Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Join us this week for the weekly RE:VERB and also a reminder to join Hadassah Gross tonight at the City Winery for MIDNIGHT MESS!


A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us for a year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

December 24, 2008

Shaving is on my mind this week. I’ve had a beard for a few years now, and though I trim it regularly, I have not exposed my chin to society in many months, since last Purim, in fact. But this week I will have to shave and bare it all. Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah - also Christmas Eve, and I will perform as Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross, my venerable alter-ego-maniac, whose chin is prominent, mouth is big, and full length fur coat has survived many a financial crisis and worse. Read About Hadassah

Hadassah only comes out once or twice a year nowadays, and tonight’s MIDNIGHT MESS show at Michael Dorf’ new venue City Winery is a nod to the need to laugh amid dark days and make meaning of life through dark humor and shameless piety. She’s good at that, and way funnier than I.

Transforming from Amichai into Hadassah is a lengthy and complex process, which is one of the reasons that Hadassah doesn’t emerge too often into the limelight. It clearly involves full facial shaving – usually twice– my least favorite part of the proceedings.

This time, before I submit to the razor and step into heels, I want to take a few steps in the shoes of another shaver – a man whose shave was so prominent that it had to be included in the Bible. The man is Joseph – the dreamer, turned dream interpreter, turned inmate in Egypt’s prison system, serving time for a crime he did not commit. In this week’s re-run he will also become the King’s Second in Command – a spectacular transformation of mythic proportions, and shaving is included. This week’s installment of Genesis is ‘Miketz’ – and it’s packed with the drama that would one day inspire Andrew Lloyd Weber and many other artists to recreate the Joseph Saga. At this point in the saga, Joseph has been in prison for many years, forgotten by most and mourned for as dead by his family. When the King of Egypt needs a dream interpreter to analyze his nightmares, a minister recently pardoned and released from prison recalls his fellow inmate – a Hebrew boy who was skilled at interpreting the subconscious. The King is desperate for meaning and Joseph, Freud’s ancestor, is rushed out of his cell to minister to the soul of the Great Pharaoh. But first – he has to clean up:

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. And he shaved himself, and changed his dress, and came in unto Pharaoh.” (Genesis 41:14)

I want to be a fly on the wall of this shaving moment in which Joseph is losing his past and entering a bright new future. How long has it been? How wild is his beard? Does his hand tremble? Is he confident, terrified, confused, elated, all of the above? I can’t recall any other shaving moments in the Torah other than some priestly instructions way later in Leviticus, so this is a rare peek into a regular human act that suddenly becomes a grand, mythic gesture: the moment of transformation when the past is shed, hair by hair. For some of us this is a daily act – but when do we stop to think of its deeper ‘value’?

This is the season of gestures and rituals: candles are lit, presents carefully wrapped and hastily opened, oily foods fried and consumed and New Year’s resolutions planned. It is a season that promises transformation, the magic of miracles, a new page and a clean slate. How many of us will renew our gym memberships this coming January? How many of us will shave away layers of accumulated ‘stuff’ and trim and cut and make room for less and new and improved?

I will shave today, grey beard hairs (more of them!) making room, briefly, to foundation and powder and a temporary identity that celebrates light within darkness and levity as a way to embrace the sacred. Hadassah Gross, like Joseph, spent time in prison – hers was a concentration camp. She emerged to be a court jester, the one who can tell the truth to the king – to the people through parable and story, not unlike Joseph who will enter the King’s chamber to talk dreams as strategic solutions to an impending economic crisis. But first - the shave. Moving on means letting go of some of the past, painful or joyful or both. For me this week, part of the commitment to move on and celebrate what is involves a simple, intimate, hopefully painless process of shaving. Like Joseph, the rest of the transformation will include elaborate outfit changes, a name change and a sharp tongue.

Hopefully, tonight will help many of us honor the IS, laugh away the nightmares and dream big – the lean years will be here, but so will the fat ones, stay tuned. Just like Joseph said, right after he shaved off the years of prison mentality.
To Light!

PS. THANK YOU – so many who kindly responded to last week’s SIT blog – offering kind words, great advice and generous support. Onwards!

Hadassah Gross invites you to a
Lighting of the Fourth Chanukah Candle and other
Delightful Rituals at City Winery!

Christmas Eve is a busy night for NYC Jews. The mad dash between Chinese restaurants and movie theaters can be grueling. We offer Midnight Mess as an alternative. This pre-opening event is hosted by Rebetzin Hadassah Gross, the ageless widow of six Hasidic Rabbis and a personal soul trainer to the ultra-orthodox elite. She will be your guide to a night brimming with comedy, storytelling, music, and yes, you guessed it, wine. Laugh with Todd Barry and Jackie Hoffman. Stamp your feet to Leah Siegel, DJ Balagan and Anthony Coleman's Sephardic Tinge. Cap off the perfect night with Sephardic remixes, courtesy of Diwon.
Tickets Online at
December 24, 2009
Doors open at 8pm

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