Conversations with Naomi: Sarah Leah Lawent #RIP

I have a wonderful new friend, Sara Leah Lawent, also known as @SaraLeah770 who I am getting to know on Twitter and through email. Many people are unclear about what living in Israel is all about, including me, and I am excited about having a friend in Israel. I admire and respect Sara Leah for living in Jerusalem and hope that I will meet her soon in our Land.

Naomi: If I thought I could move my Mom, we would be on the next plane to Israel to make Aliyah. But at eighty-six, I am afraid to move her. She is in pretty good health, just fragile.

Sara Leah:
I am also excited to have a new friend who seems to be so totally dedicated to the Jewish people, and who honors her mother. What a grand mitzvah you are doing. The commandment is of such importance that it appears on the side with the commandments that have to do between G-d and Man, whereas the other five deal with Man and Man, although they all are from G-d.

You ask so many questions. It is truly a pity you can't sit here, and I could make us some nice coffee, or really good coffee, when I get my little care packages from Costa Rica! And we could just sit and shmooze.

You could move your mom - but it would, indeed, be a very intense thing. First of all, she would have to want it. Second of all, her fragility – and I assume you are speaking of physical fragility mainly - but fragility in an older person also means separating him or her from everything that is familiar and that has been familiar for a very long time. If there is a mental fragility as well, it can be just a little too disorienting, and encourage isolation.

Fortunately, things in the U.S. have not YET devolved into where unchecked anti-Semitism is condoned on all fronts and even encouraged. It is not so 'fringe' at this time, but even those of the white-hooded ilk are a little more preoccupied at the moment with Jihad, etc. They have perfect target in the President, the liberal media, and making sure their trailers aren't repossessed, to keep them busy from attending to us Jews 100% of their time.

There is still great danger out there, and only those who refuse to look at history can possibly stay in denial. Seeing as no one is yet required to wear a yellow star or being denied entry into a park because they are Jewish, and I repeat YET, your mother having to pick up and adjust to such a totally different way and standard of life, including language - it is understandable that this would be a reason to not make Aliyah right away. Of course, that is logic. My heart and soul say, "This is your place. This is your mother's place - even more so! Come! This is a Jew's place. To be with other Jews in the Land G-d gave us."

Naomi: I really want to take conversational Hebrew. I read Hebrew very well, but need to learn to speak. There aren't any free classes here. Did you speak Hebrew before you arrived in Israel?

Sara Leah:
Hebrew: well, when I first made Aliyah - in 1973 (during the Yom Kippur War), I could read with vowels, very slowly - mostly from a siddur. I had some vague memory of the Rashi alphabet, from Talmud Torah. I knew how to conjugate a couple of simple verbs - sort of. And I knew that the vav preceding the verb in the Tanach; changed past to present or present to past. That was kind of it. I spent the first two years basically refusing to speak English when I could get away with it. I limited my contact with Anglos, and I refused to help Israelis with their English. I was on kibbutz for the first few years, which kind of helped matters. I was secular at the time.

As you know, immersion is the best teacher. At present, you are not in Jerusalem, but the States. However, in many universities, and even in some of the Jewish learning programs at various synagogues and JCC's, there are conversational Hebrew classes. These days, it is not so difficult to find these taught by Israelis, so even the pronunciation and accent is a happening thing. I'd suggest you join one of these classes. It will start to give you a chance to gain vocabulary, to use your knowledge from reading, and to just get out there and be understood - mistakes and all. Then, if you can find lectures in Hebrew - go. Even if you don't understand the majority of it, you will pick out more and more words.

At one point, the kibbutzim used to have learning centers - you could take theatre or sociology or art, etc. - like a free university. It was for self-improvement, and kibbutzim in a particular area would have a center and one day a week, these classes would be given. It was elective - an activity for those who wanted it. I took theatre improv. I'd been a Theatre major at the U of W. I took spoken Arabic, let's not even go there right now; and I did take Sociology. There was text, which was too difficult, and lectures. Between the two, plus the fact that I'd covered this 101-type course in the States, I was able to improve my reading and my vocabulary. It was a great help.

Naomi: I would love to hear more about your Aliyah and your life. Do you feel safe, secure? Tell me about your daughter, your life.

