ready to let their voice be heard?
6.17.13 at 7:37 pm | A contorted branch determined to arch its back. . .
6.13.13 at 1:51 pm | Here's a radio interview I had the pleasure of. . .
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6.17.13 at 7:37 pm | A contorted branch determined to arch its back. . . (107)
4.11.13 at 9:59 pm | (13)
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May 11, 2012 | 11:21 am
Posted by Chava Tombosky
This Mother’s day wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t find a way to scoff at the hilarious and ridiculous social age that we live in that causes mothers and their children un-needed and sometimes impossible conflicts. Today we have texting, emails, and now facebook, a social media outlet, that although I adore, can bring a mountain of new social faux pas to the table. How many of us have ignored our parent’s friend requests, maybe avoided it hoping she wouldn’t see our pathetic lives that we hope she imagines is more glamorous than Michelle Obama’s? How many of us have been forced to friend our mothers only to be forced then to friend her weirdo friends that only showed up at our Bar Mitzvahs? How many of us have been De-friended by our own mothers, then friended again, cause we were guilted into it? Do you see the social drama we have become victimized too? If it wasn’t for 1-800-flowers I don’t think we’d ever survive the Facebook social scandal that has wedged between mother and child.
The reason why I love Mother’s day so much, is because it gives us a chance to connect with our mothers because of and despite the social technology that we now inhabit. Also it’s a way to get free flowers and candy. Mostly it’s a way to tell your mom, she rocks. This Mother’s day, whether you are a mom on the end of bitter teenage drama, or a teen on the end of being De-friended because you missed curfew, it won’t matter, because Mother’s day will come, and all will be right with the world once again because there is Hallmark.
I love you mom! Thank you for starring in this Epic short! You really are a star!
And thank you Facebook for allowing those who live far away from our mothers to tell them, and all their annoying friends who we are forced to invite to every family function, how awesome our mom is!
April 19, 2012 | 12:40 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
I walked in to an apartment not really knowing what to expect. A tall woman with high cheekbones and kind eyes greeted me at the door. Although I had never met her before, she was hardly a stranger. Paintings of little girls in vibrant colorful worlds holding the pain of visions that darkened their eyes lined the walls. The space and energy that held this home spoke of a complicated joy, despite the fact that joy had not been a constant for the woman with the contoured look of grace and beauty welcoming me into her home. Her name was Marika Roth. Standing at five foot five, Marika held an innocence that told of a childhood lost to the throws of World War two. Thrown into the despair of a country taken over by the Nazies, Marika spent her childhood as a fugitive. Forced to fend for herself after escaping her own death after witnessing the execution of hundreds of Jews by the side of the Danube River in Budapest, Marika became a lost orphan in the sea of hopelessness running starved and shoeless through the streets of Hungary Society had thrown her out like garbage and she found herself as a lone stranger in a cold world foreign to humane conditions. Her story continued as she finally immigrated to Canada, only to have been thrust into a forced marriage which lead to abusive conditions.
I had the chance to read Marika’s memoir, which has recently become a finalist for the book of the year, entitled “All the Pretty Shoes.” It told her story at length and spoke of her challenges to find hope and meaning despite her suffering. To my surprise, Marika’s disposition is one of wonder and awe to the world that surrounds her despite her traumatic past. Her innocence permeates like a child that never stops searching, that never stops evolving towards hope.
Today on Yom Hashoah, we mourn the loss of millions of innocent lives. We spend the day reflecting on our pain and we can’t help but ask the question Why?
Yesterday I attended a funeral of a thirteen year old girl who had nearly drowned when she was two leaving her with severe brain damage that eventually led to her untimely passing eleven years later. During the funeral a friend said under her breath, “This is so unjust.” I couldn’t help but ask myself, how could G-d have expectations of us to act justly when so many times we see children, our most precious gifts given unjust sentences? How is it that when there are a million broken little pieces that seem to have severed our complete world, we can go on? Is there any way to mend this fragmented reality?
