Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Julia and Rena

Valentines Day is in full swing at Van Nuys Public School in Northern Los Angeles.

Two Mexican students are kissing by a car decked with flowers.

Nearly every student is walking around with a heart balloon.

The cement feels the slow pounding of my shoes as we make our way through classroom buildings, on route to the school’s small Jewish Club, which meets on Wednesdays at lunch time.

I hear rap music blasting from the lawn.

A girl is leaned up against a wall crying, and no one is paying attention.

The very strides of the students passing by reek of television.

The multi-cultural faces around me are cold and foreign.

I haven’t felt this out of place in a while. A part of me wants to turn around and run, but the purpose behind our arrival moves me forward.

And still, one question takes up all the space in my mind.

In L.A.’s oasis of Jewish life, what are Jewish kids doing here?


We entered the classroom, where young faces gave some shape to our mission.

After being introduced as a JSU guest speaker, I face the classroom.

Out of about fifteen kids, eight are boys. And some of the girls aren’t even Jewish.

It’s very nerve-racking to speak to a group knowing that only a possible few are likely candidates for what you have to offer. But I opened my mouth and the words just came. Although the Bais Chana experience far exceeds even the most splendid description, I managed to paint a picture of all the fun and all the learning that would fill a unique President’s Day weekend.

Afterwards, we hung out to try and talk to the girls. The girls that were there all had weekend plans. One had volleyball practice. One had a dad’s birthday. One just couldn’t miss school.

But we weren’t going to take “no” from everyone.

Towards the right of the room, two girls were together studying the postcards we had handed out. We approached them and started talking. They were somewhat interested, and needed to present it to their parents. Acknowledging the limit to our efforts, we exchanged numbers, and told them we’d be in touch.

When we returned to the car, I sat down and sighed – a little overwhelmed. My friend examined a new scratch on our car as I sat inside with a lump in my throat. My eyes grazed the shallow scene from the parking lot as I silently prayed that the Jewish students at Van Nuys High School are blessed with everything they need to vitalize their Jewish identity and express it with true pride.

Only hours later, we are driving on the freeway when we get a call. It’s one of the girls from the school. She wants to sign up, and so does her friend.

Suddenly, our car is bursting with enough joy to fill a wedding, to last a lifetime. It was extraordinary. With my hand over my heart, I looked at my friend and felt my eyes twinkling.


The program is now over.

Over the past days, no girl was left untouched by the beauty, intelligence, and warmth of Judaism.

Julia and Rena have since returned to their public school with knowledge, clarity, pride, and inspiration that exceeds the teenager with even the best Jewish education. They are not going back as the same people that left on Thursday. There is a recharged soul glowing within that can take on anything.

I am grateful to have a Rebbe that sends us marching into unfamiliar territory. Two Jewish girls now know that they belong - all because we walked into a place where we felt we didn't.


Tzippy said...

Hey Mimi your stuff is awesome when is the book coming out?? All the best

wow said...

Oh my gosh,

Shloim said...

It's great to finally see the full story. Beautiful Mim. You and Eli are great Shluchas. Keep up the great work. One step at a time, you are bringing spirituality down to this world.

I am so proud to have you for a sister.

Thinking of you...


Nemo said...

Thanks for the inspiration... I'm going public school visiting next week to talk about Purim.

the sabra said...

1, why would u be sad? rebbe story w/ bochur on mivtzoyim, woman lookin from window....
2, rena frummisized her name to rina? huh?
3, hatzlacha rabba in ur positive work
4, interesting that u write that their very strides 'reek of television'. im trying to decide if i like it or if the scent association is throwing me off, discouraging me from embracing this potentially wonderful line.

Anonymous said...

Mimi!!!! wow... i dont know what to say! thankyou for writing it up... for spreading the inspiration nd encouragement!
lots of love, Simi

Mimi said...


Sad? Huh?

And it was a typo, clearly - why would Rina be the "frummisized" version of Rena?!

Pondering the television line?

This is the strangest comment I have ever recieved from you, and it lacked the usual exclamation points, but I'll get over it :)

Exuncly said...

Mimi - I really enjoyed this post. A while ago I had to present a paper about myself to school. It's an overwhelming task - what to write that says everything important about you in 2 double-spaced pages? At first I was tempted (as I think everyone is) to go for the global: "Here's everything about me in a nutshell, starting from when I was 3." But a teacher wisely advised me to focus on one moment in my life, one specific instance that represents me and to write about that. I don't know what the school thinks about the paper, but I've shown it to a few (critical) friends who love it. It's interesting, it flows well and that one story says a lot about my personality.

My point is that last time when you wanted to write about Bais Chana you wrote about how too huge it is to talk about. Somehow this one post gives me a better feeling of what you experienced, even though it's missing 90% of the experience. It captures the essence of a feeling you had. An interesting read, it flows well...well-expressed!

Mimi said...


You make a good point. I plan on writing more Bais Chana tidbits. It's juut that everytime I REALLY write about it, it feels too personal to put up on a blog. But expect to see more, even if it leaves out 90%.

Do I know you?

Your paper idea is getting me thinking, "what would I write?" Hmm.

Thanks so much for sharing, and for the encouragement.

- M

yoniQua said...

hey mimi

the sabra said...

maybe someone hacked into my account?
but no, it was me
strangest comment?
well i write how i feel
sometimes, often, im overwhelmed and in LOVE with ur writing and speech will be too limiting, hence the forty thousand exclamation marks.
and other times, what you write is good. so i can write back how i feel.

i guess everyone is different...

Someone else said...

This reminds me of times when I go places and do similar attepts... and sometimes you feel that you didnt make a difference and at times you see the sparkle in someone's eyes or see the process begin. Reading this gives me strength to go on in this direction and helps me feel that I'm not the only one doing it! Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mimi- Chevie here. Whatcha up to these days? U still live in CH?

Mimi said...

Hi Chevie, home in Seattle now, but YUP - still living in da hood :). Working for Bais Chana, and other random (writing/editing) things here and there. What's up? E-mail me if ya need anything. I get your e-mails, and love 'em! Keep it up, see ya soon.

Anonymous said...

wow!! chizku V'imtzu

Rochel said...

WOW! what a nice story. i know that the wrong word 2 use cuz this cannot be described simply as a story but it certainly paases on some chizuk!
Beis chana relly soounds like a wonderful place. i hear the love & warmth for have 4 it when speaking 2 ppl that have been there
like the rebbe once sed in yechidus
"a snowball effect"

Exuncly said...

Oh, Mimi, we go waaay to Joe

Mimi said...

Exuncly - Huh? Joe? I'm sure I was supposed to get that, but I'm confused! (e-mail me?)

Anonymous said...

Oh Mim, You brought tears to my eyes. Keep shining in your unique kind of way!!!