New Jerseyans head west to Israeli dance their way to the total eclipse
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
The combination of eclipse chasing and Israeli dancing all in one weekend was too good for Murray Spiegel, 67, and his wife Randi, 62, of Roseland to resist. Although they just returned from a dance camp in Stockton, Calif., they are heading to the YMCA Trout Lodge in Potosi, Mo., about 90 miles south of St. Louis, on Friday, Aug. 18. There, in addition to dancing 14 hours a day and perhaps into some mornings, they will also enjoy some informal lectures about the eclipse, have the chance to participate in yoga sun salutations on Monday morning, Aug. 21, before the eclipse, and then of course, along with their fellow dancers, they will take in the spectacle of a total eclipse.
The weekend has been dubbed “Hora Eclipse” by the organizers.
There are plenty of places coordinating eclipse viewings, and even a handful of gatherings with a Jewish flavor. Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia is offering a sold-out family camp and eclipse viewing, and they’ve brought in rabbis and scholars to teach about the intersection of Judaism and astronomy. They’ve even booked a Jewish-themed band, Sunmoon Pie. Many JCCs that are located in prime viewing areas — a narrow swath of the country from Oregon heading southeast to South Carolina — are also coordinating viewings.
Hora Eclipse has attracted nearly a dozen New Jerseyans, from Chatham and Clark, Morristown and Monmouth County, as well as from Roseland and Teaneck.
Israeli folk dancing has developed an active subculture in North America and around the world, evolving from the first Fred Berk Israeli Folk Dance Workshop in 1961 at Camp Blue Star in Hendersonville, N.C. The weekend camps offer aficionados the opportunity to dance 14 hours a day and sometimes all night. According to Hora Eclipse organizer Neil Denenberg, attendees tend to be “hard core” dancers who “know the repertoire.” He added that at most dance camps, “beginners would usually be very unhappy.”
This weekend will be different because of the eclipse. More than 125 people have signed up for Hora Eclipse, but only 50 are passionate dancers, said Denenberg, because people are bringing spouses and children to watch the natural wonder.
As far as Judaism is concerned, there’s nothing striking about an eclipse. In fact, despite traditional blessings to recite upon witnessing various natural phenomenon, from seeing a rainbow to experiencing an earthquake, there is no similar blessing to say during an eclipse, perhaps because the Talmud (Sukkah 29a) opines that eclipses are bad omens. Some rabbis are revisiting this issue and suggesting alternatives, and Denenberg will address this subject during the Hora Eclipse weekend.
For Murray Spiegel, as for many eclipse chasers, watching one is an almost religious experience. He and his wife have seen two already, first in Baja, Mexico in 1991 and then in Turkey in 1999. “Seeing an eclipse is an awe-inspiring, nearly life-changing experience,” he told NJJN. “The near-perfect lineup of three celestial bodies is so rare, and those of us in totality are right in the bullseye of it all. The moon’s shadow creates a hole-in-the-sky experience, the blackest black you’ve ever seen; the pearly white of the sun’s outer atmosphere that has the most gossamer-like silver threads can only be seen during totality. The daytime darkness, eerie colors of the air, 360-degree sunset, sharpness of the shadows, are all such rare, seemly alien experiences.”
Denenberg, 63, a resident of Newton, Mass., began to Israeli dance in the 1970s, attended his first dance camp in 1981 and has since been to “dozens and dozens.” Like Spiegel, he is also an eclipse chaser. He’s traveled to Curacao and Bucharest “because a total eclipse is really amazing,” he said.
And because scientists know when they will occur, it’s easy to plan trips around them. (Although as Spiegel pointed out, bad weather can ruin the experience.)
It was back in 2015 when Denenberg realized, as he put it, “Oh my God, the next total eclipse is going to happen in August!” which is the traditional month for dance camps in the United States. He immediately thought of combining the two. He knew a midweek date would kill the nascent idea, but Monday, well, he knew that could work, and got started on the planning.
He has tweaked the program slightly to focus on the eclipse and bring in other eclipse chasers. In addition to welcoming beginning-level dancers, he’s also opened the program to different kinds of folk dancers: international dancers, contra dancers, and others. And several events will not be limited to dance camp participants, but will be open to all at Trout Lodge.
Now, the only thing left to hope for is a sunny day.