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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bubby Blunders as appeared in the Binah

“It’s for you.” My husband handed me the phone.

I quickly finished the conversation I was having on my cellphone (ah, the joys of technology!) and turned my attention to the incoming call.

“Hello,” I began.

 “I see that you you’ve tried calling me several times today,” said a male voice.  

“Oh,” I gushed, “You must be the madrich l’boxing (boxing instructor). I’m so happy that you called me back. You’re one person that I really want to speak with. You can’t imagine how hard I’ve been trying to get a hold of you!”

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“I desperately need a madrich l’boxing.”

I can envision your confusion. Why in the world would an official senior citizen who is the midst of marrying off her grandchildren and who appears to be somewhat normal be desperately searching for a boxing instructor? No, I have not taken up boxing in my old age (although you never know…). But I do run an organization for people with Parkinson's. We are in process of expanding our rehabilitation program, and since boxing is an excellent exercise for people with Parkinson's, we want to offer our men’s groups boxing classes designed specifically for their needs.

“Okay,” he responded slowly. “So how can I help you?”

“We desperately need a madrich l’boxing for our Parkinson's rehabilitation program. We’re expanding the program and want to include a Boxing for Parkinson's class.”

“Boxing for Parkinson's?” I could hear the confusion in his voice. “Why do you need boxing for Parkinson's?”

“Don’t you know that boxing is excellent for Parkinson's? I thought you were a madrich l’boxing?”

“Yes I am, but…”

“And you never learned how boxing can help people with Parkinson's?”


“Did you learn to be a madrich l’boxing?”

“Uh.. um, why, yes, of course.”

“But you never learned about boxing for Parkinson's?”

“No….not really. Mah hakesher?” (What’s the connection)?

“Have you ever heard of Parkinson's?” I decided to get down to the basics.

“Why yes, of course,” I could hear the question in his voice.

Do you know what Parkinson's is?”

“Yes, but mah hakesher?”    

“So as a madrich l’boxing who has learned about Parkinson's, I’m sure you realize that boxing is good for Parkinson's. Boxing improves reaction time, balance, coordination, exactness, all that stuff.”

“Not really.”

Now it was my turned to be confused. After all, I had been told that this madrich l’boxing was an expert in his field, with lots of experience in working with the disabled. The conversation was becoming “curiouser and curiouser…”

In frustration I said, “I don’t understand. You’re a madrich l’boxing,” and at this point, although “boxing” is the word most commonly used to describe this particular form of martial art, I decided to add the less-used Hebrew word to emphasize my point (although I really had no idea what my point was, other than pure frustration). So I added, “a madrich l’igruf.”

Silence. Then, “Oh, excuse me. I must have the wrong number.”

Now, any normal intelligent person would have said, “Oh,” and quickly hang up the phone before getting into more trouble. But me being me, I blurted out, “Wait a moment. Maybe this is not a mistake. Who are you?”

“I’m the madrich l’bochrim at Ponovezh Yeshivah.”

When I said “boxing,” he heard “bochrim,” and when he said “bochrim,” I heard “boxing.”

Then I did something really, really dumb. Instead of saying, “Oh, you’re right. You definitely have the wrong number,” I said “Oh, this is not a wrong number. You must be looking for my grandson.”

My grandson, who had been with us for bein hazmanim, had been accepted into Ponovezh for his third year of yeshivah. As a new bachur, he was concerned about finding a suitable chavrusa and now, come to think about it, he had spent quite a bit of time making phone calls this morning.

The moment the words flew out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back. But alas, it was too late.

“Who’s your grandson?” I could almost hear his unspoken question, And which boy in our yeshivah would have a grandmother interested in boxing?   

“Yechiel Stern.” (a pseudonym)

“Yechiel Stern?” He sounded surprised. After all, Yechiel's other grandmother is the scion of a well-known Yerushalmi family. The type that makes kugels and cookies and sews clothes for the grandchildren. Certainly not the type that would be excited to find a boxing instructor.

It was a strange conversation. Eventually he realized that I was not the other grandmother, and that I was also not a secret fan of martial arts. He also told me to tell my grandson not to worry, that his chavrusos were all arranged for the coming zman.

I hung up the phone and went to the other room to share the story with my husband. “Do you think,” I asked, only half in jest, “that they would throw a bachur out of yeshivah because of his grandmother?”

