Thursday, February 28, 2013

Exploring Feminism


      This session is being held midway through a week-long seminar Feminist Thought, Theology, and Practice in Judaism. All of us have been learning new frameworks and grappling with intense questions of power and privilege, inclusivity and vision for our community. We began by reviewing what feminism is and has been in order to place ourselves and our current struggles against the backdrop of history. We explore the very personal question of how our feminist frameworks change our image of God, as well as the communal question of how we pray together in a way that goes beyond the largely?  male language and imagery of the traditional siddur. We looked at our traditional texts in order to articulate how these texts are changed when read through a feminist lens. And, perhaps most importantly, how we bring our feminist values to life in our work and family life. 

      As a community we have been asking many questions: What's beyond egalitarianism? How do we find ourselves in a tradition when our sacred texts and rituals don't reflect our lived experience? How do we balance family, work, and societal expectations? How do we serve as allies to those in our communities are marginalized? How do we experience marginalization ourselves?

      The goal of this Movement Minayn session is to explore these questions and experiences through the body to see what new insight we can gain through an embodied experience. Specifically, this session focuses on what it feels like to be on the margins versus being at the center and what it feels like to reach out to include those on the margins. This framing stems from the understanding that we all experience marginalization at some point in our lives, and we will all, at some time, have to be the one to reach out to those who are on the periphery.

In the first part of this session we will split into two groups. The first group will be asked to take a scarf/tie from the pile, the other half will not. Earlier in the week, theologian Judith Plaskow pointed out that we all exist within categories, some of these are marked (maleness/femaleness) while others are hidden. Playing on this idea, those with scarves will be in the marked category and will receive different instructions from those without. 

In the second half of the session we will split into groups of 6. Each group will stand in a small circle, facing inward. One person decides to leave the group, walking somewhere else in the room and then waiting with eyes closed. Without speaking, one member of the group will go and retrieve this person, gently guiding them by the shoulders to bring them back into the group. We will repeat this exercise so that every person has chance to both leave the group and to welcome someone back in.


The discussion that followed this session was powerful. There were many strong responses to the exercise exploring marked categories. One student shared that she was resentful of not having been in the group to receive a scarf and was jealous watching everyone who did have this item. After the groups were formed, I cued those with scarves to move in the center of the room while those without could move along the outside of the room. Upon reflection, this student described how those with scarves were taking up a great deal of space in the center of the room, and kept expanding outward. She felt like they were going beyond what was theirs and impinging out the space she and others without scarves had to move in. Further, she noticed that those in the center were able to move as a group while those on the periphery did not have enough space to congregate. These reflections speak powerfully to the experience of many who live in the margins: no space to move, the dominate group continues to take up more and more space, and there is no ability to organize as a group. 

On the other side, another student shared that she felt challenged by having a scarf. She  did not want to be in a marked category and had no idea what to do with the scarf. As a person who identifies as being gender-queer, she was relieved when I gave the instruction for those with scarves to put them in the center so that anyone could pick one up. She appreciated being able to leave a category and then to play with it. As a group we noticed just how playful this part of the movement experience was. People were wrapping scarves around each other and playing tug of war with the props. It was liberating to feel what play and light-heartedness can bring to categories that can feel so heavy and fixed.

In response to the "Leaving the Village" exercise, participants commented on how often they feel outside of a particular group and how much they were looking forward to being brought back in to the circle. We discussed how this was in part designed to address the fact that some men were feeling outside of the feminist theme of winter seminar. While some people experience outsiderness more than others, we discussed how even those in the dominant group feel outside of the community at some time. Participants really embellished and played with this exercise. When going to retrieve their group member, people danced, coaxed, lured, and played with the person outside the group in order to bring them in.

Beyond the specific exercises, we noticed the changes in the group as a whole that the movement experience brought out. One participant shared that, as a cantorial student, she spends a great deal of time in the room we were using for movement, as a performer. She noted the relief she felt in being able to move freely and un-selfconsciously and saw this experience as a tikkun for her relationship to the space. Everyone moved with everyone else, and it was encouraging to see people who have little to no relationship outside of this space interact in such tender, silly, and vulnerable ways. This movement experience shifted the energy of the group as a whole and carried over into the rest of the day's programming in significant ways.


