Bridging the Distance between America and Israel in Times of Sorrow and Joy

A friend of mine died this month. Actually I’m not sure I deserve to call her a friend.

I hadn’t seen Amy for 20 years but I still cried when she died and continue to feel her loss. It’s strange that I can feel this way after not being in touch with her for so many years.

Maybe my feelings do not only reflect the loss of someone I know who died. Amy, who would have been forty-two-years-old next month is someone who I really liked. She and I started going to Camp Ramah when we were only twelve years old. In that first summer, I received one of the leads in our age-group’s play – the part of Michael Banks in Mary Poppins. I loved to act and sing, but the play was in Hebrew and coming from an afternoon Hebrew school, I had trouble reading, let alone memorizing and understanding all my lines. I don’t remember how it happened but Amy became my tutor. She and I sat together for hours running lines – and I am still indebted to her. I’m not sure she knew that and now I’ll never have a chance to tell her.

There are many people who have touched me over the years – teachers, friends, neighbors, colleagues and family. Those years seem to have disappeared. It’s not that I am old, but you never know how long you have left and what you may never have a chance to do or say.

In this age of connectivity – of e-mail, video chat, instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, I am more connected than ever. I have reconnected with friends from elementary school and with family I have never met in person. I have renewed relationships with these people and some have blossomed from on-line conversations to face-to-face meetings.

One such reunion happened shortly after I heard of Amy’s death. Several years ago, I reconnected with a friend through the Web site of the Conservative Movement’s alumni Faye Levinson Shapiro and I were in USY together. We started sending messages and she sought my advice for a trip she was planning to Israel to celebrate her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Technology bridged the physical distance; our friendship was renewed and I was able to help her.

Two weeks ago, not only was I able to celebrate with Faye and her family at the Kotel in Jerusalem, but I had a very special and powerful experience with the Shapiros and two other South Jersey families: the Sackstein and the Pomerantz-Boro families who all came together to celebrate their families’ Bnai Mitzvah. It turns out that Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro and I studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary at the same time so I had the joy of celebrating and reconnecting with two people who I knew twenty-something years ago. And it was pure joy. I was so impressed with the Hazzan’s inclusiveness of the families and especially of the children.

While we were only three families and a couple of guests, each of us participated in the ceremony with the children leading some of the service and reading Torah in a way that catapulted our service beyond the others at The Wall that day. Andrew Shapiro, Jaclyn Sackstein and Rebecca Pomertantz-Boro all participated beautifully. Not only was each celebrant’s knowledge and ability suprizing to me, but the meaning of Judaism which beamed from our faces and voices in song and praise was evident to everyone around. It was an intimate and meaningful celebration that will bond us always.

As someone who has lived all of my adult life in Israel, it was reassuring to experience this celebration with American Jews – especially the children. Just as you get a certain impression about life in Israel, so too we in Israel read about American Jewry and the rate of assimilation, ignorance and apathy. Despite what each of us is reading, there is more commonality between us than differences. However, it often takes face-to-face interaction to remember this and to create – or recreate – our close connection and kinship with each other.

I missed having a community with which to mourn my friend Amy. Those who attended the funeral were surprised that they recognized others they hadn’t seen in over twenty years. I had to rely on Facebook and email to share my memories and emotions with those who were also feeling the loss. In Jerusalem, I cried alone. However, I am so grateful to be able to celebrate and reconnect with those of you who chose to include me when you come to Jerusalem.

A week after celebrating the Bnai Mitzvah, Faye’s family went out to dinner with my family. As has often happened when my American friends visit, our children enjoyed making new friends and creating new bonds. While Faye and I share common roots, our children also now share a connection with the human face of kids their own age bridging Israel and the Diaspora. I am sure we will see Faye’s children again as they visit Israel in high school and college and the connection between us strengthens and brings us closer together.

If you make it to this corner of the earth, I hope you’ll drop me a line and whether it is for a simcha or just a cup of coffee, we’ll be able to celebrate some of life’s precious passing moments together.

I receive a lot of positive feedback about this column. Hopefully I’ll continue to share my words with you for many years to come, but you never know and I wouldn’t want to miss letting you know how much I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. Thank you.

One thought on “Bridging the Distance between America and Israel in Times of Sorrow and Joy

  1. alison22

    Hi – My name is Gail and I am a friend of your mother and Ruth and Steve S. ( for more than 47 years). Last night I read them your article and just wanted you to know how much they appreciated it. They remembered you fondly. Always be mindful of how well received your writings are in our Cherry Hill community.

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