When seven year-old Ariel tearfully ran into the kitchen complaining of pain it was his younger brother Shalom who came to the rescue. “Should I get you something to learn so you will feel better?” asked the six year old?
“One child received comfort and the other one knew exactly what would comfort him,” their mother Rachel marveled. Their comfort came from Torah. “They breathe it, they eat it, they drink it. It is our children who inspire us to continue.”
Rachel Factor and her husband Tuvia are continuing the extraordinary journey that began five years ago when they made aliyah.
“In these five years we’ve grown tremendously in our spiritually.” And just as their observance of mitzvos has increased, their family has also grown to include four-year old Avigail and fourteen month old Rivka Chaya. The children remained home with their father in Jerusalem while Rachel toured the United States recently with her one-woman show, Becoming Rich: Struggling with Emunah and Bitachon.
This is Rachel’s third show and reflects her profound and growing connection to Judaism as she weaves together songs and dances suffused with the words of tehillim. It is evident by her emotional performance that the psalms continue to inspire and guide her along her journey.
Rachel, formerly Japanese-American actress Christine Hori, made the difficult decision to give up her successful career as a performer when she converted to Judaism and embraced an observant lifestyle. But as the saying goes, when one door closes another opens. This one opened on a center for the performing arts.
It began with a letter from a woman who confided in Rachel that she felt stifled because she could not use her creative talents. Deeply touched by this woman’s dilemma, she recognized the need for a place where Jewish women and girls could engage their creative energies and so Rachel created a program sensitive to those needs.
After a successful fundraising tour with her first one-woman show, J.A.P., she founded HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam to provide a setting where the performing arts promote the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of women in accordance with Torah values. “Tradition teaches us that we use music and dance for praise to Hakodesh Baruch Hu.” Rachel observed.
Rachel finds it especially rewarding to work with teenage girls who are increasingly pulled in a secular direction. “They understand that this is a world I knew intimately but found empty and rejected in favor of a life rich in emunah and bitachon. So by my example I give them an extra shot of inspiration.”
The overwhelming popularity of HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam, located in Rechavia, encouraged Rachel to fill another void and found the Dance and Touring Summer Camp Program. Now in its fourth year the four week camp, for girls 9th through 12th grades, combines dance, drama, and touring Eretz Yisroel, culminating in a performance in a Jerusalem theater written, performed and produced by the students.
When Rachel’s husband, Tuvia, enrolled in Medresh Shmuel in the Sharei Chesed community in Jerusalem, another door opened. “HaRav Binyomin Moskovits, the Rosh Yeshiva who is a dedicated educator, was so impressed with the success of our performing arts program he approached me about starting a seminary for girls.”
The request was daunting. She was already playing several other roles: director of both HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam and the summer camp as well as kollel wife and the mother of four. How could she possibly take on the tremendous responsibility of a seminary that would also require another fundraising tour?
The answer is contained in a song from her show that echoes the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. “The world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing to recall is not to be afraid.” Convinced by Rabbi Moskovits that in today’s world extra curricular activities significantly facilitate learning, Rachel agreed to open yet another door and become the performing arts director of Midreshes Shmuel.
Under the direction of Rabbi Moskovits, this innovative post high school program will provide morning learning, an afternoon arts program and an evening option of either learning or life skills classes. Rachel points out that this will include subjects that have been lacking in most seminaries but are vital for teaching young women how to run a home including basic culinary instruction, home finance, and time management and budgeting.
Rachel approaches this new challenge with the energy and enthusiasm formerly reserved for her acting, dancing and modeling days. But the woman who once stood on the Broadway stage and held in her hands the script for the hit, Miss Saigon, now looks out on a different landscape as she lovingly cradles the book of tehillim and recites psalm 128. “May Hashem bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem all the days of your life.”
For more information about these programs go to: Bnoscamp.org or call: 718-213-4585.
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of the acclaimed anthology, Like The Stars of The Heavens. To contact the author please go to: helenschwimmer.com