Warm Up (10 min)
Lead with a part of your body 
Goal: come into your body, connect with your breath, allow yourself to be led to explore new movements

-       Framing (5 min)
Center and the margins
Marked categories
Limitations of language, moving beyond that
Access to experience of Divine beyond language – what does your body want to do, sensation, connection, release, pay attention to what feels good
Margins and center, moving between the two, marked and unmarked categories

Movement (25 min)
Part I: Marked and Unmarked
o   Periphery vs center of the space
o   Move to the corners of the room
o   Only move near people with bandanas / reverse
o   Everyone with scarf find somewhere to put it down, everyone without one pick it up 
o   Find someone without a scarf – pair find 2 other pairs, group of 6
-         Part II:  Leaving the Village
o   Form groups of 6, stand in circle together
o   First person leaves the group, goes to stand somewhere in the room with eyes closed
o   Without speaking, 1 member of the group goes to retrieve them, gently taking them by the shoulders and placing them back in the group

Discussion and hand closing (10 min)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

4. Letting Gd In


Journeying Together
This morning's session felt really powerful. People were tangibly more comfortable interacting with each other as the arc of these sessions culminated in group movement. As we're bringing the Movement Minyan to a close at Hebrew College, we are increasingly aware of how long many of the participants have been coming. It has been powerful to experience how much more open we are all able to be in this space because there has been this committed core group of participants who are present at almost every session. In large part because of the safety and comfort in the core group, new participants are able find their way in much more easily, to open much more quickly, and to be lead by their curiosity and sense of playfulness. As Daniel Klein, a newcomer this year, mentioned at the second session, at first he was in his head about his movements but he was quickly able to drop down into his body and find movements that were pleasurable and fun.

As facilitators of the Minyan, we both feel an incredible sense of heart-opening that radiates out throughout the day to all who were present for the session. There are Minyan participants with whom we interact very little outside of Minyan, whom we know little about and have shared few other experiences with. Even though it is only one hour twice a month, the time we share at Movement Minyan connects all of us and evoke a deep sense of empathy for one another.

Evolutionary Movement Flow
Doing evolutionary movement - embodying our primal/animal nature, and being close to the ground as "creepy crawlies" seemed to really lend itself to getting people in their bodies. People felt more comfortable making contact with their own and others' physicality. In our discussion at the end of the session, Julie mentioned this and hypothesized that perhaps many of us felt more comfortable making physical contact with others when we are laying on the floor because we had more surfaces of our body touching something and therefore contact felt more natural. We found it powerful during the "tefillah" portion when we moved across the room, that we all had a common goal (to get from one side to the other) and that lent itself toward more collaboration/helping in movement. For example, Adina and Allan moved, side-by-side across the floor on their bellies, each lending movements and companionship to the other. Whether through touch or through a shared energy, the movement across the room today felt like a shared experience.

It was also interesting to use music. Adam found that he had to put a lot of intention into sequencing the music such that it lent itself to the flow of the movement: he made sure any music with even a slightly rhythmic quality was played at the beginning, during individual warm ups.  He also tried to make an "evolutionary" soundtrack that moved from chaotic/primal sound to softly organized sound, and in general he tried to choose short songs, especially for the tefillah section, so that no one song would have too strong an impact on people's movement.  It seems like the soundtrack, when thoughtfully designed, can be of greater benefit (at best, allowing people to feel comfortable dancing together in a room) than harm (at worst, dictating people's movement, and if strongly rhythmic, perpetuating people's habitual "dance moves" as a performance rather than an internal experience).


Introduction (3 min total)
1) Welcome
- Safe space etc
- Acknowledge wide range of backgrounds in the room
2) This semester's theme
Letting Gd In
- Building the tools of improvisation
-Increasing our awareness of the energies constantly around and within us (emotions, sensations, intuitions, impulses, desires)
- Expanding our capacity for playfulness
- Cultivating curiosity

This session we used a mix that Adam made. The tracks were chosen to evoke the evolutionary theme of the session and the mix was timed perfectly to end when we reached the end of the movement section of the session.

