November 12, 2019

The Mevo Modi’im Kid

Leah Silver was at a wedding on Lag b’Omer when she saw the headline on her phone: “Mevo Modi’im Destroyed in Fire.” Harrowing photographs displayed the charred remains of the village — a metal staircase, an air conditioner’s motor, a molten pile of Matchbox cars amid endless ash drifts.

Her brother Noam told her via text that the home he shared with his wife and two children was nothing more than a pile of embers. Forty-five of the community’s 50 homes in the moshav were destroyed. A dusty pink trailer, Silver’s childhood home was so much greater than the sum of its 600 square feet. For as long as she can remember, every Friday the cold floor tiles would transform into soft sponge with mattresses that covered every available inch. Her parents would receive hundreds of phone calls a week from strangers asking to be invited for Shabbat.

That trailer was Silver’s childhood home. What the Silvers lacked in material wealth they made up for in spiritual wealth. Shabbat songs, Torah-speak and cresting nigunim (melodies) would vibrate through the house as guests dined on homemade pesto, almond spreads and wholegrain challot (the Silvers were “crunchy” decades before it became a thing.) Silver’s mother, Nechama, was a disciple of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and lived in his House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco before following him to Israel, where he founded Mevo Modi’im. 

For Silver, 31, art, music and dance were always a big part of her life. Although her guitar-strumming silhouette was ever-present leading candlelit jam sessions and the haunting tone of her singing voice would fill dark Jerusalem pubs, she stopped short of taking her music to the next level. “Music, especially nigunim, opens the soul to a spiritual experience. But I never wanted to do it professionally,” she said.

“A 600-square-foot dusty pink trailer was one of the few that partially survived the Mevo Modi’im blaze.” 

At college, she studied video editing. In her free time, she studied African dance. But it was ceramics, a discipline she had delighted in since childhood, that ultimately reigned supreme. Today, Silver has a studio in Jerusalem’s picturesque Ein Karem neighborhood where she teaches ceramics and creates hand-painted jewelry and Judaica. She called her business Tribal Star. The star is a proxy for her Jewish identity while the tribal aspect — a hallmark of all her pieces — is inextricably connected to growing up in a tribe.

“Moshav kids,” as Silver calls Mevo Modi’im’s second generation, always shared an invisible bond. “We’re all deep souls. We’re also complicated and a bit crazy,” she said, her dark green eyes swirling in laughter. “At the end of the day, they’re the only ones who can really understand me.”

Silver was 22 when her father, Shmuel, died suddenly, and it marked the beginning of a change for her. Many of the “moshav kids” had already moved out and even those who stayed took less interest in communal affairs. But the Lag b’Omer fire that consumed houses and memories also ignited something in her peers. “Suddenly, after all these years, they stepped up,” she said. 

They joined the community’s union; they rallied Knesset members and lobbyists to their rebuilding cause, doing everything to encourage a phoenix — a better, stronger, more united moshav — to rise from the ashes.