To Change

Eliana Schulner, JessAnn Smith, Michelle Brint, Jamie Fox, Sam Stettiner, Channa Schachet-Briskin, Leah Friend, Carolyn Seiden, Kanaan Goldstein

[Exploration of Exodus 19:16-20:15]

On the surface of any collective experience, it may appear that all are unified. All individuals are sewn together by the sharing of common sights, smells, sounds, etc. Yet, how deeply does this stitching go? At any moment, how much of our ‘self’ is actually slurped up by the ‘us’ or ‘we’? How can we choose to lean in more, to let go of the safety net of ‘self’? And, what happens when, inevitably, we must once more, place our identity as an individual over the group? What happens when the moment of connection ends?

On the words: I pushed the idea of the Shofar as a reminder to change, a reminder to break a habit (The Israelites motive to blow the Shofar was to remind themselves not to worship idols). I asked participants in W1 to name a pattern of thought or behavior they would like to change. (we then continued to return to what they wrote in following workshops to provide some fodder for creation. For example: The co-authored poem came out of each participant blending their written pattern from W1 with the words that ended up being written over their face in a screenshot, from a W3 activity). The Because statement each participant makes in this video is a continuation of their thought from W1 (ie- I want to change X pattern of thought or behavior because Y).

On the choreography: The sequence of actions each participant takes in this video is my own interpretation of the Exodus verses sited in the description. We start with the word because for two reasons; (1) it’s directly related to the sound of the Shofar, as the noise that reminds us to change and (2) because in order to actually enact change we need more than a reminder of our desire to change, we also need strong and clear articulation of why we desire a particular change at all. So we begin by being reminded of our desire, and articulating our why. Each because statement is accompanied by a series of motions, an enactment of the statement created by each individual.

So we have: a reminder, a motivation, and an action. This is the start of change, and this is related to what happens in the soundscape at Mt Sinai. The Shofar grows louder and louder. My teacher, Rav Meir Schweiger, gifted me with the following insight: “Isn’t that weird?”

When a horn is blown wouldn’t you expect for the noise to eventually plateau and stop or fade? But, that’s not the case here: the voice of the Shofar only grows, it only gains. Which is why the next step in my groups virtual dance is a spreading of motions, suddenly one participant appears, on a screen, in the screen of another (we even have a few who added an additional step of interacting with the video of another participant). Chaos, or a quiet, virtual, attempt to reference it. Change does not happen in isolation. When one begins to act on the reminder and motivation, their actions influence those around them. Immediately. And we all opt into blurred edges around ourselves as ‘I’ further ripples into ‘we’ and ‘we’ takes my hand as partner in this dance.

This goes on for a while, perhaps at some point, in the chaos and change, we even begin to feel enough comfort to start to notice detail, difference and, suddenly, with the noticing, ‘we’ stops being ‘we’. The Israelites saw the thunder and lightning, they witnessed the mountain smoking, and what did they do… They stood at a distance. Once again separate, once again in need of reminder to begin the process over again, anew.