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Wednesday
Jun072017

ACTOR AND HEALER OF THE SPIRIT

 He was a successful actor, but the two years that he waited for a kidney transplant led him to discover deeper layers within himself as he pursued the study of psychodrama. * These two tools, acting and psychodrama, he uses today to empower people and to provide them with insights into their own untapped potential. * Meet Yitzchok Dori, an actor of the spirit.

Dori in action – in plays and in performances for preschoolsEver since Yitzchok Dori can remember, he has performed and acted. The stage was and still is his prime avocation. Since he was a little boy, he was asked to perform at every family or social event. The first pictures of him in the family album are from when he was three, in which you see him standing on the windowsill of his grandparentshome in Teveria and doing a song recital. “In school, I always got the lead part in the play,” he recalls with a smile.

When he finished his military service, he turned his avocation into a vocation and got a degree in drama and theater at Tel Aviv University. It was there that he also first became acquainted with Chabad. His teshuva process was slow but sure. Those who know Dori know that he leaves the pretense for the stage. In his personal life, he is sensitive, warm and honest.

In recent years, along with his work as an actor, he also works as a therapist using the approach of psychodrama. He entered the world of therapy after going through a dramatic and traumatic experience in his own life. Four years ago, his kidneys stopped working and he had to travel frequently to the hospital and to dialysis units. There were some unsuccessful transplant attempts. This experience shook him up and he decided to help others in need.

FRIENDS NICKNAMED HIM MOSHIACH

Dori was born to a typical, traditional, Israeli family. His father was born in and made aliya as a child from Iraq, and his mother was from a family of Holocaust survivors.


“There was a lot of emuna in our home but this wasn’t translated into practical mitzvos. Now and then, I would see my father put on t’fillin. On holidays we would go to shul and have holiday meals together. The main message we got was to put ourselves into our studies. My father grew up in a family with meager means. He was identified by some good people as being gifted, and they saw to it that he was sent to the Technion. He was very successful there and graduated with a career in aeronautical engineering and was very successful in his work.”

Along with his academic studies, Dori became a member of the national youth work-study movement, where he spent his free time. He would argue with his peers and counselors about Jewish matters. During the Tanach lessons at school, he always took the Torah path despite his paltry knowledge. “In my class there was a boy whose father was religious and who learned Tanach with him. He would regularly argue with the Tanach teacher who brought in commentaries by irreligious people. I always sided with him, for what he said seemed true.”

Toward the end of high school, his classmates arranged a grand evening with performances and lots of activities. Dori was given the lead part to play and was highly praised. As part of the graduation, the students put together a yearbook in which each classmate was listed with his nickname, along with newspaper clippings befitting that individual. “The nickname they chose for me was Moshiach, because I always helped other students. The newspaper cuttings that they attached to my entry were articles about the Rebbe.”

When he finished high school, his father suddenly died. “It took me several years to recover. My father’s absence was keenly felt. This event awakened my Jewish spark and I started going to shul more frequently and attended shiurim.”

After a year’s deferment in which he joined an agricultural commune under the auspices of the Nachal Brigade, Yitzchok Dori was drafted and assigned to a combat unit where he spent three years as a soldier and a commander. “Those were the three quietest years in the area in decades. I remember us doing patrols of three soldiers in the heart of Gaza without fear.”

When he completed his military service, he worked at various jobs and looked to professionally develop his love for theater and acting.

“I checked out entertainment opportunities at hotels in Teveria and the Dead Sea. I worked for a few months in Teveria but quickly grew bored. I looked for something more serious and intensive, but the one who torpedoed my plans was my drama teacher, Ayal Cohen, who later opened a successful studio for the study of theater, who invited me to Givatayim to study and gain expertise.

“I joined him for a sample class, and this was enough for me to realize that this is what I want to study and do in life. I learned a lot from him.”

Later on, Dori decided to pursue his interest as a full-time career and he went to study theater at Tel Aviv University.

“My first Shabbos at the student residence aroused in me the desire to pray and I looked for a shul in the area. To my amazement, I found that there was a Chabad House operating right under my nose. It was run by Rabbi Fishel Jacobs and there were minyanim for tefilla and Shabbos meals. He and his staff of shluchim welcomed me warmly and I became an integral part of the minyan and meals every Shabbos. A childhood friend who became close to Chabad, Nadav Goldstein, would take me to farbrengens, thus exposing me to more of life in Chabad.”

Yitzchok Dori began to realize that the path of Torah is the right path, but many more years would pass before he would commit to living this truth. “At a certain point, I began taking part in the Chabad House programs, but at the same time I did not have the courage to pick a side. Let it be said in praise of Rabbi Jacobs that he knew how to work with me; he did not pressure or nudge me. He was patient and he even stood in as a family member when he came to see my performances.”

