Forum 07.22.09

The Birth of a Dancing Neo-Hasid, or My Renewal as a Jew

(The following was written and danced by Rabbi Diane for the 2009 ALEPH Kallah.)

A story, not so very different, perhaps, from your own….well, maybe a little different…..
Once upon a time
a young Jewish girl
growing up in the
suburbs—of Chicago!—
in the 1950’s and ‘60’s,
discovered that she like
the silent prayer best.
One minute, maybe two,
on Friday nights.

Later
she loved praying
in the outdoor chapel
at the Olin-Sang-Ruby
Union Institute Camp
in Oconomoc, Wisconsin,
under a tall tree
with broad, heart-shaped leaves,
which shadowed wooden benches
arranged in a square
like the Israelite tribes
encamped in
the desert.

There she breathed G~d in and out,
eyes focused on the lake
sparkling beyond the lawn.
There, forty-three years ago,
Reb Zalman came
to dance a Shabbos dance
black robes flapping,
fur-brimmed streiml
soft and firm
on his head
like a dark, fresh-baked khallah.

Then Elie Wiesel came
and told about his youth—
the years in Auschwitz—
in a soft voice
the campers strained to hear.
He sat with them in the chapel,
under the broad-leafed tree and stars,
listening to the young people pray.
He grasped the girl’s wrist in approval
when she read her poem about “I and Thou,”
and murmured “Veddy gud.”

She loved Israeli folk-dancing
and Hebrew songs,
so she joined the staff.
dated rabbinical students,
went to Israel
drank in the beauty,
the ancient energy,
breathed G~d in and out,
saw also many soldiers—
fear and hatred and unconsciousness.

The girl—
a young woman now—
came home
to dance instead of pray.
She learned to listen with her hands,
to sit in silence
for days on end,
to walk and eat mindfully,
to let the painful stories
and the joyful stories
arise and pass away.

One day in 1995
a Jewish Buddhist friend said,
“Simkhat Torah?”
and she found herself
in the basement of
the Friends’ Meeting House
in St. Paul, Minnesota,
hugging a Torah scroll
to her chest,
dancing, dancing, dancing.

Of the many who came to teach at Havurat Sivan—
One, Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank,
whose memory is a blessing,
opened a space in her mind
like the space in chapel under the trees,
like the silent sitting days.
He breathed G~d into and out of
prayers she’d learned as a girl,
and prayers she’d never heard.

The woman, middle-aged now,
began to grasp at last
how paths of joy,
of tears, of dance,
of gospel song and Hebrew chant, of story, study, rhythm, silence—
are all one Torah—
one great horah!

And with her learning just begun,
suddenly—
Reb David left this earth,
left her to begin again,
to find her way—
growing, glowing, ever-going—
renewing,
day by day,
her Jew-ing…..

schooling in rabbinics
at the AJR-CA,
Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, dav’ning
opening the way…
to depths of transformation
near the San Francisco Bay
cycling into the Aquarian Minyan—
Reb David’s former place of play—
where she works and learns and teaches
breathing G~d into this day….

© 2009 by Rabbi Diane Elliott