Jerusalem, Israel - Aug. 24, 2020 - When Chava Fachler z"l opened up her door to shelter a South African student stranded in London, she could not have imagined where her hospitality would lead. That "wayward teenager traipsing around the world" Jodi Samuels, with her husband Gavin Samuels would go on to host thousands of guests, from New Zealand and Outback Australia to New York City, and now in Jerusalem.
Jodi Samuels dedicated her new book, "Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine: The Journey of an Unstoppable Woman" to Chava Fachler z"l - the "Mother of all Mothers."
I also lived in Australia and New York, and know many of the people involved in her journey, but our paths did not cross until 2015 when Jodi joined with Janglo's Zev Stub to host a Speed Networking event in Jerusalem.
Her story, with its ups and downs, begins as a child from a Jewish, but not religious, South African home and background, and ends as a modern Orthodox author, connector, speaker, non-profit leader, world traveler, community activist, special needs advocate, wife, and mother.
Jodi retells being held up at gunpoint in South Africa and states: "Hamas was our aliyah shaliach." The rocket attacks of Hamas on a visit to Israel inspired the Samuels to make aliyah from their established and comfortable lives in New York City.
"When we arrived in New York City in 2000, we quickly realized the need for a home away from home for Jews who had moved to New York from outside of the US. We started hosting holiday dinners and Shabbat meals and organizing community events for people who didn’t have family in the city. This eventually led to me establishing Jewish International Connection New York (JICNY) with my husband Gavin and Steve Eisenberg. Our organization has a network of thousands of Jews throughout New York City and has expanded to Israel since we made aliyah in 2014," recounted Jodi to BJL.
However, besides her many communal and business activities, the birth of their third child, Caila, with Down Syndrome, spurred Jodi on a new track to become a special needs advocate.
"Look how beautiful she is, I can see the light in her eyes," observed Gavin, "she is going to be fine - take it one day at a time." Very true words to live by, as Caila recently celebrated her corona downsized Bat Mitzvah in Jerusalem.
Living by the mantra "Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful." Jodi lists four "L's" to live by: 1. Live - going out every night. 2. Love - setting aside time for family and friends. 3. Learn - keeping the brain engaged. 4. Laugh - finding humor in every situation even if laughing at my self.
With the drastic COVID-19 restrictions, I wondered how the Samuels managed without guests. "Our immediate need for guests was partially solved when a stranded South African family, unable to get on a flight back to Johannesburg, asked if they could stay for a few days and landed up hunkering down with us for 12 weeks, including Pesach and Israel’s Independence Day," Jodi responded.
She added, "I am a "Baal-teshuva", so I deeply appreciate every moment of my modern Orthodox life. My journey to returning to my heritage was intentional and, after I embraced Judaism’s value system and worldview, I wanted to help make it accessible for others. Our home is a comfortable place for guests ranging from the most learned Torah scholars to the completely secular and even non-Jews."
Older daughter Temira summed up the Samuels' home life. "Open doors and open minds. When we aren’t traveling the world, we are bringing the world to us. And hopefully, our light shines a little brighter to them as well."
Chava Fachler's proud legacy lives on in the Samuels family.
The trials and tribulations of traveling the world with a young family, obtaining a good Jewish education for a special needs child, and making aliyah and adjusting to life in Jerusalem, good and bad times are all recorded in this book. Son Ronen has started learning in a hesder yeshiva and is joining the IDF. The Samuels family has embarked on its newest trek, which should provide Jodi with plenty of new material for the next chapters from this "unstoppable woman."
Title: Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine: The Journey of an Unstoppable Woman
Publisher: Emek Valley Press ISBN US: 978-965-599-264-9 Israeli:978-965-599-254-0
Pages: 144 Price: Paperback: $12.95 US, Kindle $3.99