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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘dance’

A Torah

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

The Torah is the holiest of books in the Jewish religion. The Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible – in English – Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy…in Hebrew the names flow more easily, have more meaning. They are – Bereshit, Bamidbar, Shmot, Vayikra, Devarim.

The Jews and the Torah have a very unique and ancient history. The Torah is a gift that God gave to us thousands of years ago. It is something we as a people cherish. We stand when the Torah is taken from its resting place in the synagogue. We kiss it as it passes us. We stand as it is walked to a center table where it is read aloud, three times a a week and on holidays. We stand in respect, and in love – always in love.

On Simchat Torah – a holiday that translates as the “Happiness of the Torah” – we celebrate having successfully read the entire Torah over the space of a year. We dance with the Torah and sing. We gather our children and bless them before it – and then, having finally finished the very last word (which is the word “Israel”), we immediately start reading it again so that not a day goes by without there being more we have to read.

On this Simchat Torah, I sat with my mother and watched the men circling and dancing below. And I pointed to one Torah, smaller than the others and started to tell my mother its story. Unsure of some details, I turned to the women behind me and asked them to again tell me about it. These are the daughter-in-law and her sister of the man who owns the Torah, who saved it and brought it to my synagogue.

On November 9, 1933, the Nazis went on a rampage and burned synagogues, Torahs and holy books throughout Germany. They beat and murdered Jews – it was a national celebration of hatred that would herald more than a decade of agony and anti-semitism and culminate in the murders of more than 6 million Jews. It was called the Night of the Broken Glass – Kristallnacht – for all the broken windows and destruction. It should have been a signal to the world, had they only listened and in the deafening silence that resulted, it was a signal back to Hitler. Go ahead – murder your Jews, burn their holy Torah scrolls. Go ahead…and they did.

Yesterday, there were about 8 or 9 Torah scrolls around which the men in our synagogue were dancing. One was written a bit over a year ago in memory of a friend of mine and so I watched the men dance around Ziva’s Torah. Ziva was a beautiful and lively woman who died too young and as I watched her Torah circle below, I saw the beautiful woodwork on the edges of her Torah and smiled – she always had so much style.

But the one that caught my eye over and over again was the small Torah in the green velvet wrapping. The green material was a bit faded and looked very old. In 1933, that Torah had been in a synagogue in Germany when the Nazis came and set the building on fire. The roof collapsed the next day and it rained; the Torah scrolls in the synagogue were badly damaged. The elderly father who was in our synagogue for the holiday took the Torah scroll and tried to have it fixed but it was too badly damaged.

Most Torah scrolls are buried when they can no longer be used. This one could never be read again to a congregation to fulfill the commandment of reading the Torah out loud three times per week. It was taken to France and then, after the war, when the family came to Israel, the Torah came with them.

It is taken out each year, honored for its history – it survived the Nazis; today, they are long gone but the Torah remains. It is given a special honor – it leads the other Torah scrolls around as the men dance and circle and sing.

Seven hakafot – seven circles are made on the holiday – each circle taking long moments as everyone sings and dances. One of the circles was led by an elderly man who walks painfully slow. He is bent over and I cannot even begin to guess his age. He held his Torah, wrapped in the ancient green material and I watched as my mother’s eyes filled with tears.

Everything You Wanted to Know about the Mitzvah Tantz

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Hundreds of Hasidic Jews on Thursday attended the wedding of the grandson of the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe in Bnei Brak, where this mitzvah dance was performed.

The mitzvah tantz (mitzvah-dance) is the Hasidic custom of the men dancing with the bride on her wedding night, after the wedding feast. The bride stands perfectly still, holding one end of a long sash while rabbis, the groom’s father, her own father or her grandfather holds the other end and dances with her.