Why should we rise above the feelings of despair and loss and anger when a young life is taken too soon or when a young child is stripped of her or his innocence? Why should we go on?
Yesterday at the funeral, I expected to hear the father of his thirteen year old child scream at G-d. I expected to hear indignation and rage. Rather, the first thing out of this pure man’s voice came the words, “I must begin today by first Thanking G-d for our precious gift we had the opportunity to be entrusted with.”
I was awe struck by his sincere gratitude. Just as I was awe struck by Marika’s willingness to continue on believing in the goodness of the world despite her real experiences that told her otherwise.
Many of Marika’s paintings had small broken pieces of mirror entwined in her artwork. I couldn’t help but notice that while I was staring deeply outward towards the painting, I was simultaneously staring inward at the reflection of myself viewing my reaction of the colors entwined with the darkness. The juxtaposition of the light Marika searched for and the pain that danced alongside her became very evident through her artwork. It had me thinking that while I was staring at her hope and pain I was also staring at my own reaction and my own hope and pain was mirrored figuratively and literally. Suddenly I understood how a father’s words could be of gratitude instead of indignation. I understood that we are complex creatures who can stare at pain and at the same time stare at hope. How we go about reacting becomes our only choice. We only have our reaction. The question should not remain, WHY but rather WHAT and HOW? WHAT will we become? HOW will we react to it?
On Yom Hashoah, a day of remembrance, it is up to us to not only remember those that left us too soon, but how to believe in goodness and gratitude even after witnessing such horrific acts of murder. If a father standing at his own daughter’s grave can muster up such gratitude, surely we are capable of such character as well. It is up to us to remember that all those broken little pieces can find its way back together again if we choose to create the space that will house and repair these splintered shards of pain. Every year that we celebrate Yom Hashoah we must ask ourselves, do we see our eyes filled with resentment and anger, or do we search our eyes for wisdom and sincere gratitude for having been given the determination to persevere despite the raw pain and ghosts that haunt us as a collective human force?
It is up to us to remember we can continue to survive using our creativity and our blessed ability to endure difficult times as displayed by Marika’s paintings and her aspirations to transform the world around her using her memoir as a tool to connect with children and adults alike who have gone through similar tragedies. Although it feels unjust, we are yet small beings created by a Higher Power who understands past the veil which we cannot see. What seemingly looks unjust to us, may indeed have another side to the story we are not privy to. Our job in this world is to remember that fact and to remain humbled by a Higher Power we can not dare to understand. By creating beautiful connections through art and through the written word, and by empowering our reactions using our knowledge, understanding, wisdom, kindness, discipline, beauty, ability to bond with others, humility, ambition, and leadership we can indeed transform past the pain of our realities that haunt us.
(Stay tuned for a new song entitled “Broken Little Pieces” Chava will be debuting soon.)
April 4, 2012 | 4:32 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
Quiet the volume and listen to the noise
Underneath the veins of the city that’s alive
art cries through the mouths of starving folk
songs cry through the vocals pleading hope
Time is running, running, running
and the trains are coming, coming, coming
And we wait for a new day to come
and we wait for a new tune to hum
and we play our eyes across the train
failing to notice we must be all the same
But time is running, running, running
and the trains are coming, coming, coming
Doors revolve like a universal sphere
tolls are paid and our pockets empty bear
our backs are turned to the hungry that wait
yet they keep on singing
under the subway pleading,
our heels grinding to the cement floor
never entertaining there could be more
And time is running, running fast
and the clocks keep ticking ticking past
Artists, Bankers, Wall street brokers,
geeks, thinkers, homeless, floaters
every color, all God’s creatures breathe in the same raw air
weaving side by side
eating ride by ride
dozing half alive
intimate, organic, primal connection
all ignoring the world’s intention
And we keep riding, riding, riding fast
as the clocks keep ticking, ticking past
Through the night and half past dawn
at last a lone voice encroaches on
upside down he sees the world
riding past him like a tornado twirls
the masses fail to stop and search who
as the vocalist tries to force time to stand still
even the riders cannot change his will
he chants like he has all the time to pass
looking searching feeling fast
an amphitropous exposé
he begs the world to see like he
and the folks cease staring ahead like sheep
and soon their minds begin to peek
the riders stop one by one
as time finally halts mid-air
the lone voice sings a familiar dare
of hope and loss and resonating despair
and he promises the riders through his voice of emotion
that it can get better if we utter commotion
and the dollars roll out one by one
clapping, tears, and joys are sung
the moment is paused it transforms disarray
as a virtue emerges to light that day
Although the clocks tic tic tock
and the hustle and bustle does not seem to stop
we can carve a moment out of clay
like a work of art, a Van Gogh, or Monet.
