Balancing an upside-down world

Afer the loss of her father and the difficulties of making aliya, Sher Mandlebaum is now pursuing her dream of making aliya.

Sher Mandlebaum 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Sher Mandlebaum 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘The great thing about yoga is that you learn to stand on your head and turn your life upside down, but you still feel balanced,’ says Sher (short for Sherilyn) Mandelbaum, who made aliya in August 2009.
In Israel she teaches yoga, something she planned to do while still living in Cleveland, Ohio, though she came to the profession quite late in her career. Before discovering and falling in love with yoga, she worked as a speech therapist and eventually trained people in more effective communication. For her, yoga was a lifechanging experience.
Both Mandelbaum and her husband Josef had spent time in Israel as children, she with her academic father on sabbatical and he with his father, a rabbi. Both families were intensely Zionist, and aliya was always an option but was put on hold for all kinds of family reasons.
Because her husband felt he needed more time at his job – he was the CEO of a big greeting card company – they decided on a three-year plan, at the end of which they felt fairly sure they would realize their aliya dream.
Mandelbaum had given up her job while raising her children, today aged eight to 18. She always did volunteer work and was a regular at the local gym, where she loved to work out; she especially enjoyed the spinning classes.
“One day I went to spinning and found the class had been canceled. I’d been looking for a new kind of exercise and I stumbled by chance into the yoga class. I’d never even been attracted to yoga before, as I thought it would be boring.”
She found that even as an experienced gymnast, she was unable to do the intense power yoga class she’d joined.
“But it lit a spark,” she says. “When we were planning aliya, something made me want to go to a teacher of yoga – I felt it was the right thing for me and I loved it.”
She learned traditional yoga but also power Vinyasa yoga – a newer approach emphasizing fitness and action and appealing to people who have been nurtured on aerobics.
A year before aliya, she decided that teaching yoga was what she would do in Israel.
“I got so into it that I took a six-month teacher-training course so I would be equipped to teach it here,” she says.
The Mandelbaums came straight to a rented house in Ra’anana, leaving their son behind with Sher’s parents so he could finish 12th grade.
“I already knew many people in Ra’anana, and I knew I wanted to live in a city rather than the countryside,” she says.
The beginning was difficult, with her husband commuting back and forth, traveling to the States every two weeks until he finally found a job in hi-tech in Israel.
Soon after the family arrived in Israel, her father became very ill. Mandelbaum went back to the States after only a month in Israel to be with her parents and was devastated when her father died.
“It was very hard, but looking back I’m glad my son had that invaluable time with his grandfather and was there for my mother after I had to return to Israel,” she says now.
Soon after these events, she joined a studio.
“I needed to practice yoga to bring balance back to my upside-down world,” she says.
A year after arriving, encouraged by her husband and her son, she opened her yoga teaching business.
A friend had offered her basement, which Mandelbaum used for a while until she found the ideal place, an established studio in the heart of Ra’anana, Talya’s Studio and Spa. Without any advertising, just word of mouth, the classes expanded and today she teaches seven classes, all in English.
“Eventually I suppose I will feel comfortable giving classes in Hebrew, too,” she says. “We both speak Hebrew from school and living here briefly as children. But I talk a lot during my lessons – I like to talk about what’s going on in the body, and it’s more natural for me in English at the moment.”
The family has settled happily into the Ra’anana Orthodox community, joining the Ohel Ari synagogue and making many friends through school, shul and yoga.
Although they are an observant family, Mandelbaum does not see any contradiction between her Judaism and her yoga. She leaves out the “o-m-m-m-m” aspect, but only because she feels it makes people uncomfortable and that the people who come to her classes aren’t quite ready for that.
“But we do say ‘Namaste’ and put our hands together at the end,” she says. “It’s not considered a religious ritual.”
“My dream is to open a yoga studio by the sea and teach people to do yoga on the beach,” she says.