Last night, I attended my cousin’s wedding in Israel. The bride was glowing; the party was jubilant. The couple was clearly beshert (meant for one another); they had been together for years and travelled the world together. The evening was a beautiful celebration of their love. Only one element was conspicuously absent to me; they didn’t dance the hora.
The hora is a circle dance that was originally brought to Israel by Romanian immigrants in the nineteenth century, and it became a symbol of national restoration. The dance soon became the state dance of Israel. The great thing about the hora is its ability to bring together all the people present into a series of concentric circles around the bride and groom, who are typically raised up on chairs in the middle.
I asked my mother-in-law why they didn’t do this dance at the wedding. She responded, “We don’t need to dance the horah here. We’re already in Israel.”
This week’s Torah portion could fit more with our visit to Israel. The parash is called Lech Lecha and literally means “go to you.” In the parasha, at God’s bidding, Abraham and Sarah made their journey to Israel. They left behind their birthplace and their parents’ homes to start again in a new land. This journey began the wild, wacky adventure that became the Jewish people.
The rabbi at the wedding fittingly noted that the wedding took place on the portion recounting the first Jewish couple, Abraham and Sarah, and that the bride and groom, Nufar and Ido, now became a link in that chain which began with Abraham and Sarah. This chain includes a land, a language and so many customs that have become integral along the way including songs and dances.
On the flight to Israel, I read “Hope Will Find You” by rabbi Naomi Levy. Her book describes her spiritual struggles in raising a child with developmental disabilities. She wrote about how the hora became a paradigm to help her grapple with these challenges. Levy explained that life is often conceived of as a race. In a race, one can be ahead or behind. If life is a race then her daughter with developmental delays was behind, and she, who had stopped working in order to care for her daughter and son full-time, had dropped out of the race.
However, Naomi came to understand that life should instead be conceived of as a hora dance. In the hora, one can’t be ahead or behind. One can easily rest when one is tired and then easily rejoin the circle. One can lean on the people for support. “The question a person in a race asks is: How far ahead am I? The question a person in a dance asks is: How wide is my circle?”
Whether in Israel or around the world, we should dance the hora at moments of celebration. Furthermore, we should remember that life itself is a hora. And when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, just dance.
Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children.