This story will probably go down in our family annals as a classic Bubby Blunder. And the truth is, although there’s a lot we can learn from it – the importance of communicating clearly, of not making assumptions, of being dan l’kaf zechus, of thinking before blurting– I don’t want to make this article into a lengthy mussar shmuess. I just want to share it with you because even bubbies (or perhaps I should say, especially bubbies) need to have a good laugh sometimes.

It’s healthy. Just like boxing.  

Post Script:  I eventually found a boxing instructor. Zev is a champion boxer with a heart of gold. Gentle and firm. After the first session, Rex, a foreign worker who assists one of the men in the group, came over to me. “Debbie,” he said, “about the Wednesday boxing group…”

Rex was blushing.        

"Well, uhm, ah…”

It took a few more seconds until he finally blurted out, “In the Philippines, I was a champion boxer. And because of Eliyahu (the man he helps) I learned all about boxing and Parkinson. Can I also work with the group?”

So now we have two boxing instructors! 

The Seeds of a Pomegranate as appeared in the Binah

It's always so unexpected. I usually hear the music just as I'm in the midst of a telephone interview, or frying schnitzel for Shabbos, and as much as I want to rush out of the house, I can't.

But this evening, I was lucky. I had just returned home from some errands and was planning to run out to do some shopping for Shabbos when I heard the loud rhythmic music of a hachnasas sefer Torah. Only the tunes were different. No Toras Hashem Temimah, or Mah Ahavti Torasecha, but Sefardi songs that I was unfamiliar with.

I grabbed my shopping bag and raced out of the house in the direction of the music. And then I saw it, the large sefer Torah encased in a silver case, held aloft, swaying up and down to the beat of the music.

But this hachnasas sefer Torah was different. No shtreimels or rabbinical frocks. The men – barely a minyan - were clad in blue jeans and sandals, with small, white satin kippot perched awkwardly on their heads. Many of the women wore yoga pants, their stockingless feet pushed uncomfortably into sandals, their dyed, dirty-blonde, lifeless hair swaying in time to the music. As the music grew louder and the beat faster, some of the women started waving their hands in the air, others began rhythmically clapping. The small group, escorted by several police cars and armed guards, weaved its way through the crowded street. Busses stopped, traffic was backed up as more and more people — chassidim, yeshivah bachurim, American tourists — joined the procession, lichvod haTorah, in honor of the Torah.

Before my very eyes, the procession grew until it covered almost half a city block. The men held hands and danced in unity, a rainbow of Klal Yisrael, proclaiming through their actions their love of Hashem and His Torah.

A few days later I was invited to speak to a group of medical professionals about the unique challenges facing Orthodox Parkinson's patients in Israel. I arrived early and was told to wait in the secretary’s office until the meeting began. I nodded at the secretary as I entered her domain, but she was too engrossed in what she was reading to acknowledge my presence.

By her obviously dyed auburn hair, long, red nails, dark plaid pants and sweater, I assumed the book on her lap was either a novel or a woman’s magazine (not Binah). After a few minutes of completely ignoring my presence (How rude! Doesn’t she see that I – capital I – had arrived?!) she looked up from her book, smiled warmly at me,  and, in a loud voice began reciting the tefillah for cholim that is said at the conclusion of Tehillim, followed by a long list of names. When I responded “Amen,” she stood up, kissed the sefer Tehillim and gently placed it back on the shelf behind her.

“Sorry that I wasn’t able to greet you properly.” She was apologizing to me! After how I'd judged her! “I like to take advantage of my break to pray for the doctor’s patients.” I was feeling smaller by the moment (Forget the capital I. Now I wasn’t even a dot!).

I’m not about to propose that clothes are not important. Proper dress is informed by halachah. How we dress is a fundamental statement to the people around us, and to ourselves, of where we align ourselves, of our basic belief system, of who we aspire to be. But it’s not the only thing.

I’m over sixty (gulp. Actually, last Shabbos my grandchildren were discussing my age. One was positive that I’m “at least a thousand years old,” while the other was sure I must be over 90), and by now I really should know that we can’t judge a book by its cover (oh, I HATE clich├ęs!). But I’m human, and I usually do.