Movement (30 min total) 
1) Evolutionary flow (10 min)
- Belly slithering, crawling, kneeling, standing, squatting, hunched, upright

2) Interactive movement (10 min)
- Pick a stage you want to explore more (reminder of stages), embody stage you feel called to explore, and find someone who is at that level/similar stage
- Explore it as a group: “This could look like mirroring, responding to movements, physical interaction, making similar noises”, etc.

3) Group movement (10 min)
- Move together, become part of one organism moving through stages
- Move up to standing and move back down the chain and devolve
- Continue progression and loop the evolutionary process so that when you become upright, you devolve back to your belly and start all over again
- Play off of one another as a group
- "We're all together exploring what it means to be in this
stage: to the best of your ability move through the stages, using each other as guides, and props and cues”

Tefillah (10 min)
“Over the next few moments, move your evolutionary dance to far side of room, continue your journey together from one end to other end of room as a group”
- Incorporating movements and building on interactions from group movement

Closing (10 min)
- Discussion/Hand Closing

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3. Letting Gd In

Yoga flow on mats (5-7 min)
-Closed eyes, soft eyes, stretching

Introduction (3 min total)
1) Welcome
- Safe space etc
- Acknowledge wide range of backgrounds in the room
2) This semester's theme
Letting Gd In
-Building the tools of improvisation
-Increasing our awareness of the energies constantly around and within us (emotions, sensations, intuitions, impulses, desires)
-Expanding our capacity for playfulness
-Cultivating curiosity

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2. Letting Gd In

1) Welcome
- Safe space etc
- Acknowledge wide range of backgrounds in the room
2) This semester's theme
Letting Gd In
- Building the tools of improvisation
-Increasing our awareness of the energies constantly around and within us (emotions, sensations, intuitions, impulses, desires)
- Expanding our capacity for playfulness
- Cultivating curiosity

1) Yoga flow on mats (10 min)
 -Start from ground and go up to standing

Monday, February 27, 2012

1. Letting Gd In


In our initial thinking about our theme for this semester we wanted to revisit something we had already done. Following the advice of Ebn, we sought to see what it felt like to engage with a theme more than once to help ourselves grow as facilitators and to see how a theme changes over time, with new people, at a different moment in history. We have also been thinking more about how to bring our work with the Minyan out into other communities. How does the same theme respond to a new setting, or to people with diverse backgrounds? After reflecting on past themes (Shema to Ge'ulah: the move from oneness to redemption, Modes of Leadership, and "Baruch Atah YHVH": the move from orientation to disorientation) we decided to play with Modes of Leadership a second time.

Simultaneously, Adam and I were processing a powerful movement experience

Friday, October 28, 2011

Embodying Teshuva

I. Warm Up
Welcome people and invite them to take off shoes and warm up individually as they enter.

II. Introduction
1) Get people in a circle standing: 1) share names and do a movement with name (and everyone repeats name and movement); if time 2) go around circle where everyone does movement and name together, and then 3) go around circle with just movement.
2) (Still stand) What is teshuva, “return” or “repentence” to you? (brief discussion)
3) Introduce movement: teshuvah--not only returning to ourselves but returning to the people around us--that process is not isolated--it’s in context--relational.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

5. Why Pray?

Our goal for this final session of the semesters is to move from YHVH unknown to Eloheinu Melech ha Olam, which is regrounded in acknowledgment of the communal "our Gd," and then our best articulation as a community of what Gd is "King of the Universe." This semester we have been exploring the blessing formula Baruch Atah YHVH as a journey from the known, clear, directional Baruch Atah to the unclear, not-oriented, directionless YHVH. As we close out the semester we end with the way the blessing formula ends "Eloheinu Melech ha Olam," a re-grounding, re-orientation, a new "known," this time with the knowledge of having been together in the unknowing.

The blessing formula takes us on a journey: we each come in with our own assumptions, together we go through a process of being challenged, exploring new ground, having our original ideas dislodged. It is only then, coming out the other side, that we can articulate a shared experience and a shared vision. Our

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

4. Why Pray?

After Nate's injury at the end of Movement Minyan last week we began our meeting with Ebn by discussing the role the habits play. In many ways, habits serve to protect us. When we reach out into the unknown and begin to let our habit patterns fall away it is easier for us to get injured. In the long run it may be better to undo a habit, but in the short term this has been a reminder to all of us to be careful and stay present as we let down our defenses.