We can listen to
the pulse of our hearts and the routine beats
that pass one by one or we can pause at our feet.
We can view the beauty we share
and realize there is much more to bear
than the economic treadmill of exhaustion we climb
or the disappointment or diminished pay check tossed
trade material deprived for sublime instead of loss.
We can take the time to transform our space,
lend a penny, or a smile or a tune against the race.
We can change our world and stop the time
we can enlighten ourselves and dare to climb
upside down like the man standing on his head
seeing the colors the music instead
and before we even realize we will be higher and higher,
a holy space will encompass something new will transpire
hold our hands together and create abundance all around
break free from the shackles
Have a Happy Passover
enliven change, inspire freedom, instigate innovation…
March 4, 2012 | 3:27 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
I was invited to attend the Dr. Phil show last week to offer commentary on their feature story about a young and beautiful woman who had a tale of unsettling circumstances in regard to her Chassidic background. As the Dr. Phil show unfolded, I listened intently to a young woman named Pearl Reich who, at the age of seventeen, was betrothed to a man for whom she was clearly unsuited, at her parents’ discretion and against her will. Pearl shared claims of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse by a husband who had never trusted or loved her. Pearl depicted herself as a desperate woman with four young children trying to escape an abusive and loveless marriage – distancing herself from the Chassidic community of her childhood in an attempt to seek her own path as an actress and a model. Pearl purported that her husband was so incensed by her path of self-discovery and self-actualization that he now refuses to give her a Jewish or legal divorce and is even threatening to take her children away if she does not abandon her acting and modeling career, a pursuit that her husband claims is against the moral values on which they based their marriage vows.As I listened to Pearl, I was struck by the great contrast between our experiences in the Chassidic Community. As my readership knows, I am a Chabad Chassidic woman who lives in the public eye as a writer, speaker, filmmaker and singer who has an incredibly supportive husband and community that champion my individuality and artistic pursuits. The idea that this woman had no choice in whom she married or that her own identity and self expression was at stake left me shocked and troubled. It is my understanding that Chassidic philosophy is meant to support one’s individuality and uniqueness. The very philosophical foundation of Chassidic mysticism, based on its founder Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov (1698 – 1760), is that each person is like a musical note in the symphony of life and that each individual possesses G-d given talents meant to be shared with the world. We have an obligation to seek out our own skills and talents and use them to reveal the majesty and G-dliness found even in the most mundane and corporeal parts of our existence and the world. When we actualize our talents for the purpose of elevating our surroundings we also reveal the holiness inside all of us.
Every time I get up to sing or speak, I am reminded of my own opportunity as a Jewish woman to reveal the gifts that I have been graciously given by the One Above. Obviously, Pearl’s unorthodox account of a troubling marriage that has threatened her spiritual quest in no way represents the Chassidic philosophy of how women should be treated or how husbands and wives should support each other in their individual spiritual journeys. Judaism supports romance and encourages women to seek out their own spouse. Chassidism encourages the personal quest for individuality as well as marriages that celebrate mutually beneficial and healthy spirituality. Abuse of any kind should never be tolerated or condoned.