I know this is the wrong season to talk about how Chazal compare a pomegranate bursting with seeds to the simple man-on-the-street Jew, overflowing with love of Hashem and His mitzvos. But although I’m considered a senior citizen, I still have a lot to learn. And one thing I have to remember is that first impressions are just that; that I need to be open to look beyond the mask, to find the golden seeds within the pomegranate, even when (or perhaps I should write, “especially when”) that mask is my own.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


TO VIEW MY PARKINSON BLOG, PLEASE GO TO https://www.tikvah4parkinson.org/blog-1

Zev is a boxing champion, a boxing teacher, and a really great guy!  During his interview, I felt as if I had struck gold; soft and gentle, yet with a hard core that commands respect! So as of two weeks ago, Zev gives a "Boxing for Parkinson" group at our Wednesday Men's program. The guys love it!

Boxing is an excellent form of exercise for people with Parkinson. In addition to being a great cardio-vascular workout, boxing  strengthens balance and agility. And the men enjoy punching out their frustrations, as they literally -- and I mean literally - battle the disease. 

But thanks to our boxing class, I also discovered a hidden gem: Rex, the aide who accompanies Eliot to our program.  Rex is one of those people who stays in the background, never says a word, so I was a bit surprised when, last Monday, he asked to speak with me. 

"Debbie," he began. "It's about the boxing class..." 

I braced myself, assuming that he was about to give me some criticism. 

Instead he continued in his soft, melodious voice, "Well, ah..." he blushed "I'm a boxer. In the Philippines, I was a boxing champion. And since I work with Eliot, I learned all about boxing for Parkinson." 

Huh? You cannot imagine how many hours I spent on the phone until I found Zev. And the treasure was in my backyard the entire time! 

And to make a story short, that, my dear friends, is why Tikvah for Parkinson now has two boxing instructors, working together, as a team, to fight Parkinson.

One punch at a time.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

EXISTENTIAL PROBLEMS as appeared in Binah, April 19

When I was in kindergarten, my mother taught me to memorize my address and phone number just in case I would get lost. That was then. Today, although I have no problem remembering my phone number, I’m really not sure where I live. Okay, yes, I KNOW I live in Jerusalem. And I do know where my apartment is located, and I can even give accurate directions. But I don’t have an address, or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I have three addresses, but, depending on who I’m speaking to, they can all be wrong.

Until recently, our official address was 7 Shmuel Hanavi Street, and that’s the address we usually use— at least for mail and other official things. But the problem is that our building is squeezed between 97 Shmuel Hanavi and 101 Shmuel Hanavi, which means that logically, 7 Shmuel Hanavi  should be over a mile away. And that’s why, when people rely on their GPS instead of on my detailed directions, they end up completely lost and call me asking, “WHERE is your building? I see fifteen and five, but seven seems to have disappeared.”
Just to make things a wee bit more confusing, although our building is on Shmuel Hanavi Street, the entrance is from a small alleyway called Etz Hadar. There are two problems with this alleyway (at least as far as this article goes). One is that most people are not aware that it has a name. The second is that there are three alleyways circling our complex, and all three are called Etz Hadar. But since the Etz Hadar address works with the GPS (although not with the Israeli Postal Authority), I usually give that address to people coming by car. But more times than I can count, the person will say, “I got so lost trying to find you. Why didn’t you just tell me that you live on 7 Shmuel Hanavi Street?”

Because of all the confusion surrounding our address, the city decided to make things even more complicated and give us a NEW address. About two years ago, we received an official letter notifying us that from now on our address would be 32 Etz Hadar (I think. I’m not really sure). Posters were placed in all ten of our building’s entranceways, and we were given instructions to place a lighted number above our entranceway, with a warning that we’d be heavily fined it we didn’t.

I think we were the only one of the seventy-five families living in my building that took this seriously. When we realized that we were the only ones to do so, we quickly forgot our new address (which no one uses, including the post office and including official letters from that same office that informed us about our change of address).

But when the city changed our address, they also invested in new street signs. So, beneath the name of our alleyway there is now a large arrow pointing to our building with the numbers 32-40 underneath it, since — I kid you not — every entranceway in our building was given a different address! Therefore, when I tell people how to find my apartment, I always have to add, “Don’t look at the numbers of the street signs. Just follow my directions.” But more often than not, people do follow the signs and not my directions.

