Someone once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe why children are always so active. He gave a mind-opening explanation. Children, he said, have bodies which have not yet grown into their neshamot, their souls, so they have more spiritual energy than is required to "run" their bodies and as they must use that energy for something, they are in almost constant motion.
Whenever you have a spiritual force which is too powerful for the physical entity meant to anchor it, you have almost constant motion. That's Rachel Factor.
"I was at the top of the industry"Rachel Factor grew up in Honolulu as Tina Horii. Her parents, though not religious themselves, sent her to a prep school run by missionaries. She was always spiritually driven, but didn't find the outlet she needed until she discovered dance as a teenager. The ability to express herself creatively through movement touched something in her core, and Tina eventually decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in dance. Not long after, she moved to New York where she had a successful career appearing in numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions.
Yet, she felt she'd reached a dead end spiritually.
"I pursued dance and singing because for me it was part of a search for truth, and it did bring me to a certain place, but it could only take me so far. I was at the top of the industry, but it wasn't bringing me to G‑d."
Little by little, she began to discover the life she'd always craved in a place she never would have dreamed of looking.
At twenty-nine, Tina began dating Todd Factor, a television producer who explained to her early on that it was important to him that he marry someone Jewish. Tina, whose parents are Japanese-American, didn't miss a beat "Well," she told him, "in that case, it makes a lot of sense that you're dating me."
Despite her initial resistance (Tina's family had always wanted her to marry someone Asian-American and she had tried to comply), Tina began to look into Judaism. The more she learned, the more she found that Jewish beliefs resonated with her. And she simply fell in love with the rituals. Ultimately, she inspired Todd to learn more about his own heritage. Shortly after their marriage, she presented him with his first pair of Tefillin (phylacteries). Eight months after their first son was born, Mommy and baby underwent an Orthodox conversion. Tina had grown into Rachel.
Today, the Factors make their home in Jerusalem. They came with the intent to study and absorb, but soon saw that while there was much they could learn in their new community, their was also much they could give. They've used their experiences in New York to become "social entrepreneurs," carving out a space for women's creative expression and overall well-being.
The Center offers a range of courses in dance, exercise, drama, and voiceIn the basement of the Bell Tower on King George Street, in the heart of one of the most harried sections in the city, is HaMachol Shel Bnos Miriam, a.k.a. the Jerusalem Women's Center for Theatre Arts. The Center offers a range of courses in dance, exercise, drama, and voice. The focus is a holistic one. Classes, from beginner to advanced, are serious ones, but the roles each woman fills outside the Center are not forgotten. From the cozy babysitting area to the cartoons printed on the class schedule, the multi-faceted life of a Jewish woman is given good-humored support and acknowledgement.
When Rachel and her husband first came to Israel four years ago, Rachel had cut herself off completely from dance and theatre after twenty years in the industry. She had been worried that there was no way to integrate the energy of that world with her new found spirituality.
"It's a very powerful energy," she explains, "and I understand why the Haredi community is wary of it. The secular media, especially advertising, use that energy to manipulate people." At the same time though, she says, "It's an elevated form of being. There's also a certain chemical reaction in the body."
As she began to look into the possibility of giving a class in dance for women, she began to see that she'd been given certain talents and there had to be a way to use them, to serve the community and to serve G‑d. After all, she recalls now, "For me, the goal in becoming religious was to become a whole person, not to cut off parts of me."
Unable to find a suitable place to rent for classes ("Every place we looked at had concrete floors, and jumping around on concrete is just not good for the body"), the idea for a full-fledged center began to take root in her mind. She wanted a way for women to nurture themselves, emotionally, physically, and creatively; as a woman for whom creative expression had always been a part of her spiritual journey - she wanted a place where women could express their souls.
"On Broadway, being a mother is seen as a hindrance"Her husband saw the importance of the idea, and despite an all ready packed schedule of full-time intensive Torah study, he invested himself in the details of bringing the plan to fruition. One year ago, they opened the Bnos Miriam Center. The dance studio has a real wooden floor, a floor you can jump around on - and morning classes include childcare. They have regular performances, sometimes of Rachel's show "Not Even Normal," sometimes of their own theatre or dance students, or other women performers. They've also opened classes for teens, even running a special summer program in voice, drama, and dance. Todd continues to oversee the administrative and business side of the Center, giving his wife more time and energy to focus on the creative aspect.
This year, Rachel is starting a dance company at the Center for which she will be both an instructor and the choreographer. Yet, with her many roles at the Center, she sees her ultimate creative expression in raising her three children.
"On Broadway, being a mother is seen as a hindrance, but it's just the opposite. It's the ultimate creative act, the most challenging, crazy, and rewarding thing I've ever done… Because you really are molding and shaping a little human being, everything that you say and do has an effect."
The Factors run the Center at a financial loss. The Center is a registered non-profit organization, but that's the tip of the iceberg. The Factors continue to invest much of their own money into keeping it running, truly believing that the effect of what takes place there on people's lives is more important to them than enjoying the financial success of Rachel's shows.
After one of her early performances of J.A.P., Rachel's one-woman show describing her gradual awakening as she worked her way up in the world of dance and eventual discovery of Judaism, Rachel received a letter from a woman who described herself as a "cold soul." Growing up, this woman had been involved in dance but now, as an adult outside the professional dance world, and immersed in raising a family, she had no outlet for that kind and level of creativity and it was stifling her.
Today, when women tell Rachel how much dance or having a good work out once a week has opened them up she's moved to tears, but not the same tears she felt on reading that other letter four years ago.
Creative expression had always been a part of her spiritual journeyBecause the Center is run by and for women, the atmosphere is warm and intimate. Students become an extended family. And as one girl put it, "Every time I walk into this place, I feel like G‑d is just showing off to me how great He is."
Rachel laughs as she repeats that line… "Since she said that, I've realized just how much of my own life is G‑d showing off to me how great He is. Just the other day, I met a family in Me'ah She'arim (a neighborhood in Jerusalem) - the father is a Japanese American convert from Hawaii - just like me - and they've lived here thirty years and they have nine daughters who are all married and a part of the community. I couldn't believe the Divine providence of meeting them. There are so many things like that. Every day, G‑d is showing off to us how great He is."
Over the years, the Center has attracted other professional dancers as instructors - women who left the world of mainstream dance to find their own spiritual home and are now using their talents and experience to help other women.
In this fusion of creativity and soul-searching that's taking place in an unassuming basement in Jerusalem, Rachel has used her own winding path home to help others find a path within, and new energy to reflect outward.
As I stand at the back of the studio and watch Rachel teaching, flowing effortlessly (at least it looks that way) from one end of the room to the other, connecting with each of her students, it's hard to imagine her having given up dance, even for the nine months she was away from it. Some people just have too much soul not to move.