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Lifting the veil: Meet Dorothy Tiano Melvin

CM 26/08/2021


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“I’ve led a charmed life,” says Dorothy Tiano Melvin, who moved from Los Angeles to Safed in 2020.
Indeed, Dorothy’s dazzling Hollywood career fell into her lap. In 1968, as a college freshman thinking of going into law, she got a call from a friend telling her that a paralegal was needed for the renegotiation of The Beatles’ contract with Capitol Records. 
She certainly wasn’t a paralegal, but she got that gig and never went back to school. She worked for Capitol Records and then Motown Records and then Casablanca Records. Through a string of job offers that she did not seek, she ended up in 1979 as a personal assistant to comedian Joan Rivers. Eventually she would serve as Rivers’s manager – and close friend – for more than 20 years. 

“I’ve never looked for a job in my life. But I’m smart and a hard worker, and I did well by her and everybody I worked for,” says Dorothy. 
She was living life in the fast lane, earning big and spending big. She was dating men such as record producer Phil Spector and Princess Diana’s stepbrother. She was married for 17 years to actor Michael Melvin, but decided to prioritize her career over having children – a choice she now regrets.
“Then my father passed away, and in 2000 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. When I heard my mother was dying, that was the end of anything else. I wanted to be with her,” says Dorothy.
She sold her New York co-op within 24 hours and moved back to California. At the airport, she bought a book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. 
Dorothy was no idiot, but there was lost ground to make up. Her Holocaust survivor parents had grown up Orthodox in Salonika, where Dorothy was born. Once they moved to Los Angeles, it became difficult to keep the tide of assimilation from washing over their children. 
“My parents desperately tried to impart Judaism to us. They taught us [the] Shema, love of Israel and pride that we are Jews. But we lived in a very assimilated atmosphere,” Dorothy says. And out of the five siblings, she was the most assimilated.
“Let me put it this way: The last Yom Kippur before all this happened with my mother, I went to Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue [in Manhattan] and then to the Regency Hotel, where I made a deal with the E! channel over the phone while having a shrimp cocktail.”
Buying the book was prescient. Seven months later, Dorothy witnessed her mother looking upward and greeting long-dead loved ones in Greek and Ladino right before she joined them.
“I realized there was another world. The veil had lifted for me,” says Dorothy, “and I wanted to learn more.”
Dorothy contacted a fundraising executive for a Jewish organization, whom she’d met when booking Rivers for an event. She remembered that he wore tzitzit and a kippah. 
“He suggested places I could take classes and became a sort of partner in Torah to me.”
The first time Dorothy attended a class at an Orthodox synagogue, the rabbi discussed the Torah portion about God appointing Moses to take the Jews out of Egypt. This resonated deeply.
“I felt in bondage to depression over my mother’s death, and I felt I needed to break those bonds.”
She started meeting people who were getting more observant through Aish HaTorah, some of whom she had known from the entertainment industry. 
“I wanted to check out what these people had found. I didn’t want to go back to entertainment. I had people calling me right and left offering me jobs, but I was desperate for substance. I felt I’d led a very shallow life.”
Dorothy started volunteering, delivering Meals on Wheels and clearing trails for the National Park Service. In April 2001, she began volunteering in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Emergency Department. Once again, employment fell in her lap; she was offered a job as the hospital’s patient liaison. 
Busy but still unsatisfied, she started taking classes at the Jewish Learning Exchange in LA, sitting quietly in the back. The director, Rabbi Avrohom Czapnik, asked to see her after class one day.
“He said, ‘Why are you so sad?’ The dam burst and I started crying. ‘I come from parents who were Orthodox in Salonika. I look at the life I could have had and what I lost living a life of no substance.’
“He said, ‘Did it occur to you that the life you lived prepared you for this?’ That immediately took the weight off my shoulders. I realized that my background and past experiences are valuable to me.”
DOROTHY’S FIRST trip to Israel was an Aish mission in the fall of 2004. Over the next 16 years, she visited Israel 18 more times, and many of her new friends made aliyah. 
Her 19th trip, on November 24, 2020, was one-way.
“I wanted to be home,” she explains simply. “LA wasn’t home for me. I have a sister and brother there, I have incredible friends there, I won awards at Cedars-Sinai and I was highly regarded. But I had this yearning to be in this amazing land I love so much.”
She assumed Jerusalem would be a better place for a single 69-year-old woman to live. But every apartment lead she followed didn’t work out. 
“Close friends I had stayed with many times in Safed said, ‘You’re like family to us. What will you do in Jerusalem without family?’ And right away I found the perfect place, a bright and sunny new apartment owned by a landlady I adore. 
“Hashem was saying ‘You need to be in Safed.’”
Dorothy has blended in with the city’s Anglo community and even joined the hevra kadisha, which prepares bodies for burial. She takes classes at the Artist Quarter Minyan and Beit Chabad in addition to ulpan on Zoom. 
“I want people to see you can have a more meaningful life no matter where you come from,” Dorothy says. “Everything that happened in my life prepared me to help others.” 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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