Finding Her Voice
Updated: Oct 14
By GREER FAY CASHMAN (As it appeared in a supplement to the Jerusalem Post, "In Jerusalem")
During this coronavirus era, there are people who accept the situation in the belief that eventually this too shall pass, and others who are stir-crazy and look for any excuse to leave the house and socialize - even if they can’t hug friends or pump flesh.
This was evident last week by the turnout at the book launch of Jodi Samuels’s semi-autobiographical book Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine.
There were quite a few gate-crashers, as passersby curious as to what was happening poked their noses inside the open gateway and then followed with their feet. Some stayed, others walked around, partook of the refreshments and left. There were also a lot of invitees who preferred to participate long distance and watch the proceedings live on Facebook.
The cover of the book shows Samuels sitting on top of a globe of the world. The choice of illustration is not surprising; South African-born Samuels and her husband, Gavin, along with their three children, have traveled to 87 countries and lived in 20 apartments in nine cities in five countries.
The book is not only about their geographical travels, but also of their spiritual journey that led to amazing insights and self-discovery, but perhaps most important to acquaintance and friendship with people whose personal life styles are daily examples of tikkun olam - repairing the world.
Both the author and her husband grew up in secular families in South Africa. They met by a chance on a street corner in Jerusalem because he happened to be lost and asked her for directions. It was a prime example of finding one’s way by losing one’s way.
Samuels, who is far from backward in coming forward, told those at her book launch that she used to be a shy little girl who was afraid to open her mouth. That began to change in tandem
with the change in her Jewish identity. Fortunately her husband was on the same track, and they gradually became religiously observant together, and today are Modern Orthodox.
What caused Samuels to really find her voice was the birth of daughter Caila, who was born with down syndrome but has an average IQ, and is not in any way mentally deficient. The problem was that society tends to look at down syndrome youngsters with a certain degree of
antipathy and begrudges them inclusion into mainstream activities.
Samuels would not change the sweet-tempered Caila for the world, but she would change the world for Caila.
In her travels, Samuels has picked up a couple of academic degrees and has worked in business management, start-ups, fashion and beauty enterprises and also in the not-for-profit sector.
Based on her own positive experiences, she initiated the Jewish International Connection, which has a membership of more than 10,000 people in 40 plus countries. This is one of the many activities in which she is currently involved.
During the years of their marriage, she and her husband frequently visited Israel and for 23 years kept planning to make aliyah, but there was always something in the way that took their attention, until eventually in 2014, they decided that this was it.
For Samuels, who many years earlier had already found her voice, living in Israel, where she had studied before her marriage, was “a huge adjustment.” The last place she’d lived in before aliyah was New York, where she had been a real somebody who was frequently in demand to be heard. Then suddenly in Israel, she was a nobody.
That situation has since been amended.
But Samuels, who likes face-to-face contact, is frustrated by the fact that coronavirus has put a damper on her ability to lecture, conduct workshops and lead groups on trips abroad. She’s willing to do whatever possible on Zoom, but it’s not the same as being in the same room with someone or riding on the same tour bus.
She might write a sequel to her book, as her journey is far from over, but considering that it took her five years to complete Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine, it’s not something that she feels compelled to tackle immediately.
She was fortunate in that her husband, who shared that journey, was also her editor-in-chief and could therefore jog her memory and make corrections where necessary.
Meanwhile, people who know her will get to know her better still if they buy the book.
You can view more details about Jodi's new Book, Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine and buy the book online here.