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Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, December 14

A BRIEF INTRO INTO HASIDISM

The Hasidim, or "pious ones" in Hebrew, belong to a special movement within Orthodox Judaism, a movement that, at its height in the first half of the nineteenth century, claimed the allegiance of millions in Eastern and Central Europe--perhaps a majority of East European Jews. Soon after its founding in the mid-eighteenth century by Jewish mystics, Hasidism rapidly gained popularity in all strata of society, especially among the less educated common people, who were drawn to its charismatic leaders and the emotional and spiritual appeal of their message, which stressed joy, faith, and ecstatic prayer, accompanied by song and dance. Like other religious revitalization movements, Hasidism was at once a call to spiritual renewal and a protest against the prevailing religious establishment and culture.
 
The history of Hasidism, which encompasses a variety of sometimes conflicting outlooks, is a fascinating story. The movement survived a century of slow decline--during a period when progressive social ideas were spreading among European Jewry--and then near-total destruction in the Holocaust. After World War II, Hasidism was transplanted by immigrants to America, Israel, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. In these most modern of places, especially in New York and other American cities, it is now thriving as an evolving creative minority that preserves the language--Yiddish--and many of the religious traditions of pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jewry.
 
The Hasidic ideal is to live a hallowed life, in which even the most mundane action is sanctified. Hasidim live in tightly-knit communities (known as "courts") that are spiritually centered around a dynastic leader known as a rebbe, who combines political and religious authority. The many different courts and their rebbes are known by the name of the town where they originated: thus the Bobov came the town of Bobova in Poland (Galicia), the Satmar from Satu Mar in present-day Hungary, the Belz from Poland, and the Lubavitch from Russia. In Brooklyn today, there are over sixty courts represented, but most of these are very small, with some comprising only a handful of families. The great majority of American Hasidim belong to one of a dozen or so principal surviving courts. Hasidism is not a denomination, but an all-embracing religious lifestyle and ideology, which is expressed somewhat differently by adherents of the diverse courts (also called "sects").
 
The Hasidic way of life is visually and musically arresting with rich textures, unusual customs, and strong traditions of music and dance. Hasidic tales, intriguing and memorable doorways into a complex world of Hasidic thought, religious themes, and humor, are fruits of a long and continuing oral tradition. Popularized in the non-Hasidic world by writers such as Martin Buber, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Elie Wiesel, they are famous for their particular wisdom and wit.
 
Yet this world is virtually unknown to most Americans, who are apt to confuse Hasidic men, who wear beards, sidelocks, black hats, and long coats, with the similarly-dressed Amish. This shared style of dress does indeed reflect similar values of piety, extreme traditionalism, and separatism. But where the Amish are farmers in rural communities, the great majority of the approximately two hundred thousand American Hasidim live and work in enclaves in the heart of New York City, amid a number of vital contemporary cultures very different from their own.
 
Most of the approximately 165,000 Hasidim in the New York City area live in three neighborhoods in Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park. Each of the three neighborhoods is home to Hasidim of different courts, although there is overlap and movement between them. There are approximately forty-five thousand Satmar Hasidim in Williamsburg, over fifty thousand Bobover Hasidim in Boro Park, and at least fifteen thousand Lubavitch in Crown Heights. The population of each of these groups has increased dramatically since the first American Hasidic communities were formed in the late 1940s and 1950s, with especially rapid growth in the last two decades.
 
Article excerpt from pbs.org

 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, November 30

JEWISH WEDDING CEREMONIES

It has been customary at some Jewish weddings for the traditions to begin long before the day of the ceremony. For example, the shidduch is the process of matchmaking; a close friend or relative suggests that the potential couple meets to determine their compatibility.
 
According to Jewish law, physical contact is not allowed until marriage, nor may the couple be alone together in a closed room, to guarantee the choice is based on intellectual and emotional attraction, rather than only physical attraction. Once the couple has decided to marry and their families have met, the announcement is made at a vort, a small ceremony where the wedding responsibilities are divided between the families. Traditionally, the chatan and kallah, groom and bride, don’t see each other the week before the wedding; they even greet their guests separately the day of the ceremony.
 
Jewish traditions liken the couple to a king and queen; the bride sits on a “throne” to greet her guests, while the groom’s invitees sing and toast him. Some families also observe a traditional plate-breaking ceremony for the mothers of the bride and groom; the ceremony reminds the families that marriage is a serious commitment and, like the plate, a broken relationship can never be repaired.
 
One of the groom’s first tasks at the reception is the signing of the ketuvah, the marriage contract. Although it is a legally binding document, enforced by secular law in many countries, the ketuvah is beautifully hand written like a work of art and many couples display it in their home. After the signing of the marriage contract, the chatan (groom), the male family members, and guests make their way to the bride’s room for the badeken or putting on of the veil. The veiling of the kallah (bride) by the chatan (groom) is representative of several ideals: the importance of modesty, the importance of soul and character over physical attributes, and the chatan’s promise to clothe and protect his wife. There is also the rather unromantic, legal necessity of properly identifying the bride before the wedding.
 
