Sunday, September 25, 2005

“Hafachta misp’di l’machol li”—Song and Dance in Jerusalem

Don't forget to check out the November 16, 2006 YouTube additions below!

As you may have gathered, I’m still “processing” my recent trip to Israel. Seeing my parents was a mixture of joy and sorrow—joy in seeing them after such a long separation, but sorrow in seeing the toll that age, illness, and memory loss have taken. And while it’s always a pleasure seeing my brother, ex-sister-in-law, nieces and nephew, seeing them also made me all too painfully aware of how difficult it is for me to maintain a sense of connection with family separated by continents. My nieces and nephew are virtual strangers to me, and to their first cousin, my son, as well. The “global village” is no substitute for the real one, in which the family lives, as I did as a teenager with my own first cousins, a bicycle-ride away.

That said, we had some truly wonderful moments in Jerusalem.

“You have changed for me my lament into dancing.”

We spent Tuesday evening, August 22 at the Israel Museum’s ethnic fair, where we watched a performance of a Bokharian singing group. Most of the singers, having come to the entirely reasonable conclusion that the sound technician was never going to be able to get their microphones working, decided to treat us to an informal and improvised dance presentation, instead, relying on the drummer and the one singer with a working microphone to keep the music going. And what a wonderful performance it was! I have a delightful video of several minutes of the performance that I truly wish I knew how to share with you on the Internet. The best dancer was the oldest guy in the group—the video shows him on his knees, dancing beautifully with his upper body alone. He was outstanding. And, although, obviously, it would have been better if we could have actually heard all of the singers, the music was wonderful.


We went Israeli folk dancing twice. I seem to have forgotten to write down any details about our first session. I think it was on Wednesday night, in a gym somewhere in some Israeli equivalent of a YM-YWHA. We had a really good time. But we had an even better time, though the dance room was smaller, on Saturday, August 27. After Shabbat, we went to the Merkaz haTarbut HaAmim L’Noar/International Cultural Center for Youth to a wonderful Israeli folk dance session run by Boaz Cohen . We got there only half an hour late, so we were there in time to do many of the easier dances. Then, at around 11 PM, all of us were invited, much to our surprise, to partake of vegetarian couscous in the courtyard of the Cultural Center. We wondered what the occasion was and who paid for it. To our further surprise, the group split in two after the m’sibah/party, with “couples dancing” in the main room and circle dancing and some teaching in a smaller room across the hall. After about an hour, they kicked us out of the small room and recombined the groups, going back to circle dancing. I was having such a grand time that I stayed much longer than I’ve stayed at a session in years, only insisting on leaving at 1 AM. On the way out, I took a two-minute video of the dancing with the session leader in the center of the circle. Boy, was he ever a good dancer! And boy, would I love to be able to post that video!


(And boy, do I have news for my Orthodox readers: Israeli folk dancers in Israel hardly ever hold hands while doing circle dances. Even in the U.S., there’s an increasing tendency not to hold hands for circle dances. Choreographers are even choreographing circle dances that deliberately bypass hand-holding. The “look Rav, no hands” approach has the choreographic advantage of allowing for a quite incredible range of arm movements that simple aren’t seen—because they aren’t possible—in dances in which the dancers hold hands. So, it’s getting easier and easier for shomer negiah ( folks who don’t object to dancing without a mechitzah to go Israeli folk dancing. I look forward to seeing you.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

S. called and offered to take us to Chutzot haYotzer, Jerusalem's annual outdoor international crafts fair, held at B'rékat haSultan/the Sultan’s Pool. There, we saw two wonderful Indian dancers perform on the small stage, then caught a performance on the main stage by a group called Hatractor. Fortunately, S. thought to lead us up to almost the very top row of the bleachers, so that we wouldn't be deafened by the blasting speakers. Unfortunately, he's never developed an interest in contemporary Israeli music and had absolutely no idea of the name of the lead singer, who's also the composer, some of whose songs the Punster and I know from Israeli folk dancing. So we still have no idea to whom we were listening. He was wonderful, though. And the concert was a nice, low-tech affair--the only fancy touches were a smoke machine and an occasion flash of colored lights. The singer was standing there--not doing any fancy modern choreographed stage moves, in nothing but a plain tee-shirt and open shirt--just singing his heart out, and doing a fantastic job of it. What a voice! After a while, S. and Our Favorite Physics Major had had enough, so they left to wander among the crafts booths, leaving the Punster and me literally dancing by our seats. We had the most wonderful time. Now, if only we could find out the name of the singer/songwriter . . .


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