The source of the custom is in the Gemorah Ketubot (16b-17a):

They said of R. Judah b. Ila’i that he used to take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride and say: “Beautiful and graceful bride.” R. Shmuel the son of R. Isaac danced with three twigs. R. Zera said: The old man is putting us to shame. When he died, a pillar of fire came between him (R. Judah b. Ila’i) and the rest of the world. And there is a tradition that a pillar of fire has made such a separation only for one in a generation or for two in a generation. R. Zera said: His twig benefited the old man, and other said: His habit benefited the old man, and some say: his folly benefited] the old man (the gemorah is playing on the words for twig, foolishness and method). R. Aha took her (the bride) on his shoulder and danced with her. The Rabbis said to him: May we also do it? He said to them: If she is on you like a beam (meaning you are not enticed by her), then it is all right, but if not, you shouldn’t.

During the mitzvah tantz, the bride and her relatives are brought into the men’s section without a mechitza separation. In fact, often the mechitza is removed altogether, and all the women present share the same space with the men on the other side.

Some Orthodox groups are uncomfortable with this custom.

That’s OK.

Jewish ‘Valentine’s Day’ Finds Ancient Roots in Biblical Shiloh

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Over 3,000 years ago, an ancient Jewish holiday was celebrated by the maidens of Israel. Dressed in white, the daughters of Israel would dance in the vineyards where men would choose them as their wives on the Fifteenth of Av, known as Tu B’Av.  Soon-to-be brides would dance in the community of Shiloh in Samaria, the temporary capital of Israel before the first Temple was built in Jerusalem.

The holiday celebrates many happy events that happened during this time in the course of Jewish history, some which were associated with the Temple in Jerusalem.

“Tu B’Av , however, has a much deeper significance than just an Israeli Valentine’s Day,”  according to Tamar Asraf, the spokeswoman of the Binyamin Council.

“In the very beginning, this ancient holiday was more of a local custom than a national one,” Asraf told Tazpit News Agency.  “The holiday gained national significance when members of the Benjamin tribe, who were forbidden to marry outside the tribe following the Pilegesh B’Givah incident and the Civil War that ensued, were once again allowed to marry into the the nation on the fifteenth of Av during the period of Judges.”

“This is a holiday that signifies not only love, but marriage and the continuation of the Jewish home during times of crisis and challenge in the history of our people,” said Asraf.

The Mishnah explains that “there were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish People as the Fifteenth of Av and Yom HaKippurim, for on those days, daughters of Jerusalem would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing…so as not to embarrass those who didn’t have.” Tu B’Av was instituted in the Second Temple period to mark the beginning of the grape harvest which ended on Yom Kippur.

Following the establishment of the modern state of Israel, Tu B’Av was revived as a national holiday celebrated across the country. In the modern day community of Shiloh, located in the Binyamin region, about 30 minutes north of Jerusalem, Tu B’Av’s historical and traditional elements play a central role in celebrations.

For the past four years, the Regional Council and Binyamin Tourism have hosted an annual Tu B’Av “Dancing in the Vineyards Festival” which features Jewish dance and music for women. Live concerts, dance workshops and of course the traditional dancing in the vineyards of Shiloh are some of the main features of the evening set near the remnants of the biblical Shiloh city.

Avital Horesh, the festival’s artistic director said that organizers, who spent months preparing for the event, expect over 1,000 women from all over Israel to attend. “Last year we had 1,000 religious women attend from all sectors in Israel, both religious, non-religious. This year we expect even more—close to 1,500.”

There will be a number of different dance workshops available including hip hop, Oriental dance, and African dance. A concert will be held after featuring well known Israeli singers from religious and non-religious backgrounds.

“The underlying idea of the festival is to bring women together from all parts of Israeli society to celebrate an ancient tradition that brought our nation closer together thousands of years ago. It’s sharing an age-old national message of reconnecting to our roots and traditions–accessible to anyone no matter their religious background,” concludes Asraf.

How Your Children Will Ruin You Financially

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

What are your biggest dreams for your child’s future? For most parents, it is to see him or her grow into a good person, get a top education, make a decent living, and settle down and get married to a wonderful spouse. All of these are worthwhile expectations, and many of us would say that this is why we work so hard.

Yet as a financial adviser, I have seen many families where, when it comes to marrying off their children, the dream turns into a nightmare. The wedding is a financial free-for-all, with the expensive flowers, a top band, luxury caterer, and the fanciest hall in the city. The young couple dance off into the sunset (possibly to the apartment that Mom and Dad are also paying for) while the parents are left with huge debts. Sometimes, desperate parents take on loans that they know they will never be able to pay off, and they end up borrowing from one loan fund to pay off another until they drown in their accumulated debts. Stories abound of the unfortunate father who dropped dead of a heart attack just after the wedding because he just couldn’t cope with the stress.

