Archive for June, 2008

A Play About Koby Mandell

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

Koby Mandell would have turned 21 last week, and probably would be finishing his service in the Israeli army.

Instead, slain at 13, with a friend, in a cave near their home in the community of Tekoa on Lag B’Omer, 2001, Koby is a memory to those who loved him and a symbol of the hundreds of innocent Jewish victims of the intifada, an eighth grader stoned to death on a day he skipped school.

Somehow, Koby’s parents managed to channel their anger and grief into positive work, creating a foundation in their son¹s name that offers summer camp and other healing programs to children in Israel who have lost close relatives to terror. And Sherri Mandell, a journalist and author, wrote an award-winning book about dealing with the loss of her son, “The Blessing Of A Broken Heart.”

Now her book has been adapted as a play (with the same title) by Todd Salovey, associate artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theater, and has been performed in the New York area in recent days.

I saw it last night at the JCC On The Palisades in Tenafly, NJ, and was deeply impressed by the thoughtful adaptation, and by the powerful performance of Lisa Robins, who plays Sherri Mandell, at times with pain and tears and at times with humor.

To their credit, the creators and actors (there are several gifted teens who play the Mandell children), never drift into the mawkish but maintain a dignity that is real, and all the more touching.

Rabbi Seth Mandell, Koby’s dad, answered questions after the show and acknowledged that he had seen it for the first time the night before, and had not read the script. Some of the questions from the audience were quite personal, about his and his family’s feelings and coping mechanisms, but he handled them forthrightly, at one point noting that while there is much laughter in the Mandell home ­ there are three younger children ­ there is never a sense of complete joy.

For more information on the play and the Koby Mandell Foundation, click on

World’s Busiest News Cycle

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

Jerusalem – Nothing too exciting happened in the world yesterday, except in Israel.

The front-page stories in today’s International Herald Tribune deal with economic concerns, mostly about rising oil prices. But even a quick glance at several Israeli newspapers reveals the heightened drama of daily life here, from the latest plan to rescue kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, to speculation on renewed war in Gaza and renewed peace talks with Syria, all against the backdrop of Prime Minister Olmert’s struggle to resist resigning from office.

Just another day in the Israeli news cycle, with more news happening in this small country than seems possible, and much of it of an existential nature.

It’s life-and-death stuff – reports on what, if anything, is being done to counter Iran’s plans to destroy Israel with a nuclear bomb; security concerns about more sophisticated rocket attacks on Israeli cities from Hamas; speculation on precisely when and to what degree Israel will next attack Hamas. (Isn’t that what the military censors are suppposed to censor?)

Israelis are big consumers of their newspapers, and the talk around the table is always about politics and “the matsav,” or, the condition, referring to the latest and ongoing crisis with the Arabs.

Clearly, the easiest job in this country is weatherman, at least during the spring and summer. Here’s the weather forecast for the next few days (and every day during this season) from today’s Jerusalem Post: a cartoon of a bright sun, and the following text: Today Sunny, Wednesday Sunny, Thursday Sunny.

Can’t wait to see Friday’s forecast.

A Walk Through The Darkness

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

Jerusalem – In the Bible, Jews are commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple three times a year, on each of the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – a tradition that was revived after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War reunited the city of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, at the site of the Temple.

Based on the belief that the Torah was given at dawn, tens of thousands of people come to pray at the Wall on Shavuot morning just as darkness gives way to light, many having been up all night studying Torah, another custom of the holiday that seems particularly fitting for insomniacs.

Not wanting to miss out on this experience, my wife and I set out at 4:20 a.m. on Monday from Emek Refaim, in the heart of the German Colony, to make the hilly, holy trek to the Old City.

From the outset, we were enthralled by the vision of a steady stream of people walking quietly but purposefully in the cool night air. Many were teenagers, part of Bnei Akiva [religious Zionist] youth groups, in their white shirts and dark pants, but there were people of all ages, and we joined them for the half-hour walk. Men carried their tallit bags and prayer books, some people carried portable chairs on their backs [anticipating the two-hour prayer service], and just about everyone had water with them, since the walk back would be in the heat of the day.

Along the way, we could not help thinking that we were retracing the footsteps of our ancestors thousands of years ago, and of the miracle of an Israel reborn in our time. And for all the divisions that plague Israeli society, the sight, on arrival in the plaza leading up to the Kotel, of many thousands of Jews here to share this experience was heartening, though it was clear that this was overwhelmingly an Orthodox crowd, from chasidim to haredim to the more modern.

We had rarely seen the plaza so densely packed, with prayer services sprouting up every few yards, and the space between people quite limited. But there was little noise, considering the multitude. There was an air of dignity; people knew where they were, and why they had come.

The words of the ancient prayers, calling for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and celebrating the festivals there, took on an added meaning during the service we joined, and we felt part of a tradition and people that seem to transcend history.

But the memory most vivid for me is that purposeful, almost silent walk in the still of night, joining with so many others on the way to the Old City. It was a feeling of connectedness to those around us and to our ancestors as well, symbolizing the faith of generations who made their way through the darkness, driven by the belief that the dawn of their deliverance awaited them on the path ahead.