To make things even more confusing, my building borders four streets: Shmuel Hanavi, Etz Hadar, Chativat Harel and a second branch of Etz Hadar. Although Chativat Harel is a major throughway, most people have never heard of it. That’s because the street is only a block long! Actually, it’s one section of a long street that for the last half century has been in the midst of a major identity crisis, changing its name every few blocks or so. It starts off as Yirmiyahu Street, becomes Bar Illan Street, turns into Chativat Harel and finally changes into Sderot Eshkol. People coming to visit me by bus must get off at the Chativat Harel bus stop, but more often than not, no one, including the bus driver, has heard of Chativat Harel.  

But once people finally get to my apartment me, their reaction is usually something like, “What a great location! You’re right in the middle of everything.”

And we really are. My home is the best location. I’ve devoted a large portion of my life to creating it. It took me years of trial and error, of searching and learning, to realize that the recipe for finding it cannot be memorized. And as for directions, since each person understands things according to his own experience, the journey was not always easy.

On Purim, a friend called me in the middle of our seudah. The house was topsy-turvy and grandchildren were everywhere, while their parents were rushing back and forth bringing food to the table. I was enjoying every minute of it. “I don’t know how I got here,” I said to my friend. “Neither do I,” she responded. “It’s amazing! Who would have believed it – forty years ago we were two young kids, trying to find our way, and today, here we are. We've succeeded in creating a true Jewish home!”

And that’s the real reason why, when you come to my home, you’ll realize that, like every true Jewish home, it really is the best location.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

BEYOND THE SMILE -- as appeared in Bina Magazine

A few weeks ago I returned home from our local Shabbos shiur in an incredibly rotten mood. Ironically, the topic was simchah. The speaker, a dynamic young woman with a bouncy blonde sheitel and a sparkling, picture-perfect smile, bubbled effusively, “Our faces are reshus harabbim. They are public property. When you smile, the whole world smiles with you, but when you look glum, it negatively impacts those around you.”

Yes, I’ve heard this idea a million times. And I know that it’s true. Our emotions are contagious.

I can almost hear you asking the obvious question. If this is something the author believes to be true and has heard many times before, then why did hearing it at a shiur have such a negative effect on her?

Simple. People with Parkinson’s (like me) often develop what’s known as the Parkinson’s mask. That’s because their facial muscles sometimes become so stiff that they follow gravity in a downward spiral. And when that happens, unless they are consciously concentrating on putting on a cheerful countenance to the world, their mouths slide into a frown and they look, well, sad, or (even worse), spaced out. So when I am concentrating on something, be it on my writing, or my exercise, or even figuring out how to navigate Yerushalayim’s crowded streets, my mouth gets droopy, or, even more embarrassing, drops opens (without my even noticing it) and I look, well, not at all like the intelligent, thinking woman I aspire to be.

It’s frustrating. According to what I just wrote, if you see me sitting on the bus looking deep in thought, chances are that I’m just worried about my appearance, but if I look totally spaced out, then probably my mind is busy conjuring up ideas for my next article, or I’m solving some weighty worldwide crisis. 

Although I don’t want to confuse you, in truth it’s not so simple. Parkinson’s is one of those crazy on-off diseases. So although at times, I can be perfectly fine and look like the picture of good health, I can just as suddenly turn “off” and become incapable of doing almost anything, including smiling. So that means that when I appear to be an intelligent woman deep in thought, I might actually be thinking about something important, rather than concentrating and looking intelligent, but then again, I might not, and when I appear to be spaced out, I might (figuratively) be landing on the moon, but then again, it’s very possible that my feet are firmly on the ground.

So now that you understand (or, admit it, you really don’t. But I won’t tell anyone) why a shiur on simchah put me in a bad mood, I’ll also let you in on a little secret: It didn’t last long. A Shabbos nap, a bit of ice cream (the panacea for all problems) and I was back to my jolly old self —- even if I couldn’t maintain a Colgate smile.

As I write this, I am trying to think of what deep message this story contains, one that can inspire the reader to greater heights in her avodas Hashem. And the truth is, I can’t think of anything incredibly profound, other than the obvious: "Al tistakel bakankan, ela vameh sheyesh bo, do not look at the vessel but at what is in it." Looks can be deceiving. It’s the pnimiyus, a person’s essence that counts.

