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Chapter Two

The King Is In The Field

    It was during December of 1971 when those Lubavitcher Rabbis came to visit my Temple Youth Group. I was fourteen years old and it was an especially exciting time in my life. It was my third year playing the flute in the band at Ponce de Leon Junior High School in Coral Gables, Florida where I lived. Besides being a great learning experience, it was a lot of fun being in the band, and it also gave me the chance to be with one of the greatest people in the world: My band director, Jesse Blum. I had a tremendous love and respect for him. Everyone did. He had a warm and gentle way of bringing out the very best in each of his students. He not only turned kids into good musicians, but into good human beings as well. He taught kids who were vastly different from each other to work well together and to have respect for each other. He also took a personal interest in the lives of his students and offered emotional and financial help to anyone who needed it.

    Also during that year I followed through with my decision to go back to hebrew school so I could have a Bas Mitzvah. I had quit hebrew school a few years earlier because the classes conflicted with rehearsals at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, where I had been acting in plays off and on since I was eight years old. After attending the Bas Mitzvahs of my friends the previous year, I decided I had neglected an important part of my Jewish life. So I went back to hebrew school and started off with the nine year old class. I quickly decided that I could probably learn all I needed to know for my Bas Mitzvah in about a year at home if I had the right tutor. I asked my youth group advisor Arthur Kurtz if he would tutor me and he gladly accepted. He had been brought up Orthodox and his devotion as a Jew and as a human being made a big impression on me.

    With Arthur's help I achieved my goal and in May of 1972 I had one of the greatest Bas Mitzvahs of all time! I was especially happy to be able to include Mr. Blum in such a special moment in my life. A few months before my Bas Mitzvah I had asked Mr. Blum if he would be one of the people to have an aliyah when I read from the Torah. This entailed singing a blessing in Hebrew before and after I read a portion of the Torah. Mr. Blum agreed but was a little hesitant because he didn't know how to sing the blessing, so I came up with a solution. I vividly remember sitting at the piano in the bandroom with a fellow band member as I sang the blessing so he could figure out the notes and write them out for Mr. Blum. Almost all of the members of the band attended my Bas Mitzvah, and if they weren't in a sanctuary at the time I'm sure they would have stood up and cheered as Mr. Blum sang the blessings perfectly. He was a man of enormous strength who was used to being in command of everything, and it was the only time I had ever seen him nervous about anything. At the end of the service I made a beautiful speech about how I had finally found the right path in my life. Of course, I hadn't really found it yet but it was a step in the right direction towards fulfilling my promise made at Mount Sinai.

    That summer I took another step and joined with a group of kids taking part in a pilot study program in Israel. It was an idea conceived by my Rabbi where kids entering or already in High School would spend two months in Israel studying its history and receive school credit for the knowledge they had learned. It was my first time away from home but I wasn't worried because I was going with my friends from Temple and my Rabbi whom I had known since I was seven years old. Being in Israel caused me to feel a whole crazy mixture of emotions. On our first Shabbos there we were each sent to different families to experience Shabbos with them. I was surprised and disappointed to discover that on Friday night most Israelis go out to parties and on Saturday they go to the beach. I guess I was really naive to think that Israelis would give Shabbos any more attention than I did. Even though I was upset and confused that they didn't honor Shabbos, I was greatly impressed by their strong sense of loyalty to the land of Israel. But I also found myself wondering why they had forgotten that Israel was given to them by G-d in the first place. If they were so loyal to the land, why weren't they so loyal to the One who gave them the land? I really didn't know what the answer was. The more I learned about the history of Israel, the more I appreciated what Jews went through to hold onto it. Our learning took place not only in the classroom, but we were given the chance to see the places we learned about on the many trips we experienced. My Rabbi saved the trip to Jerusalem for later in the program so we could anticipate and really feel the tremendous emotional effect Jerusalem has on Jews. Well, it certainly had a huge effect on me! I remember getting out of the bus with my fellow students to view this holy city from afar before we actually entered it. I was completely overcome with emotion and I sat down on the ground and cried uncontrollably. My Rabbi later remembered me telling him that I felt like I was finally home. I had all these wonderful feelings that Israel was where I was supposed to be, but I also had all these other confusing feelings gnawing at me. It continued to bother me that most Israelis were not keeping their promise to G-d, and yet what right did I have expecting them to keep that promise when I myself was not keeping it?

    When the program ended I went home with all of these different emotions stirring inside me and wondering what was it I should be doing with my life as a Jew. I decided that I no longer wanted to go to public school. I wanted to go to the Hebrew Academy on Miami Beach where a few of the girls from the High School In Israel program attended. I tried it out and after only a few weeks I felt caught between two worlds and I couldn't handle it, so I quit the Hebrew Academy and went back to public school. I never really gave it a fair chance. The students and teachers there were as nice as they could be. But they couldn't change my life for me. Only I could do that. For some reason, something inside of me caused me to panic, sending me back to the world I knew even though I knew it was wrong. I just wasn't ready to change my life yet.

