Sunday, December 21, 2014

8 Nights of Ruckus and Romping - 5) L'Chaim and Tradition - Fiddler on the Roof.

This clip is from Fiddler on the Roof and although wonderfully happy, it is full of conflicts and tension.  It moves the blood. You can't watch that and not feel the primal power of the moment.  My father's Hebrew name is Chaim which means life.  My brother, who is currently visiting me and my famliy, always joked that he thought when people said l'chaim they meant to our Dad.    

My mother is from this very background.  I can't help but wonder occasionally, where might I have been raised, if the evil of the pogroms and holocaust had never happened.  Would my family have eventually moved to North American, or more likely, would I be sipping vodka in Eastern Europe somewhere right now?  Maybe I would be having a shot in the local bar singing l'chaim - to life.  

These videos remind me of an experience I had in Jerusalem in the early 90's.  Every Friday night we would go to the Western-Wall and Rabbi's would pair people up with hosts that would give us a nice Sabbath dinner.   That week, I was invited to a house in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.  The host was a rather sour looking Rabbi.  There where 6 of us for dinner that night.  Three women and three men.   We all ranged in various level of religiosity.

The Rabbi was not a good host.  He did not make us feel welcome  He looked at us like we were all in need of a good scolding.  He went on to lecture us ladies.  Among other things, he told us that we were wasting our eggs and should get married and have Jewish babies. He said that it was our role in life and that each month we wasted another egg.

As you can imagine, this did not sit well with me.  I got rather upset, told the man that I thought he was wrong and got up from the table and left.  The hostel I was staying at was locked up for another couple of hours so I had nothing to do but to wander the old city.  It was dark and not the safest place to be on your own, however I was used to it so I took it all in stride.

Shortly after I left, a guy came running up to me.  I recognized him as one of the people that was at the dinner.  He came after me to make sure I was OK, and to stay with me so I would not be alone in the old city at night. We went up onto one of the many roof tops of Jerusalem and sat and talked about Judaism and philosophy. Neither of us even noticed the time until the hostels were all closed up tight for the night. We sat and talked all night, he was very knowledgeable and kind.

It was not until several weeks later that I found out he was a very respected religious Rabbi.  I thought he was just a traveler like me.  He never made me feel bad like the host Rabbi did.  He did not treat me differently because of I was a woman, nor did he discount my opinions.  He was kind and considerate and even gallant.

At the end of our night together he asked me if I would give him a hug.  It seemed like a safe enough request. He told me that it had been 8 years since he had touched or been touched by a woman.   We hugged for a while and then went on our way into the new day.  The moral of this story is that traditions may run deep but humanity runs deeper. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

8 Nights of Ruckus and Romping - 4 Matisyahu Hanukah Song

Matisyahu is a Jewish performer that has managed to gain a huge following, often making it into the top 10 with his music.  He does a range of work that has gone from reggae rap, to rock, to a new found "less is more" attitude  He has identified as a Orthodox Jew for most of his career.  He has recently shaken off the black but keeps Judaism as the center of most of his music.  It is very rare for a Jewish artist to make it big and maintain an orthodox lifestyle, however Matt, or Matisyahu as he is know, has done so.

This video, Hanukkah Song. is full of traditional Hanukkah characters such as the Matisyahu. Matisyahu was a leader of the Maccabees back in the days of the Hanukah Story.  Of course there is some odd stuff with wookies and toy soldiers. It tells a story while swirling around random thoughts and images.

As a Canadian I like the skating scenes.  As a music lover I enjoy the melody, but I really like the  beat. I have seen Matisyahu perform a few times at various festivals and even have some close up pics of him hanging out with the peeps.   I have seen shows that were all reggae, more rap hard almost industrial, and now more settled and smooth and lovely.  We will revisit him in a later post for another of my favorites.

So this video goes well with the fact that as of today I have been doing hot yoga, rather consistently, for 2 full years.  I never would have thought, that first day when I bolted from class after 40 minutes, that I would still be there two years later.   I still am getting my butt kicked each time but my practice has progressed and allowed my body to be more fluid.  Talk about a miracle.  Not only is it a miracle that I have survived, but also it has been a miracle for my body, mind and soul.

