JERUSALEM — From 25 people to 1,400? From a humble Shira Pransky Project benefit concert to a much larger Yad l’Olim concert, in memory of Shira?
Collective Psalms recital in the middle of a concert?
Unbelievable, were I not witness to it myself.
I first heard of Shira Davidovich Pransky 10 years ago, gathered with Rabbi Shlomo Katz and 25 people to commemorate her fourth yahrzeit in her parents’ living room. The way of the world is that such gatherings tend to get smaller over time, even for well-known leaders and personalities.
But on Saturday night, Feb. 11, I was blessed to be part of a sold-out, 1,400 strong crowd for a concert with Shlomo Katz and Ishay Ribo commemorating her 14th yahrzeit.
Who was Shira? How is it that her impact and influence on the world has only grown since her untimely passing?
I can’t know, as I never met her. But I can say this: There are few people whose passing has evoked tears from me. Apart from specific circumstances of terror, I have never cried for someone I did not know, certainly not someone I didn’t hear about until many years after their passing.
Shira Pransky was a woman of unfathomable strength and will. Diagnosed at the tender age of 17 with Hodgkin’s disease, she battled it through multiple recurrences. Over nine years of incalculable hardship — physical and emotional — she remained a beacon of light to those around her.
Visitors were never denied her trademark smile and the will to keep fighting stayed strong. Those who came to strengthen, left strengthened; those who came to encourage, left encouraged.
When there were friends’ simchas to attend, rather than justifiably excuse herself, she put forth every effort she could to be together with them.
Though I never met Shira, I am blessed to know Shira’s family. They are each individual towers of strength, and through them, Shira’s presence shines through. Authenticity, genuineness and heartfelt emotion cannot be artificially manufactured.
To give but two examples of their strength. How many husbands and wives generate a tangible aura of Shabbos, a presence of the Sabbath Queen, unlike any I’ve otherwise experienced? How likely is it that such a husband, a practicing lawyer for nearly 60 years, well past retirement age but still practicing, would undertake a rigorous, three-year program of rabbinical ordination? Shira’s father, former Denverite Rabbi Nate Davidovich, is such a person, whose life centers around studying and teaching Torah, always with a twinkle in his eye.
And how many people, upon becoming a widower in their 20s, with a toddler to take care of no less, proceed to found a non-profit honoring their spouse’s memory? How many people have the courage to face the vulnerability doing so entails? How many of those have the persistence, despite being soft-spoken and lacking a business background, to grow the non-profit so that thousands of other people need not suffer as they did? Shira’s husband, Gabe Pransky, is one such person.
Gabe and Shira’s struggle fighting cancer was compounded by being immigrants to Israel, needing to navigate the intricacies of the medical system in a foreign language. The goal of the Shira Pransky Project was to simplify the navigation of the Israeli healthcare system for Anglo immigrants, especially in times of crisis. This assistance takes many forms, such as providing healthcare advocates and translating all information and forms on Israel’s health websites.
In July, 2022, the project joined forces with Yad l’Olim, an organization borne out of the havoc that the erratic Covid-19 travel policies wreaked on Anglos in Israel. The organization’s mission is to ease all beauracratic obstacles immigrants face. Founded by former Knesset Member Dov Lipman, it saw phenomenal success in its first year and has effectively become a government lobby for Anglo immigrants.
The two organizations’ goals aligned closely, so that the Shira Pransky Project evolved into the YLO Healthcare Division in Memory of Shira Pransky.
Before the concert, I bumped into some students I know. I tried to impress upon them the origins of this annual concert and who Shira was. The one minute I had was quite inadequate. It saddened me to think that these thousands of people would never know the humble beginnings of the Pransky Project. I imagined they would otherwise not hear much about her as this was now Yad l’Olim’s concert.
How pleasantly surprised I was when I saw a page of the program dedicated to telling Shira’s story. This won’t give people a taste of who she truly was, I thought, but it’s a nice gesture nonetheless. Fast forward well into Shlomo Katz’s performance and I was taken aback to hear him speak about Shira on stage, proceeding to engage us all in a spiritual breathing exercise he attributed to absorbing from Shira’s way of being. This introduced a beautifully apropos song, “Everlasting Love,” compoased by former Denverite Michael Shapiro.
Then, poignant video interviews with Shira’s family, which cut to the essence of who Shira was. Her sister Joni shared an incident when Shira arrived at the hospital for treatment, but hesitated to enter due to the nausea it caused her. She turned to her mother saying, “My life is . . . wonderful. It’s perfect.” As Joni put it, She lived with faith, never asking ‘Why me?’”
Psalms recital in the middle of a spirited, roaring concert?
Indeed, using the Abraham’s Legacy app, the crowd completed the entire book of Psalms multiple times in Shira’s memory during a three-minute interlude. Accompanying this interlude was a cameo appearance by Shlomo Lipman singing his original composition, Aneini (Answer Me Please). The only issue with Lipman’s appearance was his last name, which might have lead some to be wary of nepotism (Dov Lipman is his father). Let me assure you his place on stage was 100% merit-based. In fact, more than any of Shlomo Katz or Ishay Ribo’s songs, it is this that is still echoing in my mind: How rare it is for a parent organization to convey such respect for a smaller organizations it absorbs, and to offer a platform for the continued memory of its namesake.
All of this is to say nothing about Ishay Ribo, whose soulful, Biblically-oriented, masterfully complex lyrics yield a product virtually unprecedented in the world of Jewish music. Whereas Eitan and Shlomo Katz’s music excels in provoking a yearning for spirituality, Ribo’s music is unrivaled in how it provides a catharsis for the soul.
Ribo, a child of French immigrants himself, threw in numerous lyric twists paying homage to the significant sacrifices all immigrants to Israel pay to make life work in the Jewish homeland. Between songs, with Knesset Members and other government officials sitting in the audience, Ribo offered an impassioned plea for the government to recognize the hardships immigrants face and to “roll out the red carpet for every immigrant who arrives.”
But more than the shout outs, the music, the lyrics, what stood out seeing the internationally renowned Ribo perform live was his character. The way he carried himself on-stage and off. The way he said “Thank you,” after each song, in a most self-effacing manner.
Shira’s mother, Amy Davidovich, shared with me afterwards how astonishing it all was. “There’s only one person,” she said, “that could ultimately be responsible for something so improbable: Shira. She must be pulling some strings up High.” Despite the concert being a massive public production with so many different parts, goals, musicians and organizers, it’s nonetheless remarkably easy to sum it all up in one word: authentic. Just like Shira herself.
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