But let’s ask an honest question here: What is more important? The wedding itself or the years of marriage that follow? Even if you had the money to pay for a lavish wedding, wouldn’t you rather give it to your newlywed children so that they can start building their own home? Or put some of it aside for the next wedding or for your own retirement, as you don’t know how things will be in a few years’ time?

Part of the problem, of course, is what society expects. We wouldn’t feel any pressure to keep up with the Joneses if the Joneses weren’t so fussy about the name of the hall or the caterer, or whether the bride borrowed her dress or actually bought one.

It’s time to change our expectations when it comes to weddings. What’s more important? A happy bride and groom who had a simple wedding and whose parents are healthy (both physically and fiscally), or the young couple who had the “top” wedding, but whose families cracked under the strain? A marriage is supposed to last forever, not the expenses incurred from the wedding.

Obama’s Unseemly End-Zone Dance

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

What a difference a year makes. Last year I praised President Obama for not wanting to “spike the football” by releasing gruesome death photos of Osama bin Laden. But this year, forget spiking the football – the president is doing an end-zone dance.

The Bible says that when someone incurs the death penalty and his body is hanged on a tree as an example to others, he still must be buried the same day. We’re not to desecrate the body of even the most vicious killer because God created humans in His image. So America had no need to put out pictures of bin Laden missing a part of his cranium. The president last year stood by this and it was impressive.

And Proverbs 24 expressly forbids celebrating the death of our enemies. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” We fight bad guys like bin Laden because we have an obligation to protect the innocent by resisting the wicked. But we don’t gloat in it. War should never be about winning glory but protecting innocent life.

The obligation to protect the weak and punish their butchers is famously conveyed in Leviticus 19: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” and again in Psalm 82, “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”

Osama bin Laden was evil personified. We had a moral obligation to abhor him, as the Bible makes clear in Amos: “Hate the evil and love the good.” But while feelings of revulsion were justified, feelings of elation at his demise were not. This too President Obama understood last year and I praised him for it.

But all that has changed with his current victory dance.

We’re in an election year. I get it. But that doesn’t mean our morals should change. What was particularly strange was the president’s inviting NBC TV into the Situation Room, which had never before been penetrated by network cameras. There he spoke about how tough his decision had been to send in the SEALs to get bin Laden.

I am a huge fan of the mostly moral foreign policy of George W. Bush which largely held tyrants accountable for slaughtering their people. I contrast this with Obama’s lack of response after Ahmadinejad killed his own people; his leading from behind on Libya (even though in the end he did the right thing); his lack of leadership in the Arab Spring; and his failure to do much of anything in Syria.

But even Bush stumbled when he prematurely plastered “Mission Accomplished” on an aircraft carrier in May 2003. The same was true when Bush used words like “dead or alive” about bin Laden. The pursuit of glory in battle nearly always ends badly.

The American way is not to gloat in war. It was summed up by Colin Powell in a brilliant speech at the MTV Global Discussion in February 2002: “Far from being the Great Satan, I would say that we are the Great Protector. We have sent men and women from the armed forces of the United States to other parts of the world throughout the past century to put down oppression. We defeated Fascism. We defeated Communism. We saved Europe in World War I and World War II…. And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? No…. We built them up. We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul. And did we ask for any land? No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead. And that is the kind of nation we are.”

This uniquely humble American ethos stems largely from Judeo-Christian ethics. We Jews have suffered more than most. But we stubbornly refuse to celebrate the demise of our enemies or any military triumph. King David is Judaism’s most famous warrior. Yet David’s request to build the Holy Temple was expressly denied by God because he had taken life, even in the defense of life: “But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood’ ” (1 Chronicles 28).

Indeed, the great king was celebrated by generations of Jews not for dispatching enemy combatants but for his beautiful Psalms accompanied by harp and lyre.