I am also not naive and realize that people are people — human beings are fallible creatures capable of perverting the beautiful and deeply spiritual precepts taught by the Baal Shem Tov. The matter begs a serious conversation. How can one become enlightened and create a spiritual relationship with one’s Higher Power despite being cast away by those who promised to love and protect them? When any individual we look up to fails us so remarkably, how do we recover? How does a person ever rectify one’s own faith when corrupted personalities with bad principles cloaked in good ones take over? When our spirituality is tested, as Pearl’s was, how are we supposed to respond, and does Chassidic Philosophy really have those answers?
When I was a kid my father used to tell me, “Chava, remember, always place principles above personalities.” But one Shavuot (you know that holiday the Jews eat cheesecake and celebrate the giving of the Torah) many years ago, I can remember feeling deeply unmoved by my faith, for the personalities I relied on to guide me had let me down, and I had no idea how to come out of my deep dark cloud of disappointment. I began judging everyone I met and failed to remember the lessons of the Baal Shem Tov. Dr. Phil says he went through a similar experience. “I was raised Southern Baptist and I always said I loved the Lord, it was Christians I couldn’t stand,” he said, before going on to explain that he was 14-15 years old when he felt that way and has since changed his opinion. This fundamental human challenge is not a Chassidic issue, but rather a human one that humanity grapples with in every faith across the board.
The Baal Shem Tov used to say that when a person peers into a mirror and sees stains of soil on his own face, it is only because he has failed to wash himself, so too when someone sees imperfections in another, it is a sign that those imperfections may live inside him. Clearly I needed to have a shift; I had only disdain for those around me and could not muster the courage to see how that disdain blemished my own personal faith in myself, and in my own Higher Power as well.
That Shavuot I had decided to challenge a friend and Rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, with a letter sharing my great pain highlighting my inner conflict. When Rabbi Jacobson came to town that Shavuot to address the entire community, as was the local tradition each year, I never really thought he would have customized his speech to directly answer my letter. I didn’t really expect any answer. The only reason I had gone to the speech that year was to prove my point that religion is uninspiring, and no one could prove to me otherwise. The truth was I got more spirituality from my Al-Anon meetings (AA meetings for friends & family of Alcoholics) than from going to Synagogue. In Al-Anon I felt understood. In Synagogue I felt like a phony. I just didn’t fit. My resentment towards my world and myself began to creep up on me. Something had to give. I found myself able to live with the outfit but without the heart. I hated my hypocrisy.
Rabbi Jacobson approached the pulpit. He stood there wearing black and white. I expected a black and white speech. What emerged instead was a fresh and empowering message. And his voice boomed (I am paraphrasing of course) -
“Moses was the greatest man in history. He was a man who was known for his humility. What made Moses so humble? What was the inspiration that created his ultimate humility? Moses was the leader of a great generation. It was a generation that witnessed the splitting of the Red Sea, ten plagues, clouds of glory, Manna from heaven. They had seen G-d in full “exposure,” with all His miracles. Yet they were not a generation who were able to bring great change in the world. However, Moses looked into the future. And through the future he saw the last generation who would usher in the world’s utopian vision, a world of peace and prosperity where G-d’s living presence and the inherent unity of mankind would be revealed. This generation would not have miracles to count on. They would be a generation born out of the ashes of Auschwitz and the flames of 9/11. Unlike previous generations, they would not have great Kings, dazzling prophets, or holy men and women to lead them. They might even come to observe leaders who are corrupt, and trendsetters who are unethical and unscrupulous. And yet, they would still have the ability of seeing the leaders as humans, humans who are flawed and who may make grave mistakes. And they will become people who make the decision to become leaders in their own right and change the world despite itself. It’s time we take the responsibility of leading our generation into goodness on our own. Moses saw that our generation had this exceptional quality – the quality that small, ordinary people would become their own leaders, living extraordinary lives and creating dignity out of doom. Become your own leader, become your own leader.”
I expected tolerance. I received acceptance. I expected a party line. I received out of the box. For the first time, I understood that I had no one to blame for my lack of faith but myself. I had to start to trust my own instincts. I had to become the person that I assumed and expected others were supposed to be for me.