In thinking about this week's session we became interested in playing with the same exercise we did last session in a new way. Perhaps it was a result of our instructions or perhaps it was simply our collective tendency, but last session we observed that to be "directed" for many of us means one thing: to follow or to mirror one another. Through our process in the Minyan we are excited to explore and unearth a range of interactions and postures between "rag doll" and moving totally on our own; between passively following or being totally independent. Ebn pointed out that this tendency mirrors the relationship that many of us have with the siddur: either we do our own thing apart from the set liturgy, or we allow the siddur to be in total control and we mirror what we see. What are new

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3. Why Pray?

After a long discussion around whether or not to continue our exploration of the choreography associated with "Baruch Atah YHVH," we decided that our initial session on choreogrpahy was a great starting place, but we were excited to take our inquiry in slightly different direction. Our goal became to work with the journey the blessing formula takes us through. This means delving into the move from directionality to no directionality, from groundedness to lack of groundedness, from movement where I am being held to movement where I am not being held, from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Our plan is spend the rest of the semester experiencing the arc of these words. Our first two sessions will be on this move from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Bring in the next part of the blessing formula "Eloheinu Melech haOlam," our third session will explore the move from the unfamiliar (YHVH) to the communal (Eloheinu). Finally, our fourth session will play with the entire phrase: familiar (Baruch Atah) to the unfamiliar (YHVH) to the communal (Eloheniu).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2. Why Pray?

As we began to envision what this semester could look like, we talked about using previous forms, possibility of keva movement minyan. As our discussion continued we ended up moving away from this idea and towards a focus on our relationship to Gd and how that gets expressed through prayer. Adam brought up a Hasidic teaching that says that when a person prays, she should be so engrossed and passionate and intent that even the first letter, the bet of baruch, can hardly make it out of her mouth. We became interested in exploring the blessing formula "Baruch Atah YHVH" that we say so many times every day. As we began to delve into these words we started by writing the words of the blessing formula on the board, each in its own separate space. We thought about qualities of each of the words and the transitions between them. When we were done, we underlined physical qualities that we had put under each of the words so that we might more easily bring the language of movement into our brainstorm.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

1. Why Pray?

Beginning Again
In thinking about opening the Movement Minyan this spring at Hebrew College, we knew there would be a mix of old and new faces, people both with and without basic awareness of and comfort with movement.  Like our very first session, the goal for this first session was to introduce bodily awareness to this diverse group of people by drawing upon our respective movement disciplines to create enough structured movement that everyone would feel safe participating and taking personal risks in this space, and eventually building up to improvised individual movement.  As we brainstormed, we paid particular attention to how to structure our movement practices, and articulate natural feeling transitions from paired stretching to improvised movement.  We also reflected on unexamined assumptions we'd made in previous sessions: in many of our paired movement exercises, is there a particular reason we don't we instruct people to switch partners?  What would be lost or gained in trying this?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2. Alone and Together

Movement Minyan comes to Burning Man
Examining Assumptions
My brainstorm about this session grew out of my thinking about the previous session, Alone and Together I - since they were both happening in the particular context of the Burning Man festival, and would happen over the course of two consecutive days.  In gathering and reformulating material from the final session of the Movement Minyan, I had to continue to reflect on what it would mean to bring this practice to a context and group of people who I didn't know, and whose familiarity with Judaism, liturgy, and movement I had no way of being able to predict.

Making it Cosmic
This session, in many ways, was easier to introduce than the first since so many people are familiar

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

1. Alone and Together

Moving the Minyan to the Desert
Adina and I discussed the exciting opportunities for challenging the Movement Minyan to explore new horizons by facilitating two sessions at the Burning Man festival.  When designing these sessions, we couldn't know who we were designing them for, but could assume they would bring a wider range of familiarity with Judaism than our regular "venue", Hebrew College.  Through sharing and reflecting on some of our experiences in workshops there, and of the space and energy of the festival, generally, some themes that could be particularly engaging to explore with people on "the playa" emerged.  We noticed that some of the themes we'd already explored (of "togetherness" or unity and alone-ness or separation) resonated most deeply in this discussion, so decided that it would be powerful to revisit two sessions we had already done and think about how to make them deliciously immediate and accessible experiences in a context radically different from Hebrew College.