Sara Leah:
My Aliyah story is filled with stories and annecdotes. Everyone has a story. Some are funny; some are bittersweet; some are downright sour. I would say that what sums it up, and makes me smile, is a Jewish Agency poster from that time. It was a bunch of rose plants – just the stems and thorns...and the quote was 'We Never Promised You A Rose Garden'. I loved it. You have to come not because of what the government might give you, or because you agree or disagree with the politics – none of that. You come because you must come. You are a Jew. It is your place. Where else should you struggle and argue and laugh and smile and grumble and object and all the things a person does during his life. There is the Yiddish saying: 'You can't control the winds, but you can adjust the sails'

Do I feel safe? Safer than anywhere else on Earth. It is the Ebeshter who determines all. But we have a covenant with Him. He promised us this Land. Before Sinai there wasn't a mandate to perform the mitzvot. The forefathers did so, but there was no kedusha in the things they used. Isaac could put on tefillin that he's made, and after praying, throw them away. The things, themselves, weren't holy. After Sinai, it was mandated of us, and therefore there were things themselves which took on holiness. The Sanctuary was holy – but the ground upon where it was set up was only Holy as long as the Sanctuary, the Mishkan was there. After it would be dismantled, the ground where it had stood reverted to its previous status. Not so with Eretz Yisroel. The Land itself has this. The Temple was permanent and also imbued the Land. The destruction of the Temple; even Jews being sent into galus – this didn't remove the Holiness of the Land.

Do I feel safe? You betcha. Destruction can come to any place at any time. But this is my place – our place. I am as safe as I am anywhere in this world, if not safer.

I am a single mom. This, too, is a long story. Everyone has at least one, right? And I have a remarkable young lady for a daughter. I am totally blessed. I didn't have good relations with my mother, but I did with her mother, strangely enough. In oh, so many ways, I was truly a child of the 60s - and I am in awe that G-d has blessed me with such a bright, beautiful, respectful, Chassidishe daughter. In fact, she actually thanks me almost everyday for the relationship we have. She takes the time to tell me how it kind of weirds her out that some girls think that because she comes from a single-parent home, that she 'gets' not having good communication with her mom/parents, or the tragedies of divorce, etc.

My kid says to me that I am always there for her, that I make whatever we have where we have it seem like home. She thanks me for letting her decorate her room so it has a little of her flavor. She says I'm over protective, but that she understands it, because there is so much bad out there. She pays attention to the little things. Some of her friends are amazed at the laughter that passes between us, with me still remaining her mom first, and her friend. More important I'm her mom; she can make friends, if we had to choose.

On Shabbosim when we don't have to go out, and quite often we have to refuse invites because we want to stay home.We always have niggunim, and Torah, the parsha and sichos of the Rebbe. We have good food, and we daven, and we sleep and talk and laugh. And Shabbos afternoon, we daven mincha, and we learn another sicha. And Friday nites, after kiddush, she goes out for an hour because there is a group of Lubavitch girls in the area - and they learn a sicha together. We are in a very chareidi area, but Lubavitch's shul and most of the Lubabs are about a ten minute walk away. We have a GREAT shabbos. We also love being with our friends.

My daughter is in her first year of high school, at the Lubavitch high school, Bais Chana, here in Jerusalem. She is doing very well, kn'h. B"H, she has decided to really apply herself this year. She has had a struggle to adjust to life here - as you can imagine.

Naomi: Where were you before you arrived in Israel?

Sara Leah:
We lived in Costa Rica for six years before coming here, and were in Eugene, OR for the six years before that. There was a very small frum community in San Jose, Costa Rica, and aside from the shluchim and another family or two, no other Lubabs. The shul we went to was the Chabad House - and this is a kiruv community, which is different than just living in a  Brooklyn-style , mchassidishe community. We went from six years there, to two weeks in Crown Heights, by friends for gimmel tammuz, and then off to Israel. She was twelve. Aside from davening and learning chumash, she didn't really speak any Hebrew. She understood some because I'd chatter away with Israelis all the time, so her ear picked up. After all, she had already learned Spanish in Costa Rica. She has a talent for languages it seems. She has been teaching herself Japanese.

All was green in Costa Rica. All was brown and hot and humid here. We were in Kiryat Malachi, by relatives of friends from Crown Heights.  Then - Jerusalem. Mehadrin buses. Stricter rules. The school being able to have input into what is permissable, even out of school, like, no jean skirts – ever! And she was put directly in a school - all Hebrew all the time. Learning Torah, and geometry and chassidus, and she pulled it off. She has received much support and help from Kollel Chabad, in that they have provided her, and still do, with tutoring help, etc.

The Lubab community here is - I have no words. The best thing! In our neighborhood it is not very Anglo - which one of the reasons I chose the neighborhood. I really, really like the Israeli mindset better than American. Go figure.

So, my daughter went thru a time where she was depressed, closed herself up, and got into some trouble and acted out a little. Surprise, surprise.  Note: trouble and acting out means she didn't hand in all her homework on time, didn't join into class discussion, and skipped a math class. She didn't start smoking or something. But we worked through it together. I know she treasures this fact, and it is very gratifying. Because you have to realize it is also extra pressure to be the kid of a Baal Tshuvah.

But--B"H, B"H, B"H - she decided that she would really apply herself to not only her studies, but life in general, in high school; she would return to being the top student she always had been. She also decided she didn't want to be one of 'those girls who go off the path' or who are considered at risk. She works on being honest with herself and dealing with it. She asks questions and studies, and joins into things. For instance, she is shy of meeting people, but she forced herself to go out there an join into things and to make friends and to spend a little time out of books.