And as for the importance of smiling, yes, I agree it’s a good thing, and I will, if I can. But if I can’t, I won’t. But I’ll be more than happy to talk with you, and encourage you, and daven for you — and even more than that, I’ll try to be your friend. I’ll be there for you, in a real, way. And isn’t that what’s really important, even if I can’t always brighten the lives of those around me with a happy smile?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Growing in My Yiddishkeit -- this interview was published in 2008 in the Lakewood Shopper

an interview with Rochel Trugman 

I recently ran into Rochel at a memorial evening held for a common friend of ours, Meira Burkey a"h. We sat in a circle and reminisced about the wonderful things that Meira had done with her life, and how, in her quiet and direct way she impacted so many people. It was one of those magical evenings spent meandering down memory lane, looking back with foggy, gold rimmed glasses on a world that was – at least in our memories. As always, Rochel's comments were sharp and sensitive and mirrored her rugged individuality.

Debbie Shapiro: Could you tell us about your background?

"I grew up south side Chicago in a postwar baby-boom neighborhood. Our family attended a conservative synagogue. The rabbi, Rabbi Eliot Einhorn, was from the 'old country.' He spoke with a thick European accent and couldn't relate to us young Americans. His daughter went to public school with me. I thought that she was extremely brave for refusing to sing goyishe songs before their holiday. I had one friend who kept kosher. When I was fifteen, I visited her during Pesach and was flabbergasted when I went into the kitchen. Everything was turned around for the holiday! There was a record of Jewish music playing on their HiFi that I really liked. It turned out to be Reb Shlomo Carlebach, who would later have a very strong impact on my life.

"In the sixties a non-Jewish friend and I traveled to California to seek the truth. We visited all sorts of interesting places -- missions, cults, ashrams – in our search for emes. One of the stops along the way was a Jewish commune called the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco. Had anyone told me that it was really a synagogue, I would have never step foot in the place! I remember walking into the door and being warmly welcomed by Miriam Succot (today her husband is a rav in Jerusalem). It was time to light the Shabbos candles. She invited me to light one and helped me make the bracha. Standing there, surrounded by all the other women lighting their candles, I felt as if I had finally come home.

"The House of Love and Prayer, Reb Shlomo Carlebach's synagogue in San Francisco, was an odd mishmash of spiritual seekers and nuts. The people who were looking for emes found it. Most of us continued to grow in our Yiddishkeit. Some didn't.
"After spending almost every Shabbos at the House of Love and Prayer, I was determined to move to Israel. I remember marching into the San Francisco aliya office, telling them that I wanted to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael, to the holy city of Jerusalem. They tried to convince me to travel there as a temporary resident, to see if I like it before taking such a drastic step, but I was determined to make aliya. 'Israel is the only place for a Jew to live,' I insisted. 'I want to ascend to the Holy Land.' 
"I left San Francisco in the beginning of 1970. All my friends came to the airport with their guitars, drums and tambourines to see me off.  It was very emotional; lots of singing, hugging, dancing and tears. I was living the dream. I was on my way to the Promised Land; I was ascending to Jerusalem, the holy city! I was so young and idealistic – and naive.

"When I came to Israel my entire Hebrew vocabulary consisted of just three words: 'ken,' 'lo' and 'shalom. In the taxi that took me from the airport to Jerusalem, I kept asking the driver how much longer it would take before we arrive in Yerushalayim! That's when I learned my fourth Hebrew word: savlanut (patience)!

"I found myself a small apartment near the center of Jerusalem and attended every available English language shiur -- but there weren't very many. One day Rabbi Refson, Neveh's founder and dean, drove up to my building in his little motorcycle and asked me if I would be interested in attending the women's yeshiva that he was starting. I jumped at the opportunity."

Debbie Shapiro: The following year, 1971, I came to Israel to attend Neveh Yerushalayim Seminary, which was then beginning its second year.  But first had to go for an interview with the dean, Rabbi Refson. We arranged to meet in an office above Kikar Shabbos. He walked into the office carrying his motorcycle helmet! I was flabbergasted and whispered to a friend who had come with me, "I will not go to a school run by Hell's Angels!" Then I politely explained to the rabbi that instead of going to seminary that year, I had decided to volunteer on a kibbutz (that was the only excuse I could think of at the spur of the moment)! In the end, I attended Bais Yaakov Yerushalayim, today known as BJJ. As for the motorcycle, I soon discovered that motorcycles were a much more common mode of transportation than cars, and certainly not a sign of belonging to a fringe element.