Chanukah celebrates the miraculous military victory of the Maccabees over the Assyrian Greeks in the second century BCE. But it was the miracle of the lights of the menorah the Jews chose to emphasize rather than the necessary slaughter of enemy soldiers in self-defense.

Even on Passover, as we recite the Ten Plagues that culminated in the killing of the Egyptian firstborn, we pour wine out of our glasses so as not to revel in the demise of our enemies.

The Wrong Time to Dance

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Last week marked the usual emotional roller coaster that is Israel every year at this time. Yom HaShoah, remembering the heroes and martyrs of the Holocaust, followed by Yom HaZikaron, honoring our fallen heroes (and martyrs to Arab terrorism), followed by Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, the miracle that was and still is the birth of the State of Israel, after and within all of the chaos. Someone said to me yesterday that the most moving videos on Israeli television happen on Yom HaZikaron, due to the incredible power of the events and people we remember. What follows is a very sensitive struggle with the emotional train wreck of memory and current events by a dear friend of mine. There are only questions…

Yehuda was rummaging through a box of toys in the corner of the room when he suddenly paused and called out, “Harmonica! Kochava’s harmonica!”

Kochava Even-Haim, z"l

Kochava – Yehuda’s nursery school teacher, who had taught him, and adored him, for two years in a row. She was murdered by terrorists within hours of greeting us at a back-to-school night at the beginning of what was to be Yehuda’s third year in her warm embrace, an embrace that evaporated in a spray of bullets. Though she has been gone a year and a half, Yehuda, now almost eight years old, still refers to her often.

“Yehuda, did Kochava play the harmonica?” But Yehuda did not answer me; he was already running over to the window, harmonica in hand, and he began pleading to the clouds, “Hashem! Give me back my Kochava! I want her! I want to play with her! Why did she die? Send her back to me from the sky!”

The pure and raw prayer of a mentally disabled child. The pure and raw emotion of a soul unable to comprehend the hatred that leads to murder, but masterfully gifted in absorbing and offering love.

Yehuda and his mother, Jennie, at Yehuda's siddur party

A few weeks later, I finished a work meeting in Jerusalem, and was relieved that due to careful advanced planning, I would be free for the next thirty minutes. I had set aside that time before and after the Yom Hazikaron siren for undistracted private moments of reflection. Yom Hazikaron has become more and more personally meaningful in the five years since we made aliya. Fallen soldiers and terror victims are no longer a list of anonymous names, but are now my neighbor’s brother, my colleague’s uncle, my son’s nursery school teacher. And with a draft letter for my eldest son already sitting in the house, Yom Hazikaron is also a sobering reminder that I too, am about to be drafted, into that elite unit of Israeli mothers who are proud by day and sleepless by night.

I spent the fifteen minutes before the siren in front of the computer, watching interviews with parents, and siblings, and girlfriends of soldiers who died in military training accidents. The interviews were broadcast as the familiar notes of Yom Hazikaron’s mournful songs played in the background, a holiday soundtrack so uniquely Israeli.

11 a.m.: As the siren blared, softly at first, and then strengthening in its haunting blast, my tears were already falling. I moved closer to the window, ten flights up from the street below, to watch the cars pull over to the side of the road, and the pedestrians stop midstep, as all joined in a united moment of silence and prayer. In those opening seconds of the siren, my thoughts were focused on Kochava, and on the bereft parents interviewed online, and on my son’s draft notice. I thought about those parents’ acceptance of their tragedy, their talk about finding meaning in moving forward, and in living life as a memorial to the goodness of their sons. My eyes moved from the still cars below to the apartment building under construction across the street. Standing at my tenth floor perch, I was able to see directly into the open window of a room in which three Arab workers hovered over a large piece of metal. I heard myself gasp as the siren hit its loudest pitch, for at that moment, the workers dropped their tools, and in the room high above the street below, began to dance together. And laugh. And dance some more. And as the tears of the Israelis on the street below flowed, these workers danced. I desperately wanted to believe that their dancing was in no way connected to the wailing siren, but the timing of their smiling nods at each other as the siren blasted was painful to observe from my hidden vantage point, which at that moment felt so very far away from those workers, who were in fact just a few feet away from me. My vision was blurred by my own hot tears as my mind jumped to the parents of the fallen soldiers, and then jumped again to Yehuda crying out with his harmonica for Kochava, and then jumped again, as our thoughts do without our control, to the image of a triumphant Palestinian gleefully waving his bloodied hands out the window to the rowdy crowds on the street below, hands bloodied as he and his friends savagely murdered two Israeli soldiers who had taken a wrong turn in Ramallah over ten years ago.