Principle #10: Immediacy
We decided two of the richest sessions to harvest material from and prepare for the desert were the

Friday, May 7, 2010

4. Modes of Leadership

In the Deep Blue Sea
We began, of all places, in the ocean. To explore the experience of all together together we started by thinking about nature. What species do we know of that move all together together? The image that came to mind was a school of fish. Somehow, each fish is a separate organism, but as an adaptive and protective mechanism, the fish are able to sync up with one another and create almost a super-fish. How, we wondered, are fish able to remain separate, yet become so intimately connected that they move as one being? Further, how could we get a feeling for this experience through the body? Here's where our brainstorming goes wild!

One Fish Two Fish...School of Fish
For an idea we didn't end up going with, we spent a lot of time brainstorming, so we wanted to include all of that here.After spending some time excitedly browsing through YouTube videos watching swimming schools of fish, we

Friday, April 23, 2010

3. Modes of Leadership

Differentiating Modes
We began by thinking about the idea of praying "alone together", and how that might look as a movement flow.  After Adina and I had an initial meeting in which we had some difficulty differentiating between the mode of "praying alone together" and "praying together", which we felt would be a wonderful mode to explore in our final session of the semester, we talked about different movement activities we'd done that embodied this particular type of prayer experience.

Being Alone with Others
Ultimately, this particular session became an experiment in planning backwards: we had hoped to try to facilitate a session of the Movement Minyan that was inspired by something I had experienced at the Silent Disco.  At this type of event, participants each wear a set of wireless headphones to which DJs broadcast their music, so the dance floor is essentially silent, lending itself to people's individual experience of the music while they dance together in the same space.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2. Modes of Leadership

Initial Thoughts
For this sessions we wanted to make a very clear distinction between call and response, that is to say between moving/saying and stopping/listening. By exploring each of these dynamics separately we could then examine the dynamic that arises as these boundaries shift throughout prayer. One goal was to keep in mind the question: what does it mean to be fully alive in this space? We knew we wanted to at least start with something very structured to highlight the unique aspects of call and response. We continued to discuss the idea of presenting what we've learned to community at some point, using these modes to present.

Call and Response
For this session we wanted to create a group experience involving listening and responding in order to explore the dynamic of call and response in prayer. Our center focus would be on the figure dictating action, as it is in traditional prayer. However, even as we looked at the different rolls of caller and

Thursday, March 11, 2010

1. Modes of Leadership

Planting  Seeds
We began by setting broad goals for the Movement Minyan as it moved into its second semester of existence - namely that we wanted to use it to create an ecstatic communal experience, surface new ideas in relation to prayer and G-d, use the body to answer questions, and ensure people left the Minyan with a sense of a quality they want to recreate in their personal and communal prayer experiences.

Collective Action
Some of the experiences Adina and I discussed working with this semester included exploring in the dark with the body, doing partner poses, and guiding intense meditation sessions.  We also explored the idea of bringing in another Contact Improvisation exercise that involved the whole room moving and each person being responsible to respond.  Continuing to delve into our own experiences of ecstatic movement, we talked about my

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Visions of a Movement Minyan, Part 2

It's All in the Question
We came back from winter break excited to expand and deepen our work with the Movement Minyan. In our initial session with Ebn we reviewed what we learned from our work with the Minyan first semester. One primary learning was the value of asking a question that can only be answered through the body. From being in school all day engaged in intellectual matters, our tendency was towards brain-centered questions. With Ebn's help we were working to shift these questions so that the body could provide the answers. Ebn was also helping us to break down a complicated question to its essence in order to make it answerable. For instance, there are so many nuances that could be focused on in the flow of prayer from the Shema to the Amidah. Ebn's questions and direction helped us narrow and simplify so that we could focus on one dynamic: the interplay between oneness and freedom.

