When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1995, my husband Sandy wanted to send me into surgery with a gift that would calm and assure me of my family’s presence. The gift he offered was a powerful image of the four of us around the Shabbat dinner table, still, silent, holding hands, a circle of energy. I succumbed to anesthesia, summoning the image and let its light stream in.
This memory is the inspiration for a new performance piece entitled “Streaming Shabbat” which will draw on stories, both biblical and modern, about women and their experience of the Jewish Sabbath. “Streaming Shabbat” will bring local composers together to reinterpret traditional melodies and create new music to relevant works of Jewish poetry, which in turn will set the literal stage for a new body of my choreography.
The Shabbat experience in the lives of women throughout history, when quilted together, provides insight into the universal power of this holiday and the rituals with which it is associated. For thousands of years this home-based evening of celebration has brought loved ones together to reconnect to the spirit and to one another. Naturally attuned to the spiritual aspect of the home as a nest and haven, women have honored the first moment of the Sabbath with the golden and holy glow of candlelight, in an unbroken tradition.
There are infinite stories to discover from both past and present. For example, the Talmud relates the tale of Bruriah, who receives news of her sons’ deaths during the Sabbath. Burdened with her own grief, she must consider when to inform her husband of the horrific news. Before guiding him to their sides, she lays her sons on their beds and when three stars rise in the sky, poses the question:
“If someone were to lend something to another and then appears to ask for it back, should it be returned?”
When her husband, Rabbi Meir, replies: “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed is the name of the Lord”, it becomes clear that Bruriah, through compassion and wisdom, has presented a way for her beloved husband to accept the tragedy she must reveal to him. In a story told by Avraham Englender, a young woman named Miriam in a death camp in Germany during the Holocaust risked her life to honor the Sabbath. When a friend gives her candles that she forged from bits of wax and string, Miriam hides them in her blouse through the days and nights leading up to Shabbat. When the time comes to light the candles, she Imagines her mother’s covered face and refuses to interrupt the blessing when the heavy sound of boots make their way into her barracks as her mother’s voice (a memory?) whispers behind her.
These as well as my own story of how a Shabbat image carried me through the terrifying ordeal of waiting to hear the fate of my health, are just a few of the many stories of Shabbat that I hope to uncover in my research.
My goal is to create a work that celebrates the central role women play in both the historic and modern Shabbat experience as seen through personal memories solicited from shared entries on the “Streaming Shabbat” website currently under development. My hope is that an entertaining evening dramatizing these and other stories will inspire and awaken a spiritual connection to the rituals of the Jewish Sabbath and perhaps an interest in tracing Shabbat stories from past generations.
Performers: Joanie Block, Whitney Cover, Julie Leavitt, Melinda Rothstein, Gabriela Silva, Lorel Zar-Kessler, Rossi Walter, and Juan Aparicio.
Choreography: Joanie Block
Composer: Billy Novick and Willy Sordillo
Video Art: Lynn Bikofsky
Green Street Studios, Cambridge, MA
Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, Newton, MA
Temple Mishkin Tefilah, Newton, MA
SELMADANSE was invited to present “Streaming Shabbat” at the 2014 biennial Aleph Kallah Symposium. The performance was followed by a Q&A leading to a fascinating discussion about the blending of art, faith, history and how each has the potential to further one another.
The Aleph Kallah is an organization within the Jewish Renewal movement devoted to a partnership with the Devine and the healing of the world and the human heart.
Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, Cambridge, MA
At this Congregation housed in The Fayerweather School in Cambridge, SELMADANSE performed “Streaming Shabbat” as part of a family service. The informal setting provided the perfect backdrop for parents and children to consider the impact of Jewish ritual on their own lives, of those who came before them, and the lasting effect of Shabbat traditions on future generations.