When I lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, I was a young, newly married American. Transplanted like a tree in the desert. It was a challenge to feel at home even within me, myself and I.
I felt like a lost girl.
As a creatively driven soul, I knew that I needed to be involved with the process of doing or creating something that I loved and filled me with a sense of accomplishment. If I could pour myself into one of my passions, I had a chance to start feeling like myself again. After a healthy dose of soul searching and asking around, the phone rang...
It was Rebecca Shore, an accomplished artist and teacher in the neighborhood.
Seemed that one of Rebecca's (many, beautiful) children needed a little help with reading.
As a trained Montessori school teacher, my passion for helping children to find their inner potential was just the thing I needed to add some me back into well, me.
And so there I was, floating in on my Mary Poppins umbrella, to whisk 6 yo Simcha away to my quiet apartment where, a few times a week, he could be the only child, the focus of all my attention, and free to figure out who he was outside of the context of his beautiful yet large and outspoken family. Oh, and practice reading too...
That very first session, I showed up ready to charm. In order for Simcha to make any progress, he would need to actually want to spend time with me. If he didn't like me, well, we'd be up a creek without a paddle.
As Rebecca, made all the necessary introductions, Simcha looked at me wearily. Chin down, eyes up, razor sharp, searching my face (maybe reading my soul) trying to decide if he was gonna play along with our plan.
He wasn't sure right away... There was a little convincing that needed to be done. But, with my Masters in "child charming", I was hopeful I could win this kid over.
Eventually, our weekly meetings took place without too much cajoling. We practiced reading, Simcha helped me with my Hebrew vocabulary and all was great!
Then one night, I met with Rebecca and a few other child development professionals to discuss our Simcha, compare notes and pow-wow. I was excited to celebrate Simcha's progress and sure it would be a night of joyful congratulations.
But, it wasn't.
Taking place mostly in (fast) Hebrew, I found myself a little slow on the uptake but, by the hunched shoulders, frequent sighing and the exhausted hand-on-forehead slump of everyone else at the table, I knew the conversation was one of frustration and tired, "now what" style despair.
It was time for me to cautiously play my chime. Interestingly, from my observations, Simcha was accomplishing every task set before him; with flying colors... The members of this round table were skeptically surprised to hear of his success. Then why couldn't (wouldn't?) he read at school? What gives?
I needed a new goal, a fresh perspective.
See, Simcha needed to feel his own self worth, pride and just plain ol' happiness. After all, that's what his name means. He needed to be shown the light that I could see in his eyes. But, instead he felt small and wanted to be invisible. He hid from everything and everyone, even himself.
I had an idea. Perhaps Simcha, the son of two very talented artists and visionaries, had inherited an artists spirit. If so, he needed to feel the earned confidence and pride that can only come from producing works of art; the result of soulful expression. I could relate.
I wasn't sure Simcha would go along with my new plan. For a young child, he had a very strong opinion about what he would or would not take part in. But, I had a feeling about this. By now I knew Simcha. I knew he saw and was intrigued by the beauty in even the simplest things. This would be an adventure.
So, making sure to put the strap aound his little wrist, I quietly handed Sim my camera. His expression will forever be a sweet spot in my mind. The perfect mixture of "WOW!!!" and, "you suuuuure about this?" I smiled and just said, "let's go."
He took off running.
Snap snap snap! The instant gratification of my digital camera filled Simcha with immediate accomplishment. And the kid had an eye!
From Simcha's first photo shoot
There were so many amazing shots that we made a photo book as a gift for Simcha's parents and grandparents. They were over the m-o-o-on with pride.
And so was Sim. Filled with the pride of his accomplishments, he stood taller, smiled with greater ease... and even did better in school. It was amazingly beautiful to witness and my heart sang for him with happiness!
This part of our mission had been accomplished and, just in time too. My first daughter was born, and as a result, my time with Simcha came to an end. I mean, we still saw each other around town, but my walks were now being taken with a baby stroller in front and l, as a new mother in a foreign land, I had a lot to learn.
Soon after our daughter was born, we put our worldly belongings on a boat and ourselves on a plane. We moved back to the States to take a teaching position in DC.
We said goodbye to the cobble stoned streets, stroller driven shopping trips and ancient homes of the Old City and hello to city life in DC.
And I lost track of Simcha. Occasionally, my mind would stroll down those Old City streets at night as I fell asleep. I visited my friends with my heart and mind, and wondered how they were... wondered about Simcha.
Fastforward about 6 years...
I now had another daughter in addition to my Israeli born babe. We went on a trip to visit family in NJ. My in-laws had been to Israel for Passover, enjoyed a Seder at the Shore family home, and had a little envelope to give me.
Now, I should have waited to open it until I was, well, not immersed in a crowd of family.... but I couldn't wait. I was so curious and for some reason, taken by suprise by the contents of this little package.
First, a letter.
I started reading innocently enough - having no idea the trip my head and heart were about to take. You see, for a teacher, nothing is more beautiful then getting a glimpse of your student's successes... after you have released them back into the wild. That's just what this letter showed me. Simcha was thriving!
As I read his beautifully written words on the page, they crept inside my heart and started pulling on those strings. A rush of sweetness, of pride and real joy. How appropriate that the Hebrew word for this kind of happiness is, you guessed it, Simcha. He was all there, and I was completely overcome to learn that Simcha was still taking pictures. He sent me some in this envelope too... I wish I could show them to you... They took my breath away.
I was lost for a bit in tears of this very pure Simcha, real and sweet happiness. It took the form of tears which soaked my hands as I hid my face from the onlookers that curiously watched as I dissolved.
These days, thanks to the Facebook universe, Simcha and I are still in touch. I get the pleasure of seeing his work and watching him live his teenage life of adventure. It's a real thrill to see his actualized potential.
And now... Because you've taken this journey with us, lemme introduce you to the Simcha of today, and his stunning work.
My Dearest Simcha,
While it's true that I handed you your first photography experience, YOU are the one who literally took the opportunity and ran with it! I'm so proud of everything that you are doing and, always remember that you have a beautiful and divine talent! If you ever find yourself feeling distance from... yourself, just pour your heart and soul into your passion and you'll feel whole soon enough.
All my love and pride,
Skip to this... (But you can call me Ilana 😊).
Go visit Simcha Shore's Insta page.... So much beauty to share.
Thats right, it'll SWOON you!