This photograph was taken by Alon Ron during hakafot shniyot - a second night of dancing with the Torah after Simhat Torah, which concludes the Sukkot festival - held at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv on September 30. As a press photograph, which by definition generates contrast ("religious rite in a secular arena," or "religious celebrants flock to secular temple" ), it is missing something: the Torah. Torah scrolls, wrapped in shiny, embroidered cloth, which are taken from the synagogue into the streets to be danced with, are the celebrants' objets du desir. But in this image they are absent.
Yet it is precisely the scrolls' absence (they appear in other photos Ron took at the same event ) that opens this photograph to another story: broad, comprehensive, uplifting. The movement captured in the photograph is joyful, even endearing, but above all it abounds with cultural resonance. At that "Aha!" moment, when a leap in the brain produces a "whoosh" of recognition in the tunnels of inner knowledge, the observer identifies the classical element and is catapulted into the Renaissance, discerns something more and then reunites with the dancers, now, at Barbie. For the history of art adds layers to this photograph. They are what transform it, truly, into a work of beauty.
Each of the three dancers, in his white shirt and hanging ritual fringes, is dancing for himself alone, but through the composition and the harmony that is formed between them they become the Three Graces of the mythological world: Euphrosyne (Mirth ), Aglaea (Beauty ) and Thalia (Good Cheer ), the daughters of Zeus and the attendants of Aphrodite. And if one continues gazing at them another conceptual leap occurs, and they metamorphose into the most famous variation on this theme: the Three Graces that appear on the left side of Botticelli's "Primavera." The most beautiful Charis is the young man dancing in the center, like Aglaea. He glows under the spotlight in the Barbie Club, as though cloud-lit by Botticelli. With his auburn beard, eyes lifted upward and face slack with unmitigated pleasure he is at once affecting, pure and in an excited state. As often happens, ecstasy on the brink of loss of consciousness segues into a vacant expression. His right arm, pearl white, muscle seemingly sculpted in marble, is raised charmingly into the air; the fingers of the hand are spread, whether seeking to touch the finger of someone peeking down from above or protecting the face from the light. On the left is a mysterious Charis, ritual fringes dangling, right hand lifted in genuine dance; and on the right dances a Charis with mouth slightly agape and shoulder lifted by the momentum of turning.
The photographer is also making a comment about the pleasure and the physicality of the dance which merge with the religious experience. The question of whether this ritual, which belongs to a form of contemporary Judaism in its broadest sense, should be celebrated in a nightclub becomes secondary to the sheer pleasure that is on display here. For what needs to be asked always is not whether it is right to surrender oneself to a religious experience but whether one's pleasure comes at someone else's expense. The Judaism on view here is more wonderful than any image from an official religious site: a hundred dances in honor of the Torah at Barbie, and not one round in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
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