[Round Two O.C.T.O.B.E.R. XII] Customary choreography

An interesting title, and I’m referring to choreography (and other components) that jazz up a typical Friday night service.  I got the idea when my friends Stephanie and Sam commented that they started “table taps” when singing שלום עליכם (Shalom Aleichem) before dinner, and our table all participated last night.  It got me thinking about other points in the service where I have taken extra choreography, or seen it beyond what is “prescribed.”

During a Jewish service, the customary choreography involves standing at certain points of the service, including all times when the ארון בקודש (Ark) is opened.  There are a few different points where bowing is prescribed, such as during the עמידה (Amidah) and עלינו (Aleinu).  It is an acclamation of G-d’s sovereignty.  I have always just burnt it into my psyche without really questioning these parts, however.

It becomes more interesting, however, when choreography takes forms that are non-traditional, and I have a feeling that many of these originated from Jewish summer camps.  For example, during עלינו, the line “ואנחנו כורעים ומשתחווים ומודים לפני מלך מלכי המלכים” has a traditional bow (which makes sense: the line literally reads, “and we kneel and bow, in reverence to the Sovereign of Sovereigns.”) 

Later in עלינו, a popular thing of choreography is to bend-straighten-tiptoe-straighten or tiptoe-straighten-bend-straighten the knees on the word מרומים (the heavens) since the most common tune used elongates the last syllable as “ee-ee-ee-eem”.  Participants in this extra choreography often signal each other by either pointing up or down to indicate whether tiptoe or bend knees, respectively, that person will do first.  This is also done on אל לבבך (to your heart) since the last two syllables are elongated as “veh-eh-eh-kha”.

At the end of the שבת (Shabbat) evening service, the hymn יגדל (Yigdal) is recited.  The end of every line has the syllable “תו” (pronounced “toe”).  During my second or third year at Northwestern, I noticed some of the people on the couch in the library at Hillel (where Conservative services are held) adding choreography in the sense of either touching or pointing to the toes.  This included Max, Naomi, and others of whose names are eluding me right now.  A few of the words also end in the syllable דו (pronounced “doe”) and Max added the choreography of slapping his face (i.e. “D’OH!”)

Those were added to my יגדל repertoire, but a few others came to me.  In the third line, it goes “אין לו דמות הגוף ואינו גוף…” (literally: G-d has no semblance of a body and has no body).  But the word “body” in Hebrew is “גוף” (pronounced “goof”), so since I am such a goof-ball, I point to myself when singing this line and getting to each mention of גוף.

Additionally, in the latter few lines, the word אל (pronounced “El”) appears a few times.  Each time the word appears, I look up, and that is actually a double-entendre.  The word אל in Hebrew is another word for G-d.  Therefore, it can be construed as me looking toward the heavens when I read that word.  OR, since I am in Chicagoland, it can be looking up toward the elevated tracks.  It is fun to consider the false cognates based off syllables and words in Hebrew.

As I mentioned near the top, last night services were followed by a dinner at Hillel, as always.  In the song שלום עליכם there are four stanzas, and at the end of each one, people at Hillel often pause for a second before continuing to the next.  One time, I realized that pause is a perfect timing for tapping my hand four times on the table.  Last year, Eitan realized that this could be used to sometimes speed up the singing in the subsequent verses, but it didn’t always work.

Plenty of other non-traditional choreographies exist, but I wanted to touch on some of them which either I have added myself or have added from my friends at Hillel.

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Today is the twelfth day of O.C.T.O.B.E.R.  That makes one week and five days.

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