In the book “Uh-Oh”, Robert Fulghum wrote a line about dancing that caught my eye:
“…you move around a lot, not to get somewhere, but to be somewhere in time.”
I liked that a lot. It reminded me about Jewish life in a few ways:
First, Judaism isn’t as interested in going places as it is in elevating the place (and more specifically the moment) we’re in right now. It’s less about the “where” and more about the “when”.
Abraham Joshua Herschel famously wrote about this, saying Judaism focuses on building holy moments, not holy sites – sanctuaries in time, rather than in physical space. We don’t make things or places holy. We make time holy.
The second thing Mr. Fulghum’s quote reminded me about is how we Jews also know about dancing, but not the way you think.
You probably won’t find us, as a cultural phenomenon, on “Dancing with the Stars”. We don’t be up on stage doing a dance-off with Beyonce. In fact, when you go to a Jewish party, you’re most likely to see us in a big circle. Dancing (or more likely shuffling) around and around.
But if you catch us during prayers, that’s where you can see the real moves. The word for it is “shuckling”, which refers to the bobbing, swaying, spinning, and gesticulating you may see some Jewish folks do as they engage with the Divine. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they shuckle (or don’t). Where they were raised and where they went to school and who their heroes are.
But it’s not for show. In fact, most of the time nobody is paying attention. Everyone is too focused on their own inner conversation.
In Jewish prayer, we have the ultimate expression of that phrase “dance like nobody is looking.” – Intimacy in our attempt to connect with Infinity.