The ArkGilded Serpent presents

Dancing on the Bema

by Moya Grabina-Smiler

Our temple needed volunteers to perform in the annual Purim schpiel (a play depiction pertaining to the story of Purim). Thinking that I could belly dance in the production, I asked the director if she would like me as an addition to the play. I was quite surprised when she enthusiastically accepted my proposition; in fact I wasn't even required to audition. Just show up at the family potluck dinner and services and the Purim schpiel would be put on for all in attendance later that evening. The play was to be performed in the auditorium which had this beautifully large raised stage and a sound system that was more than adequate for the size of the room that holds about 200. I was fairly excited about my upcoming debut at my temple. I had just recently let my friends there know that I was a belly dancer and thought the time might be right to show them my stuff. So a couple of months later as the holiday of Purim approached, I put together the most modest costume I could conjure up as I had no intention of offending anyone at the synagogue. My children were very excited about their mom's upcoming dance performance and the family came in tow for the potluck dinner, the services and the big event of the evening.

As preparations were being made by the stage and backstage assistants, there was a last minute change in the presentation. Apparently, the stage audio was not working at all and there was no one around capable of fixing it due to the time factor.

The rabbi and cantor made the momentous decision to put the play on in the sanctuary on the bima (the pulpit which holds the holy scriptures). When the news reached me I was in shock- didn't they realize what I was going to do? How could the conservative rabbi condone a belly dancer on the bima?

I couldn't recall any experience of this particular kind in any synagogue. All of a sudden I became extremely nervous. How were the congregates going to react? This was no ordinary event all of a sudden! As I changed into my costume I kept thinking I would be ostracized from the temple if I went on with the performance on the bima. I convinced myself to squelch the thought, knowing without a doubt that my veil dance choreography was a beautiful piece of work and I was going to dance no matter what the outcome. Waiting, my cue came and on I went, beledi-stepping out of the rabbi's study through the side door leading to and onto the bima, initially not daring to look at the audience. I taqsimed and looked out over everyone to see Eric, my husband, standing way in the back of the sanctuary with the proudest smile and I felt a slight bit more comfortable.

With my back to the Aron Kodesh, the ark which holds the sacred Jewish Torahs, I glanced over to the side of the pulpit as I circled around with my multi-colored veil and caught sight of the ark, and saw the cantor whose face was aglow with delight and the rabbi smiling and knoding his head to the music. Immediately, I felt an overwhelming spiritual uplifting that just took hold of me. The dance became a force of its own.

It's difficult to put the feeling into words but if I tried to describe it, the feeling I had was that everyone pertinent there was enjoying what I was " giving" them and I was thoroughly happy. If my Eternal Spirit was enjoying my "gift" as I felt then, this presentation was totally appropriate.

My dance felt successful; I heard all the clapping and cheering . Later, Eric informed me that I had gotten a standing ovation and that people kept coming up to him and complimenting me. Somehow, deep inside of me I had connected with something strong and it felt wonderful and impowering. Besides, had not my namesake, Miriam, also danced for her god by the River of Reeds as a show of her faith and devotion in her god's guidance?

* On the holiday of Purim, which is celebrated sometime in March, the Megillot Esther, the Scroll of Esther, is read. It is an ancient story of how a Jewish woman picked by the king of Persia to become his queen, risked her life to save her people from being destroyed by the king's chief advisor.

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