By Aimee Greenberg
One stop shopping via the general store or convenience market for all our needs is a thing of the past. Back in the heyday of art for arts sake, one could easily slip into a number of venues on the Bowery, or the Lower East Side in New York to experience a spiritual, political and artistic epiphany neatly rolled into one event.
In Joseph Chaiken’s Open Theatre or Judith Malina and Julian Beck’s Living Theatre, the function of the ensemble was to transform the empty space, whereby through communal expression and dissolution of the fourth wall, metaphysical experience was brought to light. Across the Atlantic, famed theatre practitioner Jersey Grotowski paraded naked through the Polish forest with a group of actors as guinea pigs in search of a poorer physical theatre and ecstatic experience.
The Southeast Asians have long understood the marriage of art and spirit. One only has to look at their fire walk, synchronized trance dance or the purification of the masks ritual; all regular cyclical events in their Hindu practices and festivals. If you ever walked into a Gospel church on a Sunday, there’s no doubt that you are witnessing the Holy Spirit expressed through body and soul. The closest parallel in Judaism is the Chassidic Nigun, a largely improvisational repetitive melody sung to evoke the mystical joy of intense prayer.
Too many of our houses of worship have become stale institutions regurgitating the same old same old with minor variations or branding. We need more granola and Birkenstocks with our Torah. And so, it was refreshing to see the new kids on the block: The Jewish Collaborative of San Diego or JCo usher in Rosh Hashanah with an interactive smorgasbord of art, song, prayer and media.
Aptly enough, services were held at the Carlsbad High School Theatre, where Mega Temple met Ted Talk, as Rabbi Josh Burrows wowed us with a big screen show of time-lapse photography courtesy of the International Space Station. Set to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and narrated by the Rabbi’s overarching question: “Where are you,” JCo asks us to navigate the road of introspection toward a more authentic self. The New Year’s Eve montage expanded on the Creation theme with clips from Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chant: “You are the Universe, the Universe is within you.”
Today’s youth interact and create via social media and in the digital realm; for the millennial the message is in the medium. Kudos to the organizers for reaching across the divide to engage our youth on their own turf. A perfect footnote to this point was depicted in a video performance by dub step and hip-hop maestro Marquese Scott.
Rabbis Arad and Burrows define JCo as its constituents, the operative word being collaborative. They reject traditional titles of Senior Rabbi and Cantor and instead prefer to be called co-organizers. Member formed cohorts in the arts, healing and prayer helped shape the High Holiday service as congregants contributed their talents in meditation, storytelling, art, writing, movement, mask and voice. Arad shared the spotlight with several congregants, singing renditions of Hinei Mah Tov, Yihiyu Leratson and Sin Shalom. Arad’s Torah reading was a small part of the service, signifying that the sum or whole of the experience is greater than it’s individual parts.
True to the “happenings” of theatre events past, the gestalt is the message. Burrows several times broke the fourth wall by coming off the stage or makeshift bima to question the audience, each time prefacing his questions, with: “This is not rhetorical, I want to hear your answers.”
AIMEE GREENBERG is a director, writer, performer, drama therapist and teacher based in San Diego. Email her at email@example.com.