Visiting places where we have history is an emotional journey. Going to the town where our parents or perhaps grand or great-grand parents are from can evoke a sense of presence. The feeling that something of me is here still. The tradition of visiting the graves of relatives periodically not only evokes a memory of that person; but creates a special sense of being in their presence still.
I experienced an aspect of that power on Thursday, April 9th, as I performed The Actual Dance at Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, Texas. I was born in El Paso and our family belonged to Temple Mount Sinai. I had my Bar Mitzvah there, I was confirmed there and for a number of years I was the official sounder of the Shofar on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
Our family first joined the Temple in 1925, when my mother’s family moved to El Paso from New Orleans. Her brother Sam after whom I am named had Tuberculosis and in those days the main treatment was to encourage people to move to a high climate. El Paso is at the foot of the Rockies and even though a desert is relatively high 3800 feet above sea level.
It was such a privilege for me to be in the place where my own history goes back so deep and especially in the context of performing The Actual Dance. I have been back to El Paso and to the Temple many times since I left nearly 50 years ago. Yet none of those visits carried the same impact for me as did Thursday, April 9th, 2015.
I had the chance to walk past and touch a bronze memorial marker with each of their names. The markers are on a wall in the vestibule to the Sanctuary. Harry Alfman, Ernestine Alfman, Marcus Simon, Frieda Alfman Simon, Harriet Simon, Joe Simon, Doris Simon Carter, Sam Alfman, Lena Alfman, Julia Alfman, Etta Alfman Kobren, Rose Alfman, Johanna Alfman Tusch, Sara Alfman Mandell.
Can you not just feel their presence in the room with me as I walked on to the stage to announce: “There is a Dance, a Dance that one day each and every one of us will dance ….”
I learned Thursday night something new. The Actual Dance is never really over. Rather we continue in relationship to the idea and ideal of those we loved. There are then special moments when they occupy our hearts again in more significant ways. It might well be on the occasion of the anniversary of their death. It might be when we visit a grave. It could be when we return to our childhood home.
Thursday night I felt all those people who had gone before me sitting in the room somehow smiling, being proud and loving what I had become and how they also became inside during that hour. They stood around the darkened walls of the theater watching – a chance to see what they had made possible.
What power place can have!