Friday, March 10, 2017

Method Acting, Jewish Style

Method Acting, Jewish Style

At Touro Synagogue, March 4, 2017 By  AARON GINSBURG 


"Unless the theater can ennoble you, make you a better person, you should flee from it." Constantin Stanislavski  

Bama tova means both a good platform and a platform for good.  Bama also means stage. In Biblical Hebrew, bama בּמה means ‘high place.’ Bima בּימה, the platform in a synagogue, has a different origin, probably the Ancient Greek word bema, which means both ‘step’ and ‘platform.’ Source: Wikipedia. 

Bama Tova, founded by Benyamin Yakovian, promotes cross-cultural relationships to help people bridge the gaps between them. A Bama Tova in both senses, it is worthy of your support. 

Yakovian conceived of and directed the video, “Workers.”  In the video, he gives rides to Palestinian day workers in Israel. It is a very long day, which starts well before dawn and must end with their return to the Palestinian territory.

Benyamin Yakovian source: Bama Tova
Born in Iran, Benyamin Yakovian moved with his family to Israel as a child. He lives in Jerusalem. Currently at Harvard, he will soon return to Leipzig University to finish his doctorate.

Yakovian called Touro Synagogue to get details about services, and Rabbi Marc Mandel responded. It transpired that Yakovian was a cantor. Before you could say lickety-split, Hazan Yakovian agreed to lead ma'ariv on Friday, mussaf on Saturday, and lain two aliyot. 

Dr. James Herstoff stepped onto an irregular curb walking on Touro Street Saturday morning before services, and twisted his foot as he fell into the street. Rabbi Mandel fetched some ice, which was applied in shul. After the ankle started swelling,  Dr Herstoff prudently went home. Pesukei dezimrot and shacharit were added to Hazan Yakovian’s list. 

Sunday, Dr. Herstoff went to the doctor. He had broken a fibula, and got the boot, which he will be wearing for six weeks. We look forward to his speedy recovery and his return to Touro Synagogue. Meanwhile, he has authorized me to have an extra schnapps on Saturday.

Yakovian davened in the Sephardic style. His voice resonated with piety and sincerity, and was bigger than the room. Listening to him was an inspiring experience that brought me to tears. With his help our prayers mingled together, piercing each other's hearts as they hopefully rose even higher. 

Rabbi Mandel discussed the building of Touro Synagogue, 

"Since our synagogue, the Touro Synagogue, is the oldest synagogue building in the United States, there are many mysteries connected to the structure. One of the mysteries is, how did the architect Peter Harrison know how to design this synagogue? Harrison wasn't Jewish. How did he know what a synagogue looked like? He could have use this morning's torah reading as a blueprint for what a synagogue should look like.

"This morning's parsha, Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19)/ פרשת תרומה, discusses the architecture and design of a synagogue – and it is summed up in the passage God says, 'make for me a sanctuary and I shall dwell among you.
(Shemot 25:8עָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם ׃)’ Wherever Jews have lived they have built synagogues. It was no different in Newport. 

"But the question remains, how did architect Peter Harrison know how to design Touro synagogue? Had he seen the Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Curaçao, which was constructed in 1703? Our member Saul Woythaler recently visited that synagogue. Saul – does it look like Touro Synagogue?[Saul said, 'Yes.'] Or had he seen Shearith Israel's Mill Street Synagogue in New York, which was dedicated in 1739? Or perhaps it was Hazan Isaac Touro, who shared his knowledge of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam?

"We have to remember that the Jewish community in Newport spent a century without a dedicated place of worship. Synagogues, in the 13 British colonies, were rare before the American revolution. 

"By the late 1750s, the Newport Jewish community had the financial means to begin construction of this synagogue. It was a mark of the integration of the Jewish community into the mainstream of American life that they secured the collaboration of a leading American architect. But Peter Harrison was knowledgeable about Christian houses of worship and he needed Isaac Touro's advice about the requirements of Jewish law. It's quite possible that Isaac Touro used this week's Torah reading as his guide. 

"The final result is a fusion of different traditions and stands as an early example of the adaptive melting pot of styles and ideas that characterizes American architecture.

“Shabbat Shalom!”

A synagogue is a bama, a platform or stage for the community to commune with each other and with G-d. Services are a type of play. The audience, both our fellows and the one above, is demanding; we hope for a review that is both just and merciful. 

Constatin Stanislavski, the Russian actor, director and teacher, thought deeply about the theater. To enable actors to understand and portray characters realistically, the Stanislavski method acting system uses actions and situations to activate actors’ emotions. The Jewish method of acting uses the synagogue’s design, the service, and the hazzanut. With G-d’s help, our system enables us to pray with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might.


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