Happy Anniversary to me – today, the 27th, marks one month in Israel!
You know, I didn’t leave Jerusalem even once this week (oh, I’ll make up for that) due to the ardor of apartment hunting, but Baruch Hashem (Thank G-d!), I finally found a place! Woo hooo! And it’s enormous! And it’s in Rechavia – my favorite! And it’s got a meerpeset (balcony)! And trees all around! And oodles of light! And as-long-as-the-roommates-I-haven’t-met-yet-because-they’re-out-of-the-country-don’t-turn-out-to-be-freaks-or-koo koos, it should be totally waaaaaaallllla (sababa).
So picture me traipsing back and forth, forth and back, all over the city of Jerusalem, map in hand, glistening brow, hopeful and stressed, and there you have the backdrop of this past week. Though I feared the apartment hunt would ruin my mood and week, as it threatened to several times, the magic of Israel still found me.
Like on Tuesday night when I found myself in the presence of true inspiration: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, holocaust survivor, best-selling author, speaker, founder of Hineni International and glamour girl – yeah, you read that right – glamour girl. Here’s a gal after my own heart. She sat on the stage dolled up, totally putting you and me to shame – gorgeous make up, classy ensemble, just the right amount sparkle, stilettos – I hope I’m such a doll when I’m 70+.
Before beginning, she warmly met the gaze of her audience members, generously connecting with many of us. And then she began. “Kinderlach,” her sweet voice began, an Eastern-European mixture of Betty Boop and Shari Lewis. “I want to share with you stories from the bottom of my heart.”**
They say that stories from the heart reach the heart, and so it was that night.
The Rebbetzin began by telling us of a people who could talk to G-d. And with that, she called out, “Shmaaaaaaaa Israel!!!!” Her voice resounded all around, goose bumps prickled on our arms, and unexpected tears suddenly pooled in my eyes. We sat in an amphitheater of sorts, outside, under a navy sky; and at the Rebbetzin’s cry, the residents of the neighboring apartments appeared on their balconies, sat down and called their children to join them. “But my kinderlach,” the Rebbetzin continued slowly, her voice aching, “Year by year, the people forgot they could talk to G-d. They forgot to connect to Him. They forgot to try!”
In the heart of Yerushalayim, you could hear a pin drop…save an occasional sniffle.
And the Rebbetzin noticed. “Do you know why you’re crying, my kinderlach?” she asked. “Because,” she said knowingly, “the name of Hashem is written on your heart. And it’s written on your heart and yours and yours and yours,” she pointed at a few of us. “And on mine. And like a computer, when you type a command, the program comes up. You’re a Jew, your soul knows the program, and it’s coming up!”
I was a puddle in this passionate woman’s hands. And that was just the beginning. She told us of her Abba (father) in the concentration camp, Bergen Belsen, saving the meager piece of bread he was given daily so as to say Hamotzi each week on Shabbat. She shared of the shofar that was smuggled into her camp for Rosh Hashana and the blast that brought all the prisoners from the adjacent barracks to the barbed-wire surrounding them, that they might catch the sound of the blast. And then she told the miracle of meeting a Polish woman who had been in one of those neighboring barracks who had managed to attain and keep that very shofar all these many years. The woman ran home to retrieve the shofar and when she did, there stood two children of Bergen Belsen healthy and safe and alive.“There aren’t many people left who can tell this story, kinderlach,” she added wistfully. “And many of the ones who can are ill. Tell your children, kinderlach. Tell them!”
The rebbetzin was a passionate powerhouse. The clip below is from the portion of the evening where she reminded us that we are living in a time of prophecy - for the Jews returning to their home, Israel, was spoken of for 2000 years but we are the lucky generation to realize the prediction. “You are sitting in Yerushalayim, kinderlach - ir hakodesh! (Jerusalem, the holy city!)” See a bit
Afterwards, I approached her and she gave me such a hug – like I was her long-lost daughter. “You’re beautiful,” she said warmly, looking into my eyes. And without my asking, she held onto me tightly and whispered a blessing in my ear.
Now, I wish I’d asked her if she knew Magda Ehrlich, my grandmother, also of Hungarian descent who was in Bergen Belsen during the war. But I didn’t. The rebbetzin’s reputation preceded her, her books lined my shelves in LA, and the question completely escaped me in the moment. But, imagine! If the rebbetzin remembered my grandmother, we’d be yet another miracle story! But the truth is, we’re both miracles anyway and our meeting another triumph of goodness.
Yossi was another sweet connection that came out of the apartment balagan (mess). See, here in Emek Refaim, I live on a street called David El Royi which is nestled behind another street called Hatzefira. At the intersection of these two lies a school, and Yossi guards the entrance to the school. Now, truth be told, Yossi is an older gentleman – hardly the intimating bouncer type I remember from the nightlife of New York.
The first week I was here, I passed the school each day like a stranger. Yossi didn’t seem too friendly. Quite the opposite - he seemed like he might be a grouch.
After a week of living here, I got a “Boker tov” (good morning) and a small smile from Yossi.
Hmmm? Never one to refuse a boker tov, I replied “Boker or!” (good light!)
Soon, this was our morning routine.
After a few days of this, our simple greetings turned into morning kibitzing (chatting). I told him I was in ulpan and over time, he told me about his 5 kids and their families. Oooh, he glowed talking about them!
In the last 2 weeks, I’ve begun chatting with Yossi both in the morning and in the afternoon – whenever I pass the school. One afternoon this week, I told him about my apartment situation as the frustration of it all was painted on my face.
“Why do you need to move?” he asked.
I told him that the guy I’m leasing from has surprised me with inconsiderate nonsense ever since I arrived, so I have to leave or else get stuck with random strangers and unnecessary headaches all summer long.
“Chaval (it’s a shame),” said Yossi. And he’s right – my street oozes with charm! Children play, flowers blossom, a playground is forever full of kids – sounds and images of family abound!
Yossi immediately began looking for solutions to help me. “ You want to live with my daughter?” he asked. “I will find out if she needs a roommate….Or,” he offered. “Why don’t you just stay here, and if these people give you any problems, you call me at any hour and I will take care of it. You’ll take my cell phone and you’ll use it. I am your Abba (dad) here.” He had a very serious expression on his face when he said this – I could tell he meant it. Funny too, because my real Daddums’ name is Joseph, or Yoseph in Hebrew, or Yossi for short.
“Thanks, Yossi,” I said. A satisfied grin spread across Yossi’s face, dozens of beautiful laugh lines appearing around his smile and eyes. He gave my forearm a small squeeze.
Classic Israeli warmth, right? That gruff exterior is such caa caa.
Sending big love from Israel!