Rochel:  "The entire Neveh Yerushalayim campus consisted of one small top floor apartment in Bayit Vegan. We learned and ate in the living room; the bedrooms were the 'dorm.' After studying there for one year, I realized that as much as I loved the school, I needed to learn something that would prepare me to enter the Israeli job market. So I transferred to another seminary that issued a State recognized teaching degree.

"The first year in the new seminary I barely scraped by. The classes were in Hebrew. Although by then I knew a lot more than four words, I was still far from being fluent. The second year I did much better. At the end of the year I graduated with an official diploma.

"Armed with an official teaching degree, I found myself a job teaching art in the Israeli public school system. The children were from poor homes and very, very rough. Imagine, forty two kids, absolutely no art supplies; yet I was expected to teach art! But baruch Hashem by the time I left the job three years later, I was doing great. During this time I met my husband, Avraham Arieh, and we were married.

"My husband and I dreamed of living in a rural religious community. Someone told us of an abandoned Nachal settlement that belonged to Poalei Agudath Yisrael [PAI]. They were looking for a garin, a seed group, to establish a moshav there.  The moshav (which we later called Moshav Meor Modiin, because the Amshinover Rebbe, Rav Meir Kalish ztz"l, blessed us with hatzlacha and bracha) was located in the middle of nowhere, not far from the old Jordanian border. Six (!) different seed groups had tried to settle there before us – and had failed.

"We were a group of seven idealistic American couples – dreamy eyed and with almost no practical experience. We moved to our new home – a barren plot of land -- in the summer of 1976. Originally Moshav Meor Modiin was founded as a moshav shitufi, a cooperative moshav, which is similar to a kibbutz in that everyone owns everything, yet different in that families receive a monthly paycheck to use as they see fit (eventually we privatized). Most people assumed that we'd last just a few months. Thirty two years later, the Moshav is flourishing!

"Today Moshav Meor Modiin, bordering the newly built city of Modiin and just minutes from Kiryat Sefer, is centrally located. But when we settled there, it was extremely isolated. We were an hour and a half drive from Jerusalem. All around us were mountains covered with lush forests. What is today the major Jerusalem-Modiin highway was nothing more than a rarely used two lane country lane. We did our weekly shopping in the Lod shuk, winding our way between the vendors selling camels and sheep! 
"We wanted to create a place where we could invite the whole world to taste the beauty of Torah. We wanted to dance and sing, and recreate the atmosphere of San Francisco's House of Love and Prayer, only here, in Eretz Yisrael, it would be centered around families and children, and everything would be according to halacha."
Debbie Shapiro: While writing up this interview, I did some research on the moshav and wanted to share this tidbit, taken from Moshav Meor Modiin's official website, with my readers. "… The very next day he hitched a ride to Modi'in. When he reached Gimzo Junction he waited an hour for a ride, hut no cars passed, so he walked the last five miles."
"The families with children were given small, two room houses that were built like bunkers to withstand Jordanian bombs. We were housed in a tiny one bedroom (if you could call it that!) caravan. There were no gardens and only few trees, but if you were come today, you would never believe it -- the moshav is lush with greenery, most of which we planted ourselves! At night, we were entertained by the jackals howling in the surrounding woods. But after we convinced the Jewish Agency to purchase electric guitars for us, we made enough noise to frighten them off."
Debbie: The Jewish Agency purchased electric guitars for you? That's amazing!
"The Jewish Agency was a bit shocked at our request for electric guitars. Most moshavs requested things like tractors or help in building factories, not musical instruments! The Jewish Agency had purchased a plastic bag factory for the previous garin. But we were all American hippies cum baalei teshuva and into health food and ecology. We couldn't imagine devoting our lives to producing something as mundane as plastic bags, although tractors would have been helpful for growing our organic vegetables! Eventually the plastic bag factory was converted into a whole wheat flour mill, as part of our health food industry.
"It took some persuading on our part until the Jewish Agency was finally convinced that we were really going to use the guitars to support ourselves, and not just to have fun. Once we had the guitars, we opened a band, Modiin' L'Simcha and started playing for schools and weddings and performing at concerts. We succeeded in our goal of spreading simcha and Yiddishkeit, while supporting ourselves at the same time. In addition to playing music and producing granola, we also tilled the land. We planted avocado and apricot trees and grew wheat. We worked hard, but we were young and idealistic. I felt like a pioneer. I had changed from an idealistic hippy to an idealistic yet tough pioneer woman.
"In 1977, the Moshav started working with youth groups, hosting them for one day programs. Although we did not have the space or facilities to house and feed groups for overnight or Shabbat programs, in the winter we hosted programs in the community's shul and dining room.
In 1984 the Moshav opened the Meor Modiin's Medrasha L'Yahudut, which worked with all sorts of groups all year round.  My husband was the Medrasha's director. Our programs were extremely successful, with over 5,500 participants annually. But in 1989, with the beginning of the 'Intifada', youth group tourism virtually came to a halt, and the Medrasha ceased to function.
"When the Medrasha closed down, my husband and I decided to go to the States for a few years to work in kiruv. Avraham Arieh got a position in Denver, Colorado, opening a new NCSY (National Council of Synagogue Youth, the OU's official youth group) region. Originally we were planning to stay there for just three years, but when my in-laws had health problems we realized that we couldn't leave and remained for seven years.