I decided to take that moment only to judge myself. I had to ask myself a difficult question. Was I being all that I could be? Or was I truly living with resentment and rage that had hindered my own spiritual growth? Was I projecting my own insecurities on others, blaming them for not taking responsibility for my life? Was I tolerating myself or accepting myself with all my weaknesses and accepting others with all of their shortcomings? Tolerance is not Chassidic. Acceptance is Chassidic. Living inspired by our own struggles and challenges rather than in spite of them is Chassidic. Morphing into leadership by example and trail blazing through a complicated world that uses pain and suffering in its narrative to illuminate important life lessons rather than using them as an excuse to be trapped into victimhood, is Chassidic. Making a mental and emotional accounting of one’s humility, kindness, personal discipline, exposing the world’s beauty, ambitiously living with joy, bonding with our creator and the world around us, and taking the time to judge less and examine more is Chassidic.
So many times we look to others as our role models for Jewish values before adopting them as our own. When the others fail to prove those values by example we are deeply disappointed. Man was created to be challenged, and at times fails, giving him the opportunity to climb that ladder of personal growth with new perspective and courage. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the fortitude or resolution to recognize our faults or that our ladder of personal growth is no longer upright, but has fallen flat – becoming a bridge to the extramundane and sacrilegious. Putting too much stock into the infallibility of human beings creates huge disappointment and challenges our inner compass. Many people spend a lifetime without ever getting on the ladder and most of us get on only to climb and fall and climb and fall. In truth, we must never stop climbing, and as we learn to accept our human condition and challenges, they afford us the great wisdom that ancient books write about. Human beings are created as material creatures infused with spiritual longing. We must be careful not to allow our own flawed whims to take over our sleeping spirits.
I truly empathize with Pearl and I am so sorry for the pain she has endured and continues to endure. My heart goes out to this wonderful lady and her children and I pray for her well-being and full happiness and serenity. I wish Pearl the good fortune to, in time, have the perspective to see her journey from a new and a fresh vantage point. To realize the very beauty she possesses is also a product of the pain and suffering she has endured. That the heavy weight on her shoulders currently pinning her to the ground can become the wings on her back lifting her ever higher. Together, maybe we can fight for faith, acceptance, and personal leadership, and finally bring about the world’s utopian vision of peace and prosperity where authentic and genuine spirituality is finally revealed.
February 27, 2012 | 1:11 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
When Kenyetta Lethridge wrote the play “Innocent Flesh”, I doubt she even realized the strong and gripping impact it would have on her audience. After playing in Los Angeles for several months, it is now set to be featured in New York City off Broadway as well. With a bare set, and minimal visuals to distract the viewers from this poignant story, four strong and brilliant actresses mesmerized us into the lives and horrors of human trafficking.
The story starts with four women who are character playing as small girls dancing and laughing during recess and then morphs into a chilling reality of their lives later, as young teenagers forced into sexual slave labor. We get a glimpse of young innocence that is manipulated into a world of prostitution, child molestation, and sexual battery. The actresses managed to play dual roles throughout the performance that were not only flawless but so well done, you actually forgot you were watching fiction.
When the play ended and the lights came up, I sat unable to speak and silent. I was mesmerized by the performances and horrified by the reality that this world was based on very real stories that happen everyday in our own backyards.
Kenyetta not only wrote the play but directed it as well. She managed to weave the story between the perfect group of characters. Each girl represented an emotional preciousness that everyone could relate to. They were innocent, strong, vulnerable and damaged but all looking for the same very real need - “I just want someone to love me,” was a line said by each character at the beginning and at the closing of the narrative.
The vulnerable and naive character who thought prostitution wasn’t “So bad,” was played by the very brilliant Daphne Gabriel. Angelina Prendergas who also choreographed the dance sequences flawlessly played the strong rough and tough young teen who ran away from an abusive father that murdered her family. When asked how she manages to morph into this abused young woman and still stay sane off the stage, she said “Other girls are living through this right now, I can do it for an hour.”