I am not usually the kind of person that can stand doing anything routine for very long.  I like to learn new things, do new things and do things a little differently.  I never could line dance because I just couldn't stand doing what everyone else was doing like some sort of mindless hoard.  Sorry to all those that enjoy line dancing, no offence intended.    Yet, I have been showing up and getting in line and doing this practice over and over and over... for two years now.

I want to express my thanks to all those at Sumits Hot Yoga Columbia for your generosity of spirit and frankly for your love.   I feel a part of a community of yogi's that really walk the walk of this practice.  Unlike Jews, that no matter their level of religiosity, feel this strong connection to Israel and the rest of the tribe, Yogi's connect based on the concept that more is just more. The more yoga or meditation you do the more microscopic strings you send out into the universe to connect with all the other strings of everyone who has and who will practice. The connection is silent and has no demands. It gives and it receives.  

For this, fourth post, and for two years of breathing,  Namesta, and thanks for the miracles you have done in the past and continue to do today.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

8 Nights of Ruckus and Romping - 3) Scythians Havah Nagila

Ahhhhhhhh!!!!   Tradition.  I discovered this band at a Wakarusa Music Festival on the top of Mulberry Mountain in North West Arkansas.  I was sitting at my camp enjoying the company of some fine folk when I heard the Havah Nagila coming at me.   It was quite the shocker.  The last think I expected at the top of a mountain in Arkansas was to hear a traditional Jewish celebration song.  Yet, there it was.

The band was called Scythian and was a bit of an unknown to the circles that attend that festival.  They did not have the best time slot, however they did have two shows with a better time for the second set.   I saw both shows and danced my tush off. 

There music was a mix of Klesmer, Celtic, Blue Grass, and Classical.   It was what I would call stomping music.   If a person could sit still with them playing they would have to be working hard at it.  I looked from dude to dude in the band and thought, 'Are they Jewish or do they just play a lot of weddings?'   

The reality was that it did not matter either way.  The song was traditional, and when I heard it I just knew, deep down inside, that they had found a frequency that just resonated with my Jeiwsh soul. At every simcha, (jewish celebration),  the Havah Nagila is played, from weddings to bar mitzvah. It is sung and danced to, running in circles until someone pulls a muscle or falls over the brides dress.  

I remember back in 1992, I was on on shore in the Bahamas during a cruise of the Caribbean.  It was a work trip and the co-worker I was hanging out with had attracted these two guys.  They were from somewhere in rural small town America.  My co-worker was rather attracted to one for them.   The other was an ignorant fool.  He kept making Jewish jokes, and let me tell you, they were not funny to me.   I was not impressed and was looking for an escape route.  

We were haning in this bar in the Bahamas, and I was contemplating walking back to the boat by myself when these two Israeli guys came up to me. One said very point blank, in a beautiful Israeli accent, "You do not have to put up with that."  He took my hand and escorted me back to our ship.  Their English was not so great and my Hebrew was even worse.  I realized that the only Hebrew I really remembered was either a prayer or the Havah Nagilah.    

These two people made a huge impact on me.  They had the Bravado to just walk up to me, take my hand and calmly escort me out of the uncomfortable situation I was in.  They did not worry that these two big American guys, well into their cup, would do something.  All they knew was that in their limited English, the words these guys were using were antisemitic.  

They did not know me, however they knew somehow that I was Jewish.  They protected me as part of their tribe.   We hung out for the next two days.  They inspired me to want to go to Israel and learn more about these strong, funny, powerful people.   They were the catalyst that sent me on my journey that lasted the better part of two years.  They gave me the strength to leave a bad relationship, buy a backpack and board a plane across the big pond.  The journey connected me indisputably with my Judaism in a deep resonating way.   So when I hear the Hava Haglia I know I am home.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

8 Nights of Ruckus and Romping - 2. The Maccabeats - Candlelight

I love this video.  When it first came out as a parody I fell in love with it.  The boys were each so cute and very modern orthodox yeshiva boy look.  I grew up with many dudes that looked just like these guys and connected with them immediately.  OK the dude that sings "I throw my Latka in the air" is my favorite.