"The intermarriage rate in Denver is seventy percent! We battled that by creating an orthodox social network for Jewish teenagers, hopefully inspiring them to become more committed Jews. We organized Shabbatons, picnics, outings, roller skating parties, weekly Torah classes, retreats, you name it! We also taught Torah classes in the public schools.

"Baruch Hashem, we had a lot of success. Many of the kids in our group became completely shomer mitzvos. We had one girl who lived an hour and a half drive from Denver. Her parents wanted her to have Jewish friends and drove her into Denver for all our activities. She was very popular and became regional president. Today she lives not far from Haifa, and is part of Zichron Yaakov's flourishing yeshiva community.

"When we returned to Israel in 1995, I went back to school -- Neveh Yerushalayim, my alma mater from twenty five years ago! I enrolled in Neveh's counselor program and got my master's degree in clinical sociology. As part of my course of study, we were supposed to choose a mentor to guide us. I had read Rabbi Pliskin's books and heard him teach at our college outreach programs here in Israel. Each time I was inspired anew, so sought him out and asked him to be my mentor. When I graduated, he gave me permission to do workshops based on his writings."

Debbie Shapiro: How has learning counseling changed your life?

"It taught me to be a better listener, to be less judgmental and more compassionate of others.

"My husband and I were hired to start a college outreach program called VISA and now we run our own program called Ohr Chadash. I like to joke that we graduated from high school – working with the NCSY high school students – to college! Since we started our college outreach in 1995 we have worked with over 25,000 college students.

Our Shabbatons and classes include lots of soulful singing and moving story telling. After our students return 'home' we keep in touch with them through email. Approximately 5,000 people on our email list receive divrei Torah on a regular basis. In addition we have a website,
www.thetrugmans.com  that provides audio classes on many topics including parshat hashavua. An overwhelming majority of the kids we touch end up becoming more religious. They also become part of our extended family.

"Every year our alumni in the United States arrange for my husband and I to lecture and give Shabbatons there. This coming Fall we're running programs in Washington D.C., Stanford, Connecticut, Boston, Denver and near Chicago. We get tremendous naches in seeing the strides that our students have made. Many have become Torah observant.

"We currently run a home hospitality program. Most Shabbosim we have between twenty five to thirty guests. There's lots of singing and dancing, good food, and connecting. People know that our home is a great place to be for Shabbos! Sometimes I feel that we should sell printed T-shirts saying, 'I've spent Shabbos at the Trugmans.' Some of our guests love it so much that they come back hundreds of times." 

Debbie Shapiro: How do you cope with all the physical work?

Rochel: Like Jewish women throughout the world, I start early. Wednesday is for shopping, Thursday for baking and Friday for cooking. A girl comes on Friday to do the cleaning.

"I cannot tell you how much I get from working with these kids. I feel that the neshomos we have touched are our extended family, and their children are my grandchildren! Sometimes, years later our students and guests just pop in unexpectedly – we're family, after all – to introduce us to their spouses and children. Each time I am moved anew.

"One time one of our former Denver NCSY kids showed up at our front door with his wife and three kids. He had just moved to Moshav Chashmonaim, a religious settlement near Kiryat Sefer. The last time we saw him he was eighteen years old and his father was dying in a hospice. We did our best to get him through that rough period. 

"We've also made a lot of shidduchim. One young woman who came to us was about to get engaged to a non-Jew in America. In desperation, her parents sent her to Israel, hoping that she'd find someone Jewish here and forget about her non-Jewish boyfriend. She met a young man at one of our programs -- and the rest is history! Today, she's married, religious, and living in Eretz Yisrael."