I Will Keep Dancing…

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

I’m learning to walk again. Every step is painful. I go with a walker. There is a security belt wrapped around my waist which the physical therapist watches carefully so that in case I stumble she will be able to catch me. As I make my way, the nurses and other health care personnel smile and congratulate me: “You’re doing wonderful! You’re doing great!”

I wonder what on earth they are talking about, yet they continue to cheer me on. There is something familiar about the words “You’re doing great – step by step.” Aren’t these the very same words I used with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren when they started to walk? I would smile for them, clap for them, and say “hurrah.” And when they stumbled and fell I would say, “Come on, you can do it – come to Bubbe.”

Now it’s Bubbe who’s being cheered at each tentative step. The roles have reversed, from Bubbe to baby, from baby to Bubbe. How strange life is. You never know what tomorrow will bring. I remember my beloved great-aunt of blessed memory whom we all adoringly called Tante Miriam. She would say, “Esther, gedenek azoyvee dee musik shpilt, azoy darfem tancen – the way the music plays, so we have to dance.” Her words keep replaying in my mind.

So, I say to myself, I have to learn a new song, a new tune, a new dance. I make my way down the long corridor – which in reality is short but to me so very long. I ponder Tante’s sage advice given to me decades ago when I had to grapple with my new life in the U.S. following the war. Coming to this country following life in the concentration and DP camps I had to face new challenges, learn a new language and find friends even though I was regarded as a “greener.” This was not an easy task, but I had a gem of wisdom to fortify me – my Tante’s teaching. The way the music played, so I would have to dance – and having no choice, dance I did.

I hear one of the nurses say, “Rebbetzin [though they are not Jewish, they all learned to pronounce “rebbetzin” correctly], you look like a prima ballerina.” I wonder, are they mocking me; are they laughing? How at this time can I possibly look like a prima ballerina? Of course I doubt they are laughing at me – they are too respectful, treating me with such reverence and kindness.

Those of you who know me can testify that I’m always careful to appear in public properly dressed – to have my sheitel on and for my clothing to be in order. Now I’m wearing a hospital gown, robe, socks, and tichel – turban. So, again, why are they calling me a prima ballerina? Could this be a message from Hashem to me? Once again, my Tante’s wise words come to mind. “The way the music plays, so we have to dance.”

And then it hit me. Ballerinas have to learn not only to dance but how to skip and hop, leap and stretch; how to be in control and how to let go. Should they fall, they have to quickly stand up and continue to dance.

I am on a new journey. I too have to learn how to skip and hop, leap and stretch; how to be in control and how to let go. Ballerinas have to continuously practice or they regress. They have to be disciplined.

Sometimes we are in a valley and it is so difficult to reach the heights of the mountains. But the ballerina has to learn to make that leap and when she’s on top of the mountain she has to leap to the bottom and quickly stand up – the music is playing and she has to continue to dance.

Might this be the message Hashem is sending me? Might He be telling me, “Esther Jungreis, learn to leap and hop. Yes, now you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop. Hold on, don’t lose control. Swallow your tears and keep going – practice and practice again and keep fit. Remember who you are – you are a prima ballerina.”

Suddenly, I have clarity. The cajoling and encouraging sounds make sense. Now it is the young ones – the nurses – reaching out to Bubbe in a loving voice saying, “You’re doing great. How wonderful – you can do it.” I feel strengthened. Yes, I will make the leap.

As I write this, another memory comes to mind. My father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avrohom HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, would often tell us, “When difficult days come upon you, always remember that if G-d gave you those challenges it is so that you should help others find their way when they are confronted with their own struggles and life’s tests.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/i-will-keep-dancing/2012/04/25/

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