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Of Hearts,​ Hope ... Tearful History

March 12, 2009 By: By:
Sherri Mandell
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It is not a consolation prize, but the consolance price that readers and theater-goers can take with them when viewing the searing stage adaptation of Sherri Mandell's The Blessing of a Broken Heart: While Mandell suffered the ultimate mother's tragedy -- the loss of her son -- she did not, fortunately, suffer a loss of words.

And it is those words -- a prose poem scripted by the heart -- that makes "Blessing" just that, a mitzvah for and from a mother of a slain 13-year-old whose words work the pain that permeated her heart.

Koby Mandell's life was terminated by terrorists in Israel; on a day he decided to play hooky from school and was hanging out with a friend near home, the two boys were met and slain by a band of Palestinians.

Book as band-aid? It is a rhyme and reason that resonates throughout Mandell's mournful yet hopeful haiku of the heart, whose theatrical version is to be staged on Thursday, March 19, at Temple Sinai in Dresher (www. kobymandellfoundationphiladelphia.ticketleap.com).

The one-woman show of a million mothers marching orders to never forget is supported in part through a community partnership grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Kehillah of Bux-Mont Council.

"I feel like my heart has stopped: This moment is the moment that will stand as forever in my heart," wrote Mandell in her book.

The pain screams from the page onto the stage where Mandell -- portrayed by Lisa Robbins -- robs the air of its breath and the moment of its sense of time passing, as eternity etches its endless enigma when a mother, born in the United States, settled with family in Israel, loses a son to a worldless heart.

On the mend?

"Some broken hearts do not mend," says the mother/writer, forever in that order, reflecting on the tragedy nearly 18 years ago. "The loss of a child you don't recover from. But being broken-hearted, as Rebbe Nachman said, is not the same as being sad or depressed. Being broken-hearted means that you will live with an acute awareness of the vulnerability of life, and you search for God in your life."

The search has traveled from the cave where Koby was killed to the cavernous reaches of the universe. Going for broke is going for the healing.

"There is nothing so whole as a broken heart because one's perspective has a greater truth and a more intimate knowledge of the permutations of suffering and joy," says the writer.

Joy to the world from the jagged despair of death?

"There are bad guys and there are good guys," says Mandell, "and it is important not to forgive the bad guys, not to excuse them or rationalize their behavior because they are in 'despair.'

"Despair does not give you permission to murder."

Death does give permission to grieve. And grief is girded by great faith, with Judaism juxtaposed between the here and now, and then of 18 years ago: "I have more faith as a result of Koby's murder because, afterwards, I felt that God was sending me symbolic messages that connected me to my son."

Her memoirs have connected to so many. Have they threaded her own present to the past?

"Sometimes," she reasons, "craft does mediate in a way the rawness and horror of Koby's murder."

And Broken Heart breaks away from the maudlin to the meaningful. What would this global reaction have meant for Koby?

"The thing that would have given him the most pleasure is meeting [baseball legend] Cal Ripken, [who] was honored with the Koby Mandell Foundation Humanitarian Award because Cal was one of his heroes."

And now, audiences can meet their own, on stage, etched by an actress who "brings our story to a wider audience and captures the emotion -- both the pain and the hope -- of our lives."

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