Debbie Shapiro: It sounds like you and your husband have really grown over the years, and are using your unique talents to impact people. How as the moshav changed during the last thirty two years?

Rochel: "It's much more beautiful! The children, and the trees, are grown. We're still a small rural community with only forty families. Most of our members are from the United States, with a sprinkling of Israelis. A lot of artists and musicians live here.

"Obviously in the last thirty two years we've matured. Religiously, our members are much more mainstream than they were then, and certainly more halachically observant. We're growing and changing, and hope to continue to grow and change."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Becoming an Activist Binah Feb 15, 2017

Recently I found myself propelled into the role of an activist. No, I’m not leading protests or picketing my local grocery store. Instead, I’m trying to change the reality for people living with Parkinson in Jerusalem.

As anyone who’s been following my articles in the Binah knows, I have Parkinson, and it is crucial for a person with Parkinson to exercise regularly. But the problem is that in Jerusalem there is a real lack of activities appropriate for people like me. So I decided to change that. After all, since I need this for me health, I’m going to make sure that I have it, even if it means creating it myself.

My first step was to speak to the medical askanim in our community to get an idea of the number of other people who might want to participate. They told me that many people in our community view Parkinson as something to be ashamed of, and are petrified afraid that people might discover that they have this “dreaded condition.” They remain closed up in their homes, with almost no physical activity, and as a result their muscles soon become stiff and stop working. The askanim pointed out that the first step to convincing people to participate in exercise and physiotherapy groups was to break the stigma surrounding the disease and raise awareness about the importance of physical activity for staying healthy. Only afterwards would it be possible to set up the actual programs. “It’s literally a matter of pikuach nefesh,” they added.

That’s the reason I decided to make an informational evening about Parkinson for the community. No, not for people with Parkinson (after all, if they are afraid that someone might discover they have the dreaded disease, they certainly will not go to an evening just for Parkinson patients) but for anyone with a friend or relative (and yes, we are related to ourselves) challenged with Parkinson.

So that’s how I ended up convincing the local community center to donate a hall, as well as arranging for three very chashuva and well known rabbonim (and excellent speakers) as well as one of the world’s top Parkinson specialists, to donate their time to speak to whoever might show up. And to tell you the truth, I really didn’t expect a crowd. People with much more experience than myself had warned me that I’d be lucky if thirty people showed up. The medical askanim pointed out that the numbers really didn’t matter, because all the people who were afraid to come lest someone might see them there, would somehow find a way to hear what happened. “And don’t forget to record it,” they added.

A few hours before the event, my grandchildren and I got to work setting up the hall for one hundred people, even though one of the rabbonim had pointed out that, “Nothing looks worse than a hall full of empty chairs.” Since the hall is difficult to find, the children made colorful signs with arrows to point out the way. My children and grandchildren schlepped tables and my son set up the mechitza. We even placed individual bottles of water on each chair to add a touch of class.

Well, to make a long story short, by the time doors were officially opened, there was a line of people waiting to come in! The one hundred chairs that we had so optimistically put out were soon filled, so my grandchildren scrambled to add more, and my son schlepped out additional panels to lengthen the mechitzah! In the end, although we put out 250 chairs, half a dozen people ended up standing in the back. Although I’m far from being a teenage, I am not exaggerating when I say that it was absolutely awesome.

Anyway, that evening was just the beginning, and now I am head of an organization to help frum people with Parkinson in Jerusalem. It’s been a whirlwind of meetings, phone calls, and plenty of surprises. Our organization, which is still not official, but soon will be, has been featured in local newspapers, and I’ve even been invited to give a presentation about the difficulties faced by the religious Parkinson patients to a board of doctors and government representatives. Oh, and yes, we’ve started support groups, as well as an evening program for the men and a morning program for the women!

In a way, I feel like a teenager, trying to find herself in her new role. It’s a blend of the new and the old, so I bake chocolate chip cookies to serve to the representatives of a drug company, and quickly get out of my robe and tichel before the neurosurgeon arrives to meet with me about how his department can assist us.

Life is full of surprises, and sometimes challenges can lead to new pathways. I don’t know where this path will lead me, but one thing I can tell you, I’m sure havin’ a lot of fun!  And who knows, perhaps by the time I turn 120 I will have figured out what I want to do when I grow up.