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Holy Work in the Holy City
by Judy Lash Balint
February 18, 2005

Life in the holy city of Jerusalem can sometimes be so intense that you have to shield yourself from the power of the emotion blasted your way in order to keep things in perspective.

For the past four and a half years, occasions of such emotional intensity have generally been centered around bus and cafe bombings, associated with the difficult tasks of checking in with friends and relatives, paying hospital visits, attending funerals and paying shiva calls.

Lately, with the temporary lull (how could it be anything other than temporary when Israel is set to release 500 terrorists in the coming days,) the emotional heat has been redirected to the holy task of helping people in need in the city.

A few weeks ago, a Jerusalem writer learned of the plight of a young single mother who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union who is desperately sick from cancer. Unable to work or care for her child, lacking family support and about to undergo a heavy chemotherapy regimen, Chassia was unable to cope.

Andrea recalled that she had actually met the woman at a sukkot meal a few years ago, so she penned an emotional plea for financial assistance to help. The letter made the rounds of various e-mail lists, and within short order a significant amount of money was raised.

Meantime, in true Jerusalem fashion, a group of women form themselves into an ad hoc committee to handle the donations and tend to Chassia's escalating medical, financial and emotional needs.

Of course Chassia is not the only person in dire straits in the city, so the women decide to broaden the mitzva and put on a benefit to help other women in need.

Organized in less than two weeks, the women-only evening takes place in a bomb shelter serving as a synagogue in the central Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot. The low ceilings, small space and crowded chairs give the place the feel of an intimate night club. More than a hundred women turn up for a high intensity evening of barely contained emotions.

Maybe it's that way because almost all the performers are divorced middle-aged women and their young adult daughters. Their talent is astonishing as they open the floodgates of their pain and their passion. Chana Cohen, an accomplished songwriter and musician, sings her own compositions as her pregnant daughter provides the harmonies. A versatile keyboard and guitar player, Chana kibbitzes with MC Andrea about their recent dating experiences, and then sings of her path into the world of observant Judaism.

Andrea Simantov, the writer, carries the show with her stand-up comedy-style banter and occasional serious message about why we're there. But it's her heartfelt rendition of poignant songs about love, loss and loneliness that are overwhelmingly powerful in their raw emotion. One of Andrea's teenage daughters accompanies a song by Chana with a passionate dance routine.

Journalist Ruth Beloff lightens the atmosphere a little with a classy, polished performance of a couple of show tunes as part of the Midnight Blue duo, while veteran Jerusalem shadchanit (matchmaker) Gittel Nadel, one of the driving forces behind the benefit evening, provides words of Torah.

At the end of the evening there's wild applause and a couple of encores as the women leave on a holy high that can only be experienced in Jerusalem.
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For updates on the chesed for Chassia visit: http://chassiasfriends.blogspot.com

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