THE LONG BUT SHORT WAY

Yitzchok spent one of his vacations in New Jersey. At that time, he had already started getting involved in Judaism and Chassidus and he wanted to visit 770. But a big snowstorm prevented him from going. When he flew a second time to the U.S. some time later, he was determined to make his first stop at 770.

“I arrived at 770 on Hoshana Raba and enjoyed three uplifting days, two of Yom Tov and one of Shabbos. I was wearing weekday clothes and sandals but who paid attention to externals? The atmosphere there raised me up above the ground.

“I met school friends who had become Chassidim like Moshe Sperling, Tzachi Francis and others. They took me to the home of Moshe Rubashkin where I was amazed to experience the family’s incredible generosity. During those three days, I did not stop crying from emotional overload. All my questions about Chabad and the Rebbe disappeared after what I experienced in 770. I spent half a year in the U.S. and worked at pushcart sales. Whenever I had a chance, I went to visit 770. I also regularly visited the Chabad House where I lived.

“At the end of six months, I returned home different than when I left, with tzitzis and a kippa.”

But Yitzchak still had to traverse a torturous path until he became a Chassid. Upon the advice of friends in the theater world, he rented an apartment in the heart of Tel Aviv where he auditioned for roles in movies and theater productions.

“It was a time that I sat on the fence. I was the lead actor in a theater production in Jaffa, while frequently visiting the Chabad yeshiva called Chazon Eliyahu. On Pesach, some of the stage props were chametz. I asked them to remove the chametz and brought kosher-for-Pesach food to replace it. When I showed up and saw that the chametz items were still there, I refused to perform until the chametz was burned.”

The following episode demonstrates the extent to which he was torn between two worlds at that time. He had gone to audition for a major project in the theater world, but did not win it. The one who won was convinced by him to put on t’fillin and the television photographers captured his image before the interviews as Dori tied t’fillin on him. Despite the faltering in his spiritual journey, R’ Jacobs did not give up on him and at a certain point he convinced Dori to move into his house in Kfar Chabad.

“Every day I learned in Ohr T’mimim in Kfar Chabad. After a while, I went back to Tel Aviv and went to learn in the yeshiva in Ramat Aviv which was the final blow in my becoming a full-fledged Chassid.”

PEELING LAYERS

In recent years, Yitzchok Dori has performed in many original productions and educational videos, which he considers a shlichus. Over the past three years he has become involved in the world of psychodrama therapy.

Although there might be a connection between the theater and psychodrama, according to Yitzchok, this profession is nothing like theater. “In acting, the work is on the outside and it affects the inside, while in psychodrama, it’s the other way around; the inside affects the outside.”

***

“One day, my kidneys stopped working. There were some warning signs, but the fact that I was a young guy had me and those who knew me not taking them seriously.

“Over several years, I experienced difficult times while trying to find a kidney donor. I was on dialysis three times a week. I spent half a year in 770, waiting for a donor. There were a few attempts that my body rejected. Finally a donor was found in Eretz Yisroel. During that dark period, I thought of studying psychodrama. I was previously very interested in it and finally decided to start studying. I began my studies amid my medical challenges.

“Studying psychodrama helped me recognize parts of myself that I did not want to acknowledge, experiences that I had covered up with positive spin. At that time, I was exposed to much pain, both from the people around me and within myself. The therapeutic tools I learned about in psychodrama gave me the ability to deal with it.”

What is psychodrama?

“Psychodrama is mainly group work but can also be done one-on-one. The idea behind it is to show a person that there are other perspectives to a given situation he is in and to give a person the tools to choose how he wants to react to various situations in his life. We often experience something that is etched in our minds in a certain way and is very influential in our future reactions.”

Give me an example to illustrate the idea behind psychodrama.

“There was a boy I worked with, curious by nature, who brought home a worm. When his mother realized what he had in the box, he ‘got it over the head.’ This reaction of his mother is etched in his soul. It can cause him to refrain from being curious in the future about certain things. It can also affect his relationship with his mother, without the boy realizing it. A child who experienced something unpleasant can develop avoidance mechanisms, but it also affects his self-image. The scratch made in his youth, can get deeper with age.

“I’ll give you another example that I experienced myself. During my studies, I once lost my good umbrella. The topic of that class was longing and loss. I volunteered to share my longing for my high-quality umbrella that served me faithfully. Something in the nuance of my voice and my choice of words had the lecturer realize that it wasn’t just about an umbrella. He started asking me questions and showing interest. I told him about something difficult I was going through at the time that I did not consider connected with my reaction to the loss of the umbrella, but it all rose to the surface. That sums up psychodrama.”

The purpose of psychodrama is to break down a person’s natural defenses in reaction to unpleasant situations. But these defenses help us! How do you decide when to remove them, if at all?

