September 29, 2011 —
As summer gives way to fall, I pause and reflect. Although I do not spend much time in temple these days, the Jewish traditions I grew up with still resonate. Rosh Hashanah is “One of two High Holidays in the Jewish religion, the other being Yom Kippur, which occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah begins (this year, Thursday, September 29). During the High Holidays, Jews cleanse their soul and get the chance to start fresh with an unburdened conscience and the intention of doing better in the coming year,” (www.howstuff  works.com).
Even though I’m not prone to believing in sin, per se, a fresh start is appealing, and an opportunity to wipe the slate clean of whatever transgressions I might think I’ve made is welcome. One of the most prominent themes of the holiday revolves around the symbolic “Book of Life.” An internet search reveals that “A Jew’s life depends on whether or not he or she decides to make amends during the holiday period through the means of repentance (teshuvah), prayer (tfiloh) and charity (tzedkah). It is a key moment to reflect on past mistakes and resolve (in front of God) to not repeat them in the coming year” (www.wikipedia.com ).
Not wishing to dwell on some of the poor choices I may have made during the last year, I choose instead to embrace the tradition of “casting my sins upon the water” and move on. Even though I have worked hard at ignoring the concept of “Jewish Guilt” (and yes, my mother was an expert), I honor this tradition every year, just in case. Pondering the past is a great way to make informed decisions for my future, so I resolve to spend the next 10 days in deep thought (it could happen!) and contemplation, praying (for lack of a better word) that the meditative state will serve to make me a better person.
Apparently, examining the past in order to create a better future is not relegated to a “chosen few” but more of a universal theme, as exemplified by actor/dancer/writer Nora Brown’s one-woman show “Dad Doesn’t Dance,” which was presented at the Krause Recital Hall (www.artsalliancesite.org ) in Narrowsburg, NY over the weekend.
Described in the program as “A true noir tale of a dancer from the wilds of Winnipeg who tangos her way through five mysterious men to her ultimate dance partner, the biological father who abandoned her,” the one-act play, which was nominated for Outstanding Solo Show Production in the NY Midtown International Theatre Festival this past July, is a fascinating (IMHO) look at how the “sins of the father” can impact us long into our adult lives... and that self examination can lead to enlightenment, resolution and forgiveness.
With nothing but a bare stage and a single chair, Brown creates an atmosphere for the audience that takes hold from the very beginning of her story and keeps the observer rapt with attention throughout. OBIE-award-winning media artist Marilyn Ernst’s subtle, effective sound design enhances this production, and the hour flew by as Brown engaged the crowd with her tale of fear, rejection and revelation.
Brown, who splits her time between NYC and the Upper Delaware Valley, has been exploring these issues for a lifetime, but the last two years have been key, as she hones this piece for an audience. With dance as a metaphor, the playwright employs body movement throughout to bridge the timeline between scenes, which adds to the dreamy landscape she presents, baring her soul and sharing her tale, which ultimately leads her back home to the family and life she values above all else.
Not being Jewish, it would appear that Brown’s motivation in finding the father she never knew was never intended to elicit guilt from him, but rather to serve her with a better understanding of love, acceptance and relationships. Interesting and intimate, Nora Brown’s exploration of the parent/child relationship (or lack thereof) is clearly cathartic for her—and was thought provoking for me.
If there are any residual thoughts of abandonment (or guilt) on my mind, the Jewish holiday is a timely reminder that forgiveness is a gift not to be taken lightly, but one that can ultimately free the soul to move forward with understanding and compassion, rather than dwelling on what might have been. On Rosh Hashanah, Jews often say to each other, “May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, which brings the promise of a good year.” The belief is that on this holiday, the names are written in the book and on Yom Kippur, 10 days later, the book is sealed. These 10 days are referred to as the “Days of Awe.” Okay, then... moving on.