Jameelah Nuriddin gave a flawless performance that left me speechless when she portrayed a nine-year-old girl forced into prostitution from her drug addicted mother. “Where does the blame land…it’s up to us to care for our youth today, because they are our future,” Jameelah said after the play.
Of course the most riveting and disturbing scene was flawlessly played by the brilliant Clara Gabrielle when her character was gang raped and then turned away from her middle class parents as a result of their shame. Her vulnerability on stage was naked and bare and she managed to draw us in with an authenticity that created depth and a glimpse into the world of abuse and exploitation. “Clara, if you could say one thing to a young girl struggling in the world of human trafficking, what would it be,” I asked. “Hang on. Don’t let people take away faith in yourself, hang on, hang on.”
Shame is for the silent and scared. Kennyetta, Clara, Angelina, Jameelah, and Daphne along with producers Diana C Zollicoffer and Michael Mann remind us that pain is meant to be transformed through action rather than hide away from with inaction. Art is not just meant to entertain us, it is meant to teach us and give us something to think about. It is meant to inspire change and give us a glimpse into unthinkable worlds so that we take initiative and ignite conversation and action.
Innocent Flesh opens March 15th at the Actor’s Temple Theater in New York City.
February 22, 2012 | 10:14 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
This year’s annual International Food & Wine Festival event promised to be even more alluring and more popular than last year’s, forcing the Herzog Winery to move the event from their facility in Oxnard to the Century City Hyatt in Los Angeles. This year’s 2012 wine festival featured one hundred and fifty different wines from vineyards all over the world as well as an elaborate gourmet spread catered by the winery’s Tierra Sur restaurant, lead by executive chef Todd Aarons. The event promised to be as intoxicating as last year’s, and I was super excited as the day arrived.
Although I was interested in eating and drinking till my heart’s content, ( I am Jewish) I was more interested in finally learning the art of wine sampling and decided to experience the event with a well versed wine guide whose passion could finally teach me how to choose wine in the supermarket without judging thebottle by how pretty the label looks.
The mission, had I chosen to accept it, was to taste as many wines as I could handle and finally understand the nuances surrounded by this age old craft. I was up for the daunting task of getting wasted if I had to, just to learn this art.
I was lucky enough to have an old friend from childhood to finally teach me the difference between tutti fruity with a dark chocolate finish and big and bold with a full bodied flavor. Jonathan Tabak, a wine enthusiast, found his way to the festival as early as one o’clock in the afternoon to get a head start on experiencing the kosher collection. What was funny about this arrangement was that Jonathan was my best friend’s kid brother growing up. He was that kid that insisted on getting into our play time. To say we frequently ditched poor little Jonathan would have been putting it mildly. I was older, wiser, and more sophisticated, yet here I was in unfamiliar territory relying on Stephanie’s kid brother to show me the ropes into elegance and sophistication. I met Jonathan by the sliced pastrami and liver Pâté, which delicately sat on toasted crostini. While I downed the sweetbread taurine- a heart stopper with carrots, tongue, sweet bread and gelatina (Kosher of course) in one hand and the mergaz with tahini and micro cilantro toppled with pickled peppers in the other, Jonathan smiled revealing purple teeth. My wine guide, who used to insist on roleplaying as the head fireman, now has purple teeth and is going to teach me sophistication? Right!