The next stage of the wedding features the chuppah. This canopy is a decorated cloth held aloft and open on four sides as a symbolic home. This part of the ceremony is held outside under the stars to symbolize God’s blessing of the union. The chatan, wearing the traditional white kittel robe makes his way to the chuppah, accompanied by his parents. The kallah follows with her parents, then circles the chuppah seven times with her mother and future mother-in-law while the groom prays. The number seven reflects the seven days of creation and the circular path symbolizes the woman’s role as a protective force in the household. Under the chuppah, a Rabbi or family member recites a blessing over wine and the couple drinks the blessed wine. Once the groom has placed the ring on his bride’s finger, the ketuvah is read aloud and given to the bride. Then the sheva brachos, “seven blessings,” are recited, again over a cup of wine, praising God’s creations and particularly the creation of the human as the “two-part creature” of man and woman. The couple shares the wine and the groom stomps on a glass to break it. This is a centuries-old custom, symbolizing the idea of keeping Jerusalem, its destroyed Temple, and the sorrow of Jewish exile in one’s mind and heart, even during times of joy. Once the glass has been broken, guests cry “Mazaltov!” and the celebration begins.

Now that the couple is legally allowed to be alone together, they are taken to the cheder yichud, “the room of privacy,” to break their fast while their guests carry on with their festive dinner. After a ritual washing of the hands, the newlyweds are announced and the dancing begins. A separation of men and women is required by Jewish law, so large circles are danced around the “king and queen” to entertain and enhance their joy of the occasion. The event ends with the Birchas Hamazon, “grace after meals,” and the sheva brachos are recited over wine one last time.


Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, November 9

WE ARE EXCITED ABOUT...

revisiting the most celebrated play of Yiddish literature in an entirely new way. Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey, who we have been blessed to have at the REP for over 25 years, directed a more traditional production in 1993 of The Dybbuk by Yiddish playwright S. Ansky. But now, Todd has written a one-man version of this classic story, starring Ron Campbell and featuring original music by Yale Strom. This new play contemporizes the classic in a way that invites the audience to fully enter a mystical world.
 
The original play centers around Khonnon and Leah, a young couple promised for marriage to each other by their fathers even before their birth. But when Leah’s father breaks off the marriage with the penniless Khonnon, who dies instantly of a broken heart.
 
Khonnon has his revenge by entering Leah’s body in the form of an evil spirit called a dybbuk, which makes her act as though she is possessed. After rabbinical intervention—the likes of which Ansky had seen in exorcism-like ceremonies among the Hasidim when traveling through present day Belarus—Leah is forced to decide whether to marry the rich man or enter an unworldly union with the ghost of Khonnon.
 
In The Dybukk for Hannah and Sam’s Wedding, Uncle Jerry, played by Ron Campbell, raises his glass and offers a speech to the happy couple. Fueled by alcohol, the speech turns into an elaborate recounting of the tale about a dybukk. As Uncle Jerry, Ron ends up embodying over 20 characters in a mystical tale of love and eroticism, offering a virtuoso performance of this great Jewish tale where the boundaries between natural and supernatural worlds dissolve.
 
We are thrilled to have Ron Campbell return to the REP after such an unforgettable performance in last season’s one-man show, R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe. Ron, who started working as a street performer in Europe, doing mime and clowning, went on to train with various international companies in Greece, Italy and Japan. Since, he has done everything from playing the lead clown in Cirque du Soleil's Kooza to performing 38 characters in The Thousandth Night. With more than 150 productions to his credit, he has received some of the most coveted awards in theatre including: the London Fringe One-Man Show of the Year, the Los Angeles and Bay Area Critic’s Circle Awards for Lead and Solo Performances, the Helen Hayes Award, and The Fox Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement.
 
We are also excited to infuse this play with traditional Eastern European Jewish music composed and performed by longtime REP collaborator, Yale Strom. Yale is at the top of a rare group of composers who are carrying on the tradition of writing original New Jewish music—often with Yiddish lyrics. His music—combining klezmer with Hasidic nigunim, Rom, jazz, classical, Balkan and Sephardic motifs—ranges from songs to quartets to even a symphony. His many recordings have appeared on Top Ten, Year's Best and critically acclaimed lists across North America.
 
Since beginning his first band—Hot Pstromi—in 1981, Yale has conducted over 75 trips of extensive field research in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans among the Jewish and Rom communities. Yale has become the world’s leading ethnographer-artist of klezmer and this research has not only lead to several books and documentary films, but has also been instrumental in the creation of his repertoire, including the music written for this play. As Time Magazine noted, "Through his art, Strom has brought back his spiritual Klezmer ancestors."
 
We are calling forth the spirits for this classic tale that over one-hundred years ago broke definitively with naturalistic theatrical tradition to create an expressionist pageant—a mystery play (misterye, misterium), as it was commonly called—woven of folklore and Hasidic legend. Todd has surrounded himself with an impressive team of designers to create this mystical realm amidst a wedding reception hall, includes: Guilio Perrone (set), Joe Huppert (projections), Sherrice Mojgani (lighting), Anastasia Pautova (costumes).
 
We invite you to join the sprits for this celebration of faith, love, honor and tradition.
 
 
 
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