Women in Tel Aviv hear the call and transform Temple Walls

On Purim, as I hung clown masks on the gates of the Temple in Tel Aviv, an Israeli woman from the neighbourhood  snarled as she used our passageway,  ” It’s disgusting back there. People throw garbage when they pass and there’s graffiti all over the walls.  Where’s the respect? I’m not religious, but this is a Bet Knesset!  You should do something about it,” she hissed.  Stunned I mumbled,  “You’re right, “I’ll look into it.”

Clown masks filled the walls of the North Central Synagogue on Purim
Clown masks colouring the walls of the North Central Synagogue on Purim. Photo by Avi Cashman

I mentioned it Shabbat morning at the Kiddush Club.  One guy snickered and called her a bitter old woman; but Jay Shultz said it bothered him too and took me out back.  Sure enough the walls were filled with graffiti.   It was embarrassing,  but there was also something else on the back wall I had never saw before.  A beautiful broken mirror mosaic.

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“Have you seen The Wall?” Jay started telling me about the girl next door who made aliyah from Boston.  Mia didn’t go to shul, but as an artist, she said it was an eyesore and wanted to make a difference. Jay envisioned the Shema in the archway, in honor of Rebbitzen Esther Jungreis a”h.  What a mitzvah moment.  I had been very close to the Rebbitzen, and created many programs with her at Hineni in New York.  I wondered what I could do to help. Just then Mia Schon walks by and Jay jumps at the hashgacha pratis of the whole thing.

Mirror Mosaic by Mia Schon. Photo by Deborah Danan
Mirror Mosaic by Mia Schon. Photo by Deborah Danan

I recalled how Shaindy, the Rebbitzen’s granddaughter had spoken about the women’s mirrors in the Midbar and the building of the Mishkan at the Great Challah Bake during the Shabbat Project.  I  even remembered her mosaic looking shirt with mirrors on it.  This must be a sign I reflected when I realised what Parsha was coming up.

Shaindy Esienberg at the Shabbat Project's Great Challah bake speaking about women and their mirrors
Shaindy Esienberg at the Shabbat Project’s Great Challah bake speaking about women and their mirrors

I parsha Vayakhel, the week we planned the women’s event it reads:

“Take from yourselves an offering for Hashem; every generous hearted person shall bring it, Gold, Silver & Copper” – Shemot 35:5
“…And its base of copper from the mirrors of the women who had gathered at the entrance of the tent of meetings….” – Shemot 38:8

I imagined a Rosh Chodesh in which women reflected on their gifts and helped transform the shul.  I posted on so many Facebook groups I annoyed myself.

Everyday for a week we blasted all over Facebook inviting all to " "Take from yourselves an offering for Hashem; every generous hearted person shall bring it, Gold, Silver & Copper"

When Monday March 29 arrived, a diverse group of women met to make a difference.    “Roll up your sleeves, wash hands and get back in the kitchen ladies. Nothing gets done around here without you”  I said as I handed each girl a different ingredient.  Leah Goldman led the women in singing Rosh Chodesh songs.  I taught kosher tricks for making soup and mosaic inspired salads to get rid of your chumitz. Each guest  brought a different flavour to the table.

Leah cuts fruit to add to the salad. Every girl is in charge of preparing one piece of the dish which is tastiest when everyone contributes their gift.
Leah cuts apples for the salad as Daniele adds strawberries.   Every girl contributes her favourite fruit.
Each girl was in charge of cleaning and cutting one piece of the mosaic inspired fruit salad. Phot by Shira Nussdorf
Each girl was in charge of cleaning and cutting one piece of the mosaic inspired fruit salad. Phot by Shira Nussdorf

Rebbitzen Devorah Eisenbach shared mindful ideas about Peseach and the role of women in the Exodus experience.   Many women related her Torah teachings with happenings in the world today.  Mia spoke about her concept with the art instillation, and I reflected on how much potential Rebbitzen Jungreis always said she saw in us.  Many girls shared their memories of how The Rebbitzen move them every time she’s come speak in Tel Aviv.  I asked if anyone wanted to take from themselves an offering of gold, silver, copper or mirrors to put into The Temple Wall.  One girl offered her mirror menorah.  She said it was worthless as a Chanukkia because it was broken, but hearer it would be a big treasure.  I offered the crown  I wore for Purim when I was Queen of Sheba.