With an adorable purple grin, Jonathan began our tour. Our first stop was at the Shiloh’s table. The Shiloh Winery is located in the heart of the historic wine region in Israel. I was intrigued to see if I could actually see any difference between their top-shelf blend, 2006 Mosaic, and their newest release, 2009 Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting began. I wasn’t completely idiotic, I knew to swirl, I knew to sniff, I even knew to how to taste. I was deeply impressed by Jonathan’s understanding of how to sense subtlety in flavor. I downed every drink. And as the night grew older I realized that I was actually seeing the difference between each wine and characterstics of their varietals (grapes). I could actually taste the mint and basil notes in Shiloh’s Mosaic versus the black fruit in their Secret Reserve that Jonathan described as “bold and big”, a wine which I considered one of my favorites. I was even able to detect bubble gum and cotton candy when sipping the Tulip White 2010, an eclectic blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer, an experience that I never thought I would enjoy. I always hated white wine, but suddenly I couldn’t get enough of it. It also helped that there were coconut macaroons and yellow sorbet with candied lamb bacon that resembled a small plate of bacon and eggs to clean my palette with. When asked why Jonathan had decided to become an enthusiast – he even has a blog called “Kosherwino” – he replied, “When I was growing up all we had at our Shabbat table was that sweet Manishewitz syrupy wine that tasted like cough medicine going down…there had to be a better way of experiencing wine, and I decided to buy a different bottle each week to experiment with. I now have a collection of over four hundred kosher wines and I love it!”
Jonathan continued our tour. I was confused for unlike me, he had been drinking all night, all day really and he seemed completely sober and clearheaded. Funny….
Suddenly this chick who couldn’t tell the difference between merlot and cabernet, was tasting the baker’s dark chocolate in the Pacifca’s 2010 Meritage, a merlot cab mix from Washington state. I even asked Jonathan if he noticed the prune finish, to which he replied…”Don’t say prune, that’s offensive, say plum.” But I did taste plum right? “Oh Chava, you are becoming sophisticated! Yes you did!” Yet with all my sophistication I was laughing a little too much and could hardly feel my toes. Funny….
At the end of the evening after tasting, swirling, and sipping, we sauntered over to the final table which had my number one favorite wine of the evening, partly because of the flavor, and partly because of the wine maker who had the best line of the night. Jurgen Wagner, a German native living in Barcelona, handed me the PerajHaabibFlor de Primavera 2008 and I became hooked. Aged in French oak barrels added spicy and toasty flavor to the dark fruit character. At $60 a bottle, I had finally become that snooty wine taster who had clearly attained expensive taste- a fact my husband was not surprised about. When asked why Jurgen, who is not Jewish would choose to sell Kosher wines, a task that is more difficult and more demanding, he said “Kosher is different from other wines, it is wine with a conscience.”
Upon leaving, Jonathan and I spotted a serious wine taster who looked over enthusiastic. “Be careful what you ask him, he’s super serious, you don’t want to sound like an idiot…” Jonathan warned me. David Raccah is a heavyweight wine connoisseur, a wine-ninja of sorts. His blog is called “Wine Musings” and after the evening, I didn’t want to seem lame. So I asked the best question I could which was, “What was your favorite wine featured tonight?”
“I was really impressed with the Shiloh’s 2009 Secret Reserve,” he replied
“Ya it’s pretty bold and hard, isn’t it,” I said.
“Well yes, as a matter of fact, you could say that,” he responded.
Then David swirled, sniffed and put a full taste in his mouth and spit. “Did he just do that…,” I asked Jonathan. Why is he spitting…what’s wrong with him? “Chava, you know you’re not supposed to swallow every sample, right- or you’ll get drunk!”
“No actually, I didn’t know that.” But then again, you don’t become sophisticated all in one night.
Lucky for me I don’t have to wait a whole year to evolve into sophistication. The Herzog Winery in Oxnard has ongoing smaller wine tasting events all year long as well as a wine shop and their stellar restaurant, Tierra Sur, that I plan on making my way to with my new cultivated incredibly brillant and way more sophisticated, Jonathan in the very near future. Kid brother or not, Jonathan Tabak knows his stuff!
December 29, 2011 | 12:05 am
Posted by Chava Tombosky
Every year I spend one night of Chanukah with my grandmother who is eighty-nine years old. And every year it seems that I manage to leave this poor woman in tears. The last time I showed up at my Bubby’s house for Chanukah I forgot to close the oven door when I took out the latkes, which caused her to accidentally trip and fall in the kitchen leaving her with a bruised face in a shade of blue not entirely dissimilar to those little blue candles we had just lit on our Menorah.