The song is catchy and the story is told by the end of the fun and fast moving song.  It satisfies the qualifications of being Jewish content and reminds me of some of the dudes back in old Toronto.

So I grew up in a suburb of Toronto that had a lot of Jews and Italian along with a bunch of everything else.  I went to several schools from a Jewish day school to the area public schools.  I had friends from all walks of life and never even dated a Jewish guy till I went to Israel in my early 20's.  My longest relationship was with an guy of Italian and Irish decent.
I had a group of friends through my BFF who were more on the modern orthodox side.  There was a one dude's place where everyone hung out.  They were great group of dudes, funny, giving and usually centered around a TV set watching hockey.  Most, spent some time studying in Israel and some even made the leap and moved there. One special friend is no longer with us and we all missed him so.

The Dreidel is a symbol of Hanukkah. Why you may ask? Well, back in the day when the Jews were not allowed to practice Judaism or gather for learning, they would gather anyway.  When someone would come around they would pull out their dreidels and pretend to be gambling.  The Romans preferred gambling to Jewish learning or community.  

The dreidel has four letters on it and the letters represent the words that mean Big Miracle Happened There.  This is true for all dreidels outside of Israel.  In Israel the dreidels say Big Miracle Happened Here.  The differents, is to represent the location of the temple that was destroyed, in Jerusalem.

For me Chanukah, among other things, is about the right to learn and the struggle for knowledge.  The spark of knowledge can grow bringing understanding and launching dreams.  I believe that the miracle of knowledge can and must be encouraged to happen everywhere.  Thus, when I next go to Israel I will get a gross of dreidels that say Big Miracle Happened Here and use them from then on.  It does not matter if you are on the Cardo in the old City of Jerusalem, or sitting by the Sea of the Galilee, or you are having a coffee in the Starbucks in Barns and Noble in your local mall.  The freedom to learning, central to Jewish tradition, should be a persons obligation, privilege and right.

So for this post I would like to salute all those that continue to seek out knowledge and learn throughout life.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

8 Nights of Ruckus and Romping - 1. Adam Sandlers Chanukah Song

This year has been odd for Jews. The situation is complex beyond measure.  Enough said, it's not easy being a Jew (sung in full Kermit voice). I am inspired to add value to the conversation by celebrating the joy of Hanukkah, and it's victory over oppression, with a festival of Jewish music.  Throughout the holiday I am going to pick cool Jewish music videos and reflect on them with hopefully significant thoughts and reflections. The music only need have a connection in some way to qualify. I am going to start a little early to get it going.

Oh and I plan to spell hanukah in as many ways as possible.  See if you can pick out the number.

For the first night of Chanukah we have Adam Sandlers Chanukah Song, live in Chicago in 2012.  I love live music.  I tend towards the music festival world with a great love for beat, grove, funk, jazz, blue grass, etc... If you can shake your money maker to it, I am all in.  So I pick this particular version because it is live and in front of a big old crowd in Chicago. My husband is from Chicago and it is quite a town.   

So this song brings in pride and connection for Jews.  We are a very small % of the population.  Jews are few and far between when you get out of the main big cities.  Jews tend to stick together in geographic centers of culture and food.  

Despite the numbers and no matter how you slice it, Jews are found in large numbers in the public eye.  They are main contributors to innovation and scientific expansion. They are active in art through acting, music and design.  They are found at the center of the fight for civil rights, social justice, and environmental control. It feels good to know that we are in the company of the great ones no matter our size.  We are contributing to the progression of societies all over the globe. 

No matter if you are a liberal, conservative or orthodox, you can get down with Adam and his crew. At this time of year we are saturated in holiday cheer, so to hear we are in the company of the great Spock and Fonzi is fabulous.   It is also always great to see the Adam Sandler, who has a very Jewish presence with the essence of being a Mench.   