“A defense that a person develops to protect his psyche is definitely a good thing. Oftentimes, it is an essential need and helps him manage in life. A defense is a natural process in which a person covers over his deficiencies and difficulties. I won’t remove this defense from every client, certainly not in haste.

“The question is, when to intervene and when to just listen. This is a question that I deal with, with every new client. There are times I will decide not to take down the defensive walls that children created, because it will affect their quality of life. The defense provides them with security.

“In general, I don’t only use the methods of psychodrama. In meeting with children, I use my experience in acting and the theater to help them. Not every psychodrama practitioner will be successful in every situation and with every individual; there are some disappointments and failure, and we obviously need siyata d’Shmaya. Not every technique that worked with one child will necessarily work with another child.”

Can you give us some tips that people can use at home or in the classroom?

“The first tip I’d be happy to share is not from psychodrama but from my work as an actor. For a long time, we ran a presentation of the play, ‘Two Kings,’ which is a children’s book authored by Rabbi Jacobs based on Tanya. The main message is that if a conflict arises, then the child is not the problem; it’s that his evil inclination got the better of him. We need to teach him that there is a good inclination and an evil inclination; he himself is good, but his evil inclination overcame him and got him to surrender or to behave not as he should. Such an activity of acting out the battle between good and evil can be done at a time when things are calm.

“It is also very important to talk about feelings at home. This should be initiated by parents. If we stop being afraid of bringing up emotions and talking about them, our children will do the same. A teacher can also learn to talk in the language of feelings, and if we do this the right way, it won’t undermine our authority. When a child is not afraid to talk about his feelings, we will prevent many problems. It doesn’t always have to be big traumas; even simple negative occurrences that he experiences can stand in his way in the future. Along with feelings, it pays to listen to what children are saying. Many children fall between the cracks because nobody is listening to them. Clear time in your week for listening.

“And here is a technique from the world of psychodrama that I use a lot. It is called ‘playback.’ The child tells a story and after getting his permission, I repeat what he said in my own words, expanding and sometimes raising questions. For example, a child comes from school and we ask him how his day was. He says, ‘It was fun, it was great and also not so good.’ With the playback technique I will say, ‘I hear that your day was mixed, both good and bad, a mixed-up day?’ I use his words, affirm, and add to it.”

Can you tell us some success stories?

“The question is what is considered success. In therapy, there is no definitive answer. Every client progresses at his own rate and sometimes, it takes a long time.

“There is a boy who came to me a few years ago when I was first starting out in the world of therapy. He was not yet bar mitzva at the time. His family situation was very complicated. His mother valiantly dealt with cancer for several years which caused him to close up. During the first year of our meetings together, he did not talk; we just played together. It was only a year later that he started talking about his problems. Today he is handling life’s challenges nicely. It’s a complicated story. I still meet with him and know that he is progressing, but he still needs encouragement and reminders.

“In general, drama therapy is not like a play where you get off the stage and know how it was based on the reaction of the audience. The world of therapy is far from ‘hit and run.’ The soul is very complex and we are talking about processes that can sometimes take a long time.”

What do you use in your work aside from psychodrama?

“With psychodrama, the client needs to bring a story and then there is listening and self-expression in response to that story. But I meet with many clients, especially young children, who are not interested in expressing themselves in a story. With children, it is frequently easier for them to open up through play, and in this way we can learn a lot about what is going on with them.

“Most of the time, when we ask a child directly, he will only answer in a roundabout way. Through play, things will come up. Lately, I’ve been playing Monopoly with the kids. It’s a long game and sometimes it’s boring, and it can last over several sessions. One of the features of the game is that you can buy houses. When I buy a house, I will focus the discussion on what a home is on the outside as opposed to on the inside. A child who experienced upheavals at home can easily express his feelings in a conversation like this.

“I use drawing a lot too. It’s a very helpful tool to know whether a child underwent something traumatic. Picture a child who draws nicely and suddenly, his drawings are ugly. The choice of colors, how much pressure he exerts, the objects he chooses to draw, all these details provide us with a lot of information.”

A SHLICHUS

“Nowadays, in every place and in every community, there are people who have studied these things. They can provide direction to those who need it so they can deal with their issues. This itself demonstrates to what extent the world is moving to a more constructive orientation. It’s a form of Geula.

“As far as the clients, people today are seeking to live good lives. While in the past, people lived more difficult lives and only in extreme cases were people willing to go for therapy, today, people are looking for help for even minor things.

“I feel a great sense of shlichus in my work. I am particularly happy about my work in preparing boys who finished elementary school, for mesivta. It’s inspiring to prepare talmidim to deal properly with this transition.”

***

Dori spends most of his time and energy on psychodrama but has not neglected the world of acting. He performs in movies for the Nitzotzot shel K’dusha Company, and in collaboration with them, he also gives drama classes to children.

 

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