Not only were we learning what questions to ask, but how to effectively facilitate an experience to

Friday, December 11, 2009

4. Unity and Freedom (Two Versions)

Embodying Unity
In our fourth session, we wanted to explore the experience of "unity" by exploring and playing with its opposite, "separation".  These are abstract concepts, and we challenged ourselves to make them as concrete as we could by grounding them in specific movement flows that we had enjoyed in our respective movement practices.  I had done several partnered movement warm-ups in my training in contact improvisation that embody these concepts, and in our discussion, Ebn, Adina and I strung these exercises together to create a movement flow.

Contact Improv, Meet Drama Improv
The three movement activities we decided to use were 1) individual improvised movement, in which the mover simply responded to the music in their own way, 2) a method acting warm up by Augusto Boal in which partners respond to each other by moving into and holding poses, 3) a mirroring exercise.  Initially, we discussed exploring moving from a state of separation to a state of unity by

Friday, November 20, 2009

3. Unity and Freedom

The question we began with: If Shema stands for oneness/unity and Geulah stands for freedom, what does it mean to say that oneness frees me?

To answer our initial question we began by searching for what we could take from previous classes to build on for this session? Last time we used the diea of boundaries and structure, starting with formal boundaries that progressively got looser and looser. We asked ourselves what question we wanted to put out at end of next session? Ebn reminded us of the power of doing something more than once ie) doing last week's class again and adding 1 element to it. Using relationship structure we could ask new question or same question in a different setting.

Three Poses
We decided to use three set yoga poses as our boundary or limiting factor. We would choose three

Friday, October 30, 2009

2. Unity and Freedom

Shaliach Tzibbur
Our discussion began with questions. In what ways did we want to engage the community - through group learning, group conversation, liturgy or a combination of all three? What sort of questions were we, as rabbinical students, currently addressing--through our studies or through work--regarding prayer? As rabbis we will often be in the position of leading prayer for our community. How do we both have an experience of prayer for ourselves and facilitate an experience for others? This question brought to our minds the role of one who facilitates prayer, the shaliach tzibbur. Knowing that we wanted to explore the relationship between G-d, the shaliach tzibbur and the kahal, we became interested in how the shaliach tzibbur simultaneously maintains a relationship with G-d and with the kahal, keeping the connection between all parts of the triangle (as Ebn diagrams it) alive. Whether leading prayer or participating with the community, what is our awareness like during tefilah?

Dynamic Tension
We knew that we wanted to draw on the shared knowledge of our rabbinical student community and to

Friday, October 16, 2009

1. Unity and Freedom

Starting with a Question
In brainstorming with Ebn, we decided we wanted to start with a specific question, "What's tefillah about?" as a prompt for a one word answer, and to think about that idea in terms of movement, and finally build the process of the session around that idea.  We took the "answer" of "close and distant" and explored how we could create a movement process with this theme.  Do we want to involve touch (sitting back to back - coming away and back towards the other person)?

Body Awareness
In any case, we wanted to keep the movement simple, and decided to start with body awareness - perhaps by doing a "body scan" and perhaps 5 Rhythms.  The way Ebn framed body awareness was using the image of a landing strip and talking about "how many bulbs are lit up around body".  Ebn  also brought up the idea of increasing people's "body literacy": how one movement affects other parts of body.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Visions of a Movement Minyan, Part 1

"Movement Minyan"
In our initial planning discussion with Ebn, Adina and I began to articulate the goals of the Movement Minyan.  Our broad goal was to create a "laboratory" that explores a specific question over a series of sessions, and figure out how to learn about it through movement (i.e., the question of "What is tefillat tzibbur," or communal prayer).

Dance as Prayer
One question we wanted to explore before planning our sessions was, assuming we can pray in a non-verbal mode, what makes dance "prayer", rather than non-prayerful movement?  Some of the factors we suggested were the way the movement space would be set up, people's internal experience of the movement, and the time that the movement happens.

Body and Practice
In creating our specific sessions, we decided we wanted to start with an introductory session to introduce people to their bodies and their relationship to Jewish practice.  Part of the goal of this was