Sometimes we experience holy and precious moments at times and in places that we are not expecting. And in those moments the presence of God is palpable and profound.
Surprisingly, on “erev Erev Pesach” (the night before the Seder) I experienced that holiness in one of the most mundane locations: Tel Aviv University’s sports center in the final major harkada (Israeli dance session) before Seder.
Before every Jewish holiday, the Israeli dance leaders who lead the hundreds of folk-dance sessions around Israel (and the world) craft playlists reflecting the up and coming holiday celebrations. Before Pesach, it is practically obligatory to dance the well-known tune from the closing passages of the hagada—Echad Mi Yodea.
This iconic song was never one of my favorites as a child, and I disliked it even more as I matured. Singing it is almost always obligatory, never joyous. It feels long and arduous, with a pediatric form that made me want to run into the kitchen to clean if only to escape the monotony.
But the first moment that I heard this musical arrangement—-originally choreographed for the Bat Sheva Dance Company—-I was moved. It was as if I could feel the desert sun beating against my face as we made our figurative way though the miraculously parted Sea of Reeds into the wilderness and chaos of the unknown.
Unlike the version of my childhood, this musical arrangement is haunting and powerful. When I hear the tribal drumbeats that signify the beginning of the music I am drawn onto the dance floor into the circle by a force larger than myself. The brilliance of the artistic endeavor lies in the carefully crafted award-winning folk choreography, created by Israeli dance choreographer Gadi Bitton. Bitton crafted one significant motif per verse, connecting the newest to the previous ones to weave together a seamless modern midrash through movement to q song that can be traced back to the 15th/16th century.
I will be honest. There are those who viscerally groan and run to drink coffee until the next dance commences (and given the length of this piece, there might even be time for two cups if one drinks speedily). But there are many of us who squeal at the mere sound of those three tribal drumbeats calling us to the dance floor, silently panicking when we realize we haven’t seen nor reviewed the choreography since last Pesach. The light tension on the dance floor is palatable. Somehow, as we do every year, dance steps come pouring out of our bodies effortlessly—each movement building upon the ones before.
I am grateful that my sense of prayer and connection to God exists both inside the walls of sanctuaries as well as in a myriad of other places. I feel a great connection to the Divine Presence in my life when I connect with the immense natural beauty of the world. I hear God in the heavenly harmonies of music. I find God in the holiness of relationship with others. And I find God woven though the movement of dances that allow me to be connected and at One.
Perhaps some of my dancing acquaintances take this imaginative and integrative work for granted. Every year, I marvel at the ingenuity of this art, how it has become so engrained in my Pesach experience, and how I look forward to it with tremendous joy and anticipation. For me, it would not be Pesach if I didn’t hear those three drumbeats.
(Don’t be fooled. I look forward to the charoset as well.)
If we are ever blessed to attend a Pesach Seder together, peek under the table as we sing Echad Mi Yodea. You just might see my feet softly beating and tapping in unusual patterns. Perhaps you will smile. Or even better, you might even dance with me.
This is my Pesach. This is my offering. This is how I remember. This is my retelling. This is my prayer. Wishing you your own joyous and meaningful journeys into this time of our freedom.