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Feeling at home in Yerucham

Updated: Apr 3

Yerucham, Israel May 11, 2015

How does one bring a smile to a dower grumpy accountant’s punim (face)?

Have a day packed with smiling Jewish Children and top that with a Torah Finishing ceremony attended by people who welcome you like family. Plenty of singing and dancing along with the whole community.

I didn’t realize the impact that we have had on the community until I walked down Tsvi Borenstein this afternoon. First Ashai greets me and introduces me as his friend from Miami. Then Rabbi Shalev, the Mischgeach from the wine factory, gets out of his car and greets me warmly.

Yerucham has been our home for 10 days and we have been welcomed into their homes – literally and figuratively.

Earlier today I met with the management of Atid Bamidbar to discuss their operation and the problems they face.

Atid BaMidbar provides experiential, educational and community programs that touch hundreds of people in the Negev and more broadly. 30% of the Atid revenues come from programming. Like many businesses. As with many Israeli organizations (profit and nonprofit), Atid BaMidbar is feeling the negative impact of last year’s Gaza operation – known in Israel as Tzuk Eitan. Tourism has dropped and some programs by American organizations were cancelled.

There is no shortage of need for programs amongst the different communities. As we saw, Atid BaMidbar provides a home and programming for Conservative Movement’s Nativ students, outreach programs for the Russian speaking community, and they regularly host groups like ours, all the while providing educational services which augment those of the schools and the Matnas – the local community center.

After lunch I visited the JCC which was alive with children. There were kindergarteners in after-school care getting tutoring, working on computers, reading and playing in a supervised room, I was thrown by the expertise of the Judo class, fortunately I wasn’t their subject. No such luck at the soccer field as I was elected goalie as these sharpshooters booted goal after goal; Not learning my lesson I foolishly stood under the basketball net as future NBA stars drove to the basket. Beaten up I opted for a musical respite in the rehearsal rooms. Budding Beethovens honed their skills with private teachers and Bob Dylan could have learned his chords at a guitar lesson and Ringo Starr drums, deep in the bomb shelter. With music you have young women learning the style and grace of modern dance.

Yerucham Judo

As if sports and music weren’t enough I observed an art class which was making some type of Eastern circles – I will have to ask my daughter – she was the art history major.

Just retelling this is zapping my energy- so imagine my reaction to being told, “Don’t miss the program in the library.”

A kindergarten teacher wrote a children’s book about a family of kangaroos. She read the book to a group of young children and their parents. A woman soldier held her wide-eyed daughter on her lap. The story was well read as it kept the children’s attention and it was quiet save the clicking of my camera.

I love to photograph children, some are hams (in this case kosher), some are shy, and some could care less. I love talking to their parents – sometimes it’s a lifesaver to explain why I am photographing their children. How old is he? How cute! I have two granddaughters – you want to arrange the wedding? That universally brings a smile and I get one more photo – of the proud parent.

The finale was the Torah  – at the home of Yona and Yussi, Moroccan Jews who are dedicating the Torah in honor of her father.

I could not have been made to feel more welcome. Abundant food spread throughout the large home (Jews like to eat!), the scroll is laid out on the dinning room table, its ornate silver and gold inlayed Moroccan style standing case awaiting the completed work. Men stand by inspecting the scroll with magnifiers and Chumashim ensuring that it is Kosher. After evening prayers family and friends are called to add a letter. Some take the quill from the scribe while others place their hand on the scribes as he carefully fills in the letter. Women are given the honor of being called but neither touch the scribe nor enter the letter themselves. Fathers bring their sons and daughters as they fulfill the mitzvah.

Yerucham Girl with the Torah

I find a plethora of subjects for my Faces of Yerucham. Old men with long white beards, mothers and babies, Dads bouncing the babies.

There is dancing, not like the modern dance at the JCC. This was a dance of men a dance celebrating the joy of a new Torah. Will the two year old boy with his “talis katan” dangling from his pants be called to read from this Torah?

Will this new Torah bring the joy of study to this community? A community which tonight is dancing in the street with the joy of fulfilling the mitzvah of the Torah.

Howard Schneider

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