Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Softening the Sharp Divides

We began our lab with one of my favorite activities, word analysis.  The rabbi fired words at us, one after another, asking if we knew what they meant.

Maariv -evening service
        Maarav -from the west
                 Arov  -wild beasts
                      Erev rav - the mixed multitude
                            Erev - woof (as in weaving)
                                     and finally to our theme...

Eruv - a boundary

"What do they have in common?" he asked.

All share the same root. Each contains these three letters:  ayin raish vet.

What an odd mixture of words, and rather appropriate. The word from which they are derived actually means "mixture."

So let's take a look at what an Eruv is and how it relates to this common root.  The rabbi beckoned us to the window with a view outside of Beth El.  "There is the Eruv, " he said, pointing.  I looked around trying to figure out what I should be looking at.  Barely visible, a thin string blended into the grey sky.  

The rabbi directed our attention to Exodus 16:29-30, that first instruction to rest and "let no man go out of his place" on Shabbat.  We are told that we are not supposed to do any malachot, any kind of creative work on Shabbat.  The rabbis spell out 39 categories of work that fall within this. We get a few more specifics in Jeremiah 17:21-23 where we are told not to carry burdens through the gates or from our homes on Shabbat (see Eruv handout).

Hence the Eruv.

The Eruv is a device that allows Jews to observe Shabbat more freely.  If we are not supposed to leave our homes carrying something on our person, transferring it from one place to the other, then why can't we just expand our homes? And so we did.  We created a boundary, a string or perhaps a wall, that makes a public domain a larger private domain.  There are some rules that govern the Eruv.  You can't have more than 6000 people passing through the area for it to qualify. Now it isn't the string that is the Eruv. It is a shared meal, what could be more Jewish? To define an Eruv you must set aside food for a public meal.  The rabbi reminded us that in a synagogue some of us visited in Israel, the Eruv was defined by a container holding matzo. There is a blessing that is said by the rabbi to establish the Eruv.

The Eruv is composed of two poles and a lintel over a figurative doorway. It is a permeable border which allows the light of holiness to flow forth to the larger community. (Besht 18th century Poland).

The concept of the Eruv is linked by King Salomon to Netilat Yadaim, handwashing.  Together these two concepts mean conjoined, but spiritually clean.  When we grasp our hands for hand washing the right hand is above representing loving kindness.

So how does the Eruv relate to the concept of a mixture?  By expanding our private space to include our neighbors, we are joined with them, an inclusion, rather than an exclusion.  How do some of those words similarly derived relate to this concept? Well evening conjoins day and night.  It is that space in between.  The sun sets in the west so that also links to evening.  We conjoin to form a weaving. Mixed multitudes speak for themselves, in many voices no doubt and wild beasts, well let's assume we have quite a mixture of them.

Jonathan Sacks speaks of the Eruv as softening the sharp divides of boundaries.

Now the Eruv is somewhat controversial in the real world. The modern Orthodox want the Eruv, the Lubavitchers feel it creates confusion as to where they can carry on Shabbat.  This division has become so heated that it broke out in Seussian rhyme.  Even Jon Stewart joined in on the divide over the Eruv in Long Island.

The second part of our session was led by Simone Williams. Simone had purple dreadlocks and an energy that immediately filled the room and pulled us into their orbit.  Oh, the pronouns Simone goes by include they, them, theirs.Simone is a spoken word poet, organizer, educator, artist, actor, playwright, queer, trans, black, white, Jew.   There are a lot of people in there doing a lot of interesting things. The boundaries that most of us use to define ourselves are much broader for Simone. They shared some of their visual artwork with us, collages with text and image.  They also read some spoken word poems which were exceptional in both content and delivery. 

Simone Williams
Simone took us through some interesting exercises in movement.  We were asked to walk as if we were late for something, through peanut butter, as if we were in love and as if we dreaded where we were going. The differences were fascinating, from pulling our feet out of peanut butter up to our knees to being frozen in dread.  I was a bit concerned that the late for something movement felt so familiar, not so the peanut butter.

by Simone Williams
Simone then broke us into groups of two where we took turns mirroring the movements of our partner, ultimately with neither leading.  That exercise actually felt natural with movement flowing from one to the other. Boundaries began to blur. Then it got a bit more complicated with groups of three.  We realized we had to pay much closer attention that we were used to doing.

If you'd like to continue to follow Simone's work you can find them performing at Intermedia Arts Open Mic 5:30-8 bi-monthly.

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