Chasidic women dance night away
On a chilly Tuesday night, Nov. 15, across the hall from the boys’ basketball practice, the Tzohar Seminary for Chassidus and the Arts held what turned into an invigorating musical performance from the students and visiting Israeli artists.
The Katz Performing Arts Center started to fill up as soon as the doors were opened at 7:45 p.m. The excitement was palpable as women and young girls filled the seats. Few were not in traditional clothing and everyone seemed to know everyone else.
“I’m very excited,” said Yolanda Avram Willis, who was one of the first to arrive for the show. “It’s the first public showing of the seminary and I hope it goes well.”
Twenty minutes late, with around 200 in attendance, the lights finally dimmed and the audience quieted down.
The evening’s performance began with a video of interviews with the students at the seminary followed by an opening act performance from six of the women.
“I’m in Tzohar Seminary because I love art and I love everything about it,” said one of the students in the video. “I love what it is to the world and what it can be to a person.”
The seminary is currently in its inaugural year. It is a program for young, Jewish women who have graduated high school and are interested in combining Jewish studies with the creative arts. The students have the opportunity to learn everything from dance and music to filmmaking and creative writing. This year, 13 women are enrolled and Amy Guterson, who founded Tzohar, directs the program.
After the student performance, it was time for the main event. Tziona Achishena and Sheva Chaya are Israeli artists, both originally from the United States, who are on tour together. Achishena is a singer-songwriter and Chaya is a visual artist. As Achishena performed on stage, images of Chaya’s work passed by on a projection screen at the back of the stage.
“We call [the show] ‘Miriam’s Drum,’ our coming together with women and dancing and singing and sharing the artwork,” said Chaya after the performance was over. Both the songs and the artwork are meant to inspire women and help women express themselves.
Throughout the entire performance, Achishena encouraged the women in the audience to rise, dance and sing along. She performed a mix of traditional Jewish songs and some of her own work. A slightly modified version of Bob Marley’s classic “One Love/People Get Ready” made it’s way into her performance.
At first, Achishena’s requests for audience participation went unanswered. There was some foot tapping and applause, but mostly the crowd quietly enjoyed the show.
Slowly, though, Achishena’s enthusiasm and energy spread throughout the room. First, there was some foot stomping, then finally a crowd of dancers started to gather on the stage.
By the end of the night, most of the audience was on stage dancing.
The evening turned into more than the organizers had hoped for.
“It completely exceeded my expectations,” said Rivka Levy, one of the seminary students.
“It was really beautiful,” said Chaya. “Over the top amazing.”
(Ilana Yergin can be reached at email@example.com.)