This year I was extra cautious in the kitchen and we made through dinner, draidel playing, and even the X-Factor without incident.
And just as I thought I had cleared through all the hurtles, it happened. As if this holiday season of Chava blunders should be any different than the last.
Bubby handed me the matches and said “You are the oldest, here you light.” I lit the match and touched the blue wick that stood in the tall silver menorah. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a second smaller menorah with orange candles set up and proceeded to light it as well. Just as the flame hit the orange wick, my grandmother shouted “NO NO, NOT THAT ONE!” With fear and intimidation, I immediately blew it out, trying my best to clean up the candle that now had the black scar of a charred fragile wick.
“Chava, those candles are fifty years old! I never light that menorah! That is the one we leave unlit!”
Oh the shame and guilt I felt for lighting my grandmother’s coveted antique fifty-year-old candles, which she had managed to display so flawlessly for an entire jubilee of time.
My Bubby is an amazing person who has weathered the storms of burying two husbands and a son, yet she still remains incredibly steadfast in her faith, despite it all. Almost every visit I have with Bubby is spent reminiscing about my grandfather, their tremendous love affair and the times she spent as a United State’s Lieutenant’s wife, a role she is most proud of.
As I gazed at my grandmother now welling with tears, it became evident that this menorah and those precious candles I almost singed to oblivion had a unique and precious story attached to her past.
The year was 1952, just seven short years after the holocaust, when my grandparents were stationed in an American army base in Germany. When the winter holiday season rolled around, the American soldiers were given the opportunity to choose gifts that were collected for the officers and their families. My grandfather sifted through the donated items and found one lonely small brass Menorah amongst the pile of holiday toys and presents. Upon seeing this precious menorah, my grandmother called her cousin back home in the states requesting her to send Chanukah candles from the U.S so they would be able to light their newly found treasure.
The orange candles that arrived from Newburgh, New York were clearly the perfect choice. My grandmother placed the orange candles inside the Menorah and observed them to be the perfect fit as if the Menorah was made especially for them. With the joy of their Jewish pride brimming, my grandparents lit their menorah in the window that year. To their surprise, several German townspeople began lingering outside my grandparent’s front lawn. With less than a decade separating my Jewish grandparents from the ashes of Auschwitz that still permeated the German soil, fear began to creep inside them. Just to be safe, an officer was called to stand guard of their home as the lights burned. Men and women from all across the town came to view the lights. When asked by the officer why they insisted on lingering in front of my Bubby’s home, a German neighbor replied – “It has been at least fifteen years since our small town has seen the lights. It’s nice to have them back.” Fifteen hundred Jews were killed in this small village of Germany, and yet less than seven years later, this little unassuming Menorah became the first Chanukiah to illuminate the vast darkness the Nazis left in their aftermath.
A few short years later my grandfather died leaving my grandmother a widow at the tender age of thirty-six. Ironically, that same year the candle company that manufactured those little orange candles that fit so perfectly inside that small unassuming Menorah went under. With only one last box of orange candles in my grandmother’s possession, she decided to set that Menorah in the window next to the menorah that she lights each year as a reminder of what she lost and the miracle her and my grandfather witnessed together.
So now there are two menorahs in my grandmother’s window, one tall silver one that she kindles each night boasting their colors and luminous light, and a small humble brass menorah with fifty-year-old orange candles perfectly staged, except for the shamash that is now slightly singed.
Maybe I was meant to light that ancient wick, for had I left it alone this beautiful story would have never been recovered, reminding us that sometimes things get broken in order for new light and new lessons to emerge. Maybe now when my grandmother stares at those imperfect orange candles she will not only think of her painful past but of her beautiful bright legacy she has so valiantly managed to create. Even if her future and legacy lies in the hands of a clutzy granddaughter who manages to torment the hell out of her.