Monday, April 13, 2009

Here Comes The Sun: My Wannabe Jewish Moment

Back home in Cincinnati in the late 70s, I was into contra dancing, a form of country dance from New England where men and women stand in opposing lines. (If you ever did the "Virginia Reel" at summer camp or in grade school, you get the idea.) Some of my friends suggested I try international folk dancing with them on Saturday night. They kept talking it up, so I went. I got hooked on it. Most of it was line dances from Eastern Europe, along with Jewish-Israeli dances done in a circle. When I first came to Washington in 1980, I was out dancing three or four nights a week. You didn't need a partner, just the right attitude. I was in hog heaven.

I was only here a few months in the spring of 1981, when I saw the photo in the Washington Post, of people dancing in a circle in front of the Lincoln Memorial, while greeting the rising sun. It was the Jewish feast of ברכת החמה, aka Birkat HaChamah, "a Jewish blessing service honoring the sun, [which] happens only once every 28 years. It occurs when the sun makes its biannual stop over the equator, the vernal equinox, on the fourth day of the Jewish week -- the same day the Old Testament says God created the sun." In those days, I would have tried anything exotic that wasn't illegal or was within reach. I made a promise to myself to attend the next one when it came around again.

One thing you can say about Jews that you cannot say about Catholics, is that they understand how dance can be a form of religious ritual, as opposed to watching a bunch of skinny girls in tights. Most Christians, including Catholics, who promote "liturgical dance" simply don't get it. Now, I certainly do not endorse dancing in a formal worship setting, at least not in this part of the world. I'm not under the impression that Jews do either. Still, they dance to celebrate their faith, one way or the other.

Unfortunately, I forgot how many years I'd have to wait for the great cosmic event to occur again. Then I saw the article about it last Thursday in the Post. As it stands now, I will have to wait until the year of Our Lord 2037. I will be eighty-two years old.

What could possibly go wrong?


Naive said...

Excellent topic, well said!

You probably remember that Miriam danced after the parting of the Red Sea, and Catholics can too! Dance should not be an "intermission" like when the marching band comes out before the second half. The one example I could cite here in the States would be the choir clapping or swaying while singing or playing. Catholic Mass in Africa is a better reference point.

By the way, you could get an electronic calendar thingy, program the date and time now, keep feeding it batteries for 28 years, and let it shout to you when it's time to get up and dance.

Call me Paul said...

There is some controversy within the Jewish religion about this celebration. Some point to errors within the way the astronomical data is calculated, and claim it is held on the wrong date - by several years, I beleive - every twenty eight years. Some celebrate it every year, so you may be able to find someone to participate with before you have to do it with a walker.