And she writes...oh my, Naomi..she has a gift. She is writing a novel filled with characters and fantasies and entire worlds that she has built and is comfortable walking around in, since she was little. And I mean - I have worried at times when I've heard laughter and animated talking coming from a room where there was only her. But she knows the difference – she hasn't truly gotten 'lost'. She is well-adjusted (B”H). She just has this amazing imagination. She has spent a lot of time alone and with herself. She apparently has used some of this time to invent these characters and nurture them and they have, as she says, at times they have taken on a life of their own - but she knows they are characters. She has been working and re-working this story and she is learning how to really write. I so hope she will be able to finish this project.

She wants to work in Kiruv; to help the Jewish people not be afraid to discover their roots. She wants to travel. She wants to be a marine biologist. She wants to eventually have a family. She wants to learn and learn. She is softer spoken, where I am not anymore. Ahhh, well,...enough - you get the idea. Hashem has blessed me greatly.

Naomi: Twitter is fun, wild, crazy! How long have you been tweeting?

Sarah Leah
: I signed onto Twitter last year, during the Mumbai massacre. I somehow found out how to sign onto Twitter, and looked for streaming TV coverage, radio - whatever I could find on my computer. Although I'm not too computer savvy right now, I was even less then. I don't have a TV in the house. I have become frum in the last ten years and we don't look at this stuff.

In fact, internet is not considered a good thing at all here for the religious, or ultra-orthodox, community. However, people are always coming and asking if they can get an e-mail sent to my account or something - they trust I am not the type who is watching movies, etc, and that I am a frum yid, and that I work and look for work, and learn Yiddishkeit, etc. online, and am not partaking the trashy secular stuff.

Anyway, after this tragedy of Mumbai, I didn't really get further involved in Twitter. I didn't really get it. I still don't know how to manage what I have, and haven't really honed in on what I'd like to do with it, so that in itself leaves me kind of limited. I mostly post Jewish-oriented things. I don't seem to have had the knack to get involved in dialogue with individuals too much, except to get up on a soapbox.. Plus, there are so many Tweets coming in. I just don't have the time or the mental capacity to read and respond to all that comes in on a daily basis. I recently installed Tweetdeck - and I am overwhelmed by just looking at it. Thank G-d I figured out how to go into the settings and get rid of that idiotic tweetie sound every time something comes in!

Of course, it has led me to be in better contact with people like David Appletree and Noah David Simon and a few others - including you!

I never understood the thing of going into chat rooms before the Facebook and Twitter options became so huge - and I now see that this is exactly what it is. But, like with the other chat room environments, great danger can exist. I don't understand people who allow their children online into this stuff. There are predators out there. There is foul language and images. A single, computer-savvy person can build a website that looks like the vitual version of the Smithsonian, but is actually some unwashed person off their meds who is putting out hate or perversity or trash. You can be made to believe that a sixty-five year old person is fourteen, and the opposite. You can see 'proof' that there is beachfront real estate in Arizona. As we can and do see, on a daily basis, there are enough so-called adults who prove that all that's gray isn't necessarily matter. into

Naomi: Would you be so kind as to provide a little glossary for our non- Jewish readers? There are a few that I would like clarified also.
Sara Leah: Sure, sometimes it isn't just the gentiles who don't understand.

Aliyah: Moving to Israel.

Mitzvah: A commandment; a good deed.

Tanach: Hebrew acronym for Torah, Neviim, K'tuvim - the Five Books of Moses, Prophets, and the other Writings

Daven: To pray

Mincha: The afternoon prayers

Sicha: A Torah discourse by the Rebbe

Chumash: Torah – the Five Books of Moses

Kiddush: Sanctification. The rite of blessing the wine and/or challaot before eating Shabbat and Yom Tov feasts.

Chareidi: Ultra-orthodox Jews, from the root for G-dfearing.

Frum: Religious/orthodox, from the root for G-dfearing.

Schluchim: Emissaries In the case of Chabad, these are the emissaries of the Rebbe who work throughout the world to enable Jews to explore their roots and, hopefully, return to Torah.

Gimmel tammuz: The 3rd day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, which commemorates the yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Kiruv: From the word to bring something closer. It is used as the word for 'outreach' - but we don't reach out to evangelize anyone. It is the act of helping to bring a Jew closer to his roots.

B"H: Baruch Hashem – meaning, Thank G-d. Nothing is without G-d, and so we thank Him for every and all things, and at every juncture of our lives. Nothing is too small.

Naomi: Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. I hope we can do a follow up soon!

What has evolved from a tweet to an email, has forged a beautiful friendship.
This is certainly my pleasure to share this with all of you!

You can catch Sara Leah on Jerusalem time @SaraLeah770

Sarah Leah Lawent
Jerusalem, Israel