    I decided to finish High School as fast as I could by going during the summers so I could go return to Israel where I still felt I belonged. I thought about living on a kibbutz although by the time I finished High School I wasn't so sure I wanted to do that anymore. However, I still wanted to return to Israel. By that time, my Rabbi had moved there with his family and I had been corresponding with his son for over two years. We had developed a nice relationship through our letters and I was eager to see if our friendship was destined to go any further. I convinced my mother to come to Israel with me and she and I both tried to convince my father to come as well. But he wasn't the least bit interested in coming with us.

    My mother and I ended up having a strange and difficult time in Israel. The relationship I had developed with my Rabbi's son didn't turn out to be much of a relationship in person. My mother and I had expected to spend much of our time with my Rabbi's family but it didn't work out that way. So there we were, me feeling down and depressed and my mother feeling angry and abandoned by my father who never seemed to make the time to do anything my mother felt was important in life. We went on a couple of tours and my mother made friends with one of the guys who worked in the hotel where we were staying. He asked my mother and I if we would like to go out with him and a friend of his. My mother thought it would be good for me so we all went out. The friend of the guy from the hotel seemed interested in me and I was in such a vulnerable state of mind I fell for him instantly even though he had all of the qualities I disliked. He smoked, he didn't obey rules, and although he came off as charming he was really manipulative and self-centered, but since I had nothing else to cling to at the moment, I stupidly became involved with him.

    Going to Israel hadn't worked out the way I had hoped it would, I had no idea of what I wanted to do in life, and I was deeply afraid of following the normal paths everyone else followed and ending up mediocre. I didn't know what to do or whom to trust to help me find my place in life. I think deep down inside I knew there was something special about me but I didn't have the knowledge or the confidence to know what to do with it. I was emotionally worn-out and depressed, so I allowed myself to become attached to this person who didn't really belong in my life. When my mother and I left Israel I vowed that I would return to him, because it seemed that I needed to be attached to someone even if that someone was wrong for me.

    About five months later I did return and after living with him for three miserable months I was ready to go home but I couldn't let go of the relationship, as miserable as it was. So I stupidly brought him home with me and we got married. Three months later I couldn't stand the relationship anymore and somehow I found the strength to end it.

    I was eighteen years old and I was still trying to sort out so many confusing emotions. I felt like I should know what to do with my life, but I only seemed to be able to figure out what I didn't want to do through all the mistakes I was making. I did know, though, that there were some situations I was sure I didn't want to confront. I didn't want to go away to college because I was terrified of the pressures of drugs and drinking even though I wasn't that type of person. I also appreciated having my parents there for me whenever I was confused or upset. I kept trying to figure out what I should do with my life, but nothing seemed right for me.

    I was accepted to a local nursing school and I thought it was what I wanted. But I quit after a month because I felt I didn't know enough about life to be a good nurse. Then I went to hairdressing school and I actually finished, but the world of hairdressing had changed a lot since the years I had hung out at the beauty parlor with my mother when I was a little girl. The world of unisex hair salons was vastly different from the world of beauty parlors where women had a comraderie and a strong connection to each other.

    Somewhere in between nursing school and hairdressing school, when I was spending my weekends acting in plays, I met a very nice guy who was a friend of one of the actresses there. Patrick, who was Catholic, was the first decent guy I had met in a long time, and we got along great. His church meant a lot to him and I started attending church with him every Sunday morning. My parents really liked Patrick. He was good to me and he supported himself and he was a responsible person. We talked about getting married but he wasn't sure he was allowed to marry me since I had been married before. We tried to break up for a while but we really needed each other at that time in our lives. I actually began to wonder if I could become a Catholic for him. But then one day my mother told me that she didn't think she could watch me get married in a church. She said it in a nice way and I knew she really liked Patrick so it wasn't easy for her to say that. I knew being Catholic meant too much to him to ask him if he had any interest in being Jewish, although he did come with me once to a Passover seder at my Temple. I tried to find Jewish boys to go out with, but the ones I found always turned out to be big jerks. I was still trying to figure out what to do with my life, so I went to speak with the Rabbi at my Temple who had since replaced the other Rabbi. He was really nice to me but he just couldn't give me the answers I was searching for.

    And then a miracle happened, and I remembered Mount Sinai. Although Rabbi Samuels had moved away, I knew that he had a friend Rabbi Yitzchok Marcus who lived on Miami Beach. I looked up his phone number and called him. I started to babble on and on about how confused I was about being Jewish and what to do about my life, and then he said those six unforgettably beautiful words to me, "So you'll come for Yom Tov!" He went on to mention that thank G-d they had just gotten a nice big dining room table, so there would be plenty of room for guests. I was twenty years old then and it had been almost six years since I had experienced that very special soul stirring Chanuka when those caring Lubavitchers reached out to me. Why had it taken me so long to grab ahold of them?

    Whatever the reasons were, what really mattered was that when I was finally ready, they were still there waiting for me with open arms. It was a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah when I made that call to Rabbi Marcus. I didn't know then that the time during the month before Rosh Hashanah is a very special time for Jews. It is the month of Elul and it is referred to as the time when the King is in the field. This is when G-d makes Himself easier to approach and more available for us to ask Him for help. Well, I was asking, and G-d was truly answering me by making sure I found my way to exactly the right people who would help me. Thank G-d I had remembered Mount Sinai, and thank G-d He had remembered me all along.