Rebbitzen Eisenbach gives over mindful Torah on Passover. Photo by Deborah Dehnan
Rebbitzen Eisenbach, originally from Boston, came from Jerusalem to lead the young women in real reflection on their strengths in the Exodus story.  Photo by Deborah Deborah Danan
Mia Schon explains the inspiration behind her mirror mosaic. Photo by Deborah Denan
Mia Schon explains the inspiration behind her mirror mosaic. Photo by Deborah Danan
Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Photo by Shira Nussdorf
Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Photo by Shira Nussdorf
Malka covers over the graffiti. Photo by Deborah Danan
Malka covers over the graffiti. Photo by Deborah Danan
As I painted I remembered how my Nanny's driveway in Jackson Heights always had graffiti on it, but I was too young to take care if it. I felt blessed to do this chesed now. Photo by Deborah Danan
As I painted I remembered my Nanny’s driveway in Jackson Heights.  Punks kept putting graffiti on it, and I was too young to do something about it then.. As a Bat Cohain, I fnow felt blessed to have chance to do such a big chesed for the synagogue.  iPhoto by Deborah Danan
I got the head piece from Chava, a little girl from The Old City whose father tragically died on his 40th birthday. Initially I returned the costume jewelry after Purim since it was a gift from her grandmother, but when I started asking women to bring things, I knew Chava would want to be part of the project. When I went to her house to ask for it, she was already in bed. Her mother, Batya Burd went looking for it I heard Chava say , "Wait I want to give MORE" and I heard Batya tell her it was enough already and go back to bed. I laughed because echoed so much of Rashi's commentary on the Parsha
I got this head piece from Chava, a little girl from The Old City whose father tragically died on his 40th birthday. Initially I returned the costume jewellery right after Purim because it was a gift from her grandmother.   When I started inviting everyone on Facebook  to bring things, I knew Chava would want to be part of the project. When I went to her house to ask for it, she was already in bed. Her mother, Batya Burd went looking for it and from the closed door I heard Chava plead , “Wait I want to give MORE” and her mother limit her with two pieces and tell her to stop bringing gifts. I laughed because it echoed so much of Rashi’s commentary on the Parsha Vayakhel
It was my finest piece of junk jewellery and worth a million mitzvah points.
It was my finest piece of junk jewellery and worth a million mitzvah points.
Mirror mirror on The Wall, who's the Mayanoot girl adding her own mirror menorah when she heard the call? Photo by Shira Nussdorf
Mirror mirror on The Wall, who’s the Mayanot girl adding her own mirror menorah when she heard the call? Photo by Shira Nussdorf

The girls had a great get together where we not only reflected and transformed ourselves, this Rosh Chodesh Nissan, we created a permanent art instillation of the living Torah on the Temple Wall in Tel Aviv where there once was a chillul Hashem.  

Anyone who wanted to be a part of taking from the heart could add a mirror to the mosaic. Photo by Daniella Zettel
Anyone who wanted to be a part of taking from the heart could add a mirror to the mosaic. Photo by Daniella Zettel
The Mind, Body & Soul series seeks to empower young women in Tel Aviv to be leaders in our growing community. Photo by Leah Goldman
The Mind, Body & Soul series seeks to empower young women in Tel Aviv to be leaders in our growing community. Photo by Leah Goldman

It was getting late and several guests needed to get back to Jerusalem.  Mia stayed after to help me clean up.  She had never actually been in the synagogue even though she lived next door and did all this work to beautify it.   I unlocked the gate and walked her up the arc where the Torahs were kept.  I pressed my kepi against the velvet curtain and Mia did the same.  Quietly I started whispering the Shema and heard my neighboor next to me saying it too.  I hurried off the bima so Mia could have a moment to herself.  As I was slipping out the door she turned around.  “It’s okay, you can stay.  He’s been waiting a long time to see you,”  Mia turned around and faced the arc again.  “Thank you for helping us do this,” I told her, ” Please put in a good word for me with The Boss because right now you are getting so many mitzvah points”  she giggled.

Mia and I add Chava's two gold and diamond pieces.
Mia and I add Chava’s two gold and diamond pieces.

Mind, Body and Soul is a Rosh Chodesh series geared for women in their 20’s and 30’s.   It is run entirely by volunteers and is grateful for any contribution made to help foster Jewish life in Tel Aviv.  To make a tax deductible donation click the following link http://amyisraelfoundation.org/donate/

For more information please email  Info@hineni.org.il

Graffiti gone. Photo by Shira Nussdorf
Graffiti gone. Photo by Shira Nussdorf
Restored Synagogue walls
Restored Synagogue walls
Graphic design by Zmmrmnn
Graphic design by Zmmrmnn
About the Author
Shira, a feisty little Zionist from New York, miraculously made aliyah and lives to tell the tale. At the age of 4, her Israeli gannet Mrs. Taylor wrote on her evaluation report, "left alone Shira will rule the world." She grew up to be a social activist, singer, writer, teacher, and mitzvah girl. She advocates for aliyah and empowers hundreds of olim weekly by hosting in Tel Aviv. Shira is the reigning "Shabbas Queen" in the Guinness World Records Largest Shabbat Dinner.
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