Chanuka is about so many things.  At its core it is about resilience, about making it through all the road blocks and still having a nation of Israel to call our tribe.   I am referring to the Nation of Israel as being a people throughout the world, in Israel and the Diaspora.  "Nation of Israel" "Am Israel" (in Hebrew).  So when you hear about the struggle of one Jew in a small town school being harassed, or a stabbing in Jerusalem, or the desecration of a Jewish monument in Europe, it hits 'Am Israel'.   

It is like we are part of a one of those giant Aspen tree systems that are all interconnected below ground, or like the Borg or something.  Yes, that is a Star Trek, Next Generation reference.  If you don't know it, it is a common consciousness that all of the Borg are connected through.  It is a common computer interface, in the Borg situation.  In the case of the Jewish Identity it is a connection on a different level. It could be one of the 7 loops or dimensions, or maybe it is a sense of Zionism, or common souls, or maybe just the fantasy of a bunch of orphans. 

All humans want to feel that connected to a sub group that will welcome them.   Cheers, with its song, were everyone knows your name, resonated with everyone, let us not forget.

Identifying as a Woman in the struggle for professional equality is spun with images of leaning in to much, or not leaning in enough.  It has glass ceilings, labyrinths and old boys clubs.  It is an image that has not advanced far in the last decades.  

The image of a Jew, now there is something I can connect with.  We have more than our fair share of:  intellectuals, ethical scholars, political activists, scientists, doctors, professionals, actors, comedians, artists, musicians, and leader.  So to Adam Sandler and the Chanuka Song we say thanks for the reminder that from the the days of the Maccabi to today we have had our great ones and we have persevered. Am Israel Chai!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shifting Inward

The semester is coming to an end and I have had a chance to get back to yoga.   I practiced four times in the last 6 days, which is the a record for this semester. Sadness, you might say. Yes, you are correct. Sadness abounds.

For these last four practices I have changed up my process.  I made this change, partly because I did not want to look judgmentally at my body while I worked out, and partly because this may be a next step in awareness. Let's just say thanksgiving food frenzy and the busy semester, were not kind to my body.  To shake things up, I started placing my yoga mat at the back of the room, where the view of the mirror is blocked with other people.  Usually I would have positioned myself in the front room, by the mirrors, in the view of many people.

Instead of looking at my reflection and allowing that to guide the postures, I have been focusing on the internal alignment.  I have been feeling the body's position by how it feels inside.  I have been feeling the posture and the adjustments through my internal eyes.  OK, this may sound a little odd. however that is how I role.

This shift has taken more that just feeling the positions,  I have also had to focus my sensory perception to inside the cube that is my yoga mat.  I have been purposely closing my eyes more and limiting my feelings to me in the room.  I have been actively visualizing the voice of the Yogi as a recording.  This has become a time of me alone with no responsibility for anyone else.

If I don't feel the position is working for me I have been adjusting as needed without fear of confusing everyone else.  Being at the back of the room, I have not had  to guide those behind me or be an example for those needing modified positions. 

Ironically, this feeling of inner focus, has freed me from the responsibility to the outer world.   Being one of those people that truly feels the energy of those around me, this was a big shift.  For me to close off and not be receptive has taken substantial concentration. Yet it has also taken a lot of pressure off.  

So today's class was a community class and actually quite full.  There were four rows of people and it was the last class of the day.  It was hot and humid with all the combined body heat and sweat. Certainly, it was a little bit of a nightmare for those who OCD on body fluids.   It was a hard class and a good one. 

I managed to keep focus on my cube, my breath, and the balance and alignment in my body.   I don't really know if I was doing the positions better.  However, I do know that it felt good not judging myself.  It felt like I was building my inner strengths and love. 

I have found a value to not judging myself through my practice and not putting the pressure of guiding others upon my time.  Instead, I can love and breathe and focus. This may just allow me to focus on the joy of the journey instead of the steepness of the climb, and maybe, just maybe allow me to find some inner peace.