A SELICHOT EXPERIENCE by Fanchon and Bonia Shur
Fanchon and Bonia Shur’s “Selichot” experience is a unique spiritual blend of dramatic story-telling, dance, music and innovative communal rituals. After a short HAVDALAH service led by Rabbi Azriel and Cantor Weber, Fanchon opens the event with a Hasidic tale about the Rebe from Sassoff, which she tells through dramatic reading and dance, and accompanied by an original instrumental score by Bonia Shur. Her story is followed by another tale written by Eli Wiesel, “Rosh Hashanah in Camp,” presented by Bonia to the sound of specially composed music for this event and performed by Cantor Weber, vocal quartet and piano.
Following Wiesel’s story, Fanchon Shur invites the community to take part in a ritual based on a custom practiced by Jews for centuries on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. On that day, women and men have been going to the nearby rivers or streams to cast away through prayer their “sins” into the waters. This custom became known as “Tashlich,” literally meaning: “You shall cast away.”
In front of the gathered community are baskets with stones and seeds on each side of the stage, and a bowl of water symbolizing “the living water” from rivers and streams. The stones, the seeds, and the water allows each congregant to perform a personal and intimate “Tashlich” ritual.
The Selichot experience is concluded with Fanchon Shur’s theatrical solo-work SARAH SPEAK! accompanied by Bonia Shur. This ancient biblical saga of the Binding of Isaac is chanted by Bonia in English, using the traditional High Holiday cantillation mode. His chanted biblical account of the Binding of Isaac is interwoven with a new legend or Midrash by Fanchon Shur, in which she presents to the community through dance and dramatic monologues, Sarah’s insight and prophetic visions never written down by our forbearers. Her presentation ends with the community chanting: “Do Not Touch Him,” a concluding refrain to which Fanchon dances and accompanies herself with a hand-drum.
GOD THE ACCUSED ~ ELIE WIESEL
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the last day of that accursed year, the whole camp [Buna] was electric with the tension which was in all our hearts. In spite of everything, this day was different from any other. The last day of the year. The word “last” rang very strangely. What if it were indeed the last day? They gave us our evening meal, a very thick soup, but no one touched it. We wanted to wait until after prayers. At the place of assembly, surrounded by the electrified barbed wire, thousands of silent Jews gathered, their faces stricken. Night was falling. Other prisoners continued to crowd in, from every block, able suddenly to conquer time and space and submit both to their will.
“What are You, my God,” I thought angrily, “compared to this afflicted crowd, proclaiming to You their faith, their anger, their revolt? What does Your greatness mean, Lord of the Universe, in the face of all this weakness, this decomposition and this decay? Why do You still trouble their sick minds, their crippled bodies?”
Ten thousand men had come to attend the solemn service, heads of the blocks, Kapos, functionaries of death.
“Bless the Eternal. . . .”
The voice of the officiant had just made itself heard. I thought at first it was the wind.
“Blessed be the Name of the Eternal!”
Thousands of voices repeated the benediction; thousands of men prostrated themselves like trees before a tempest.
“Blessed be the Name of the Eternal!”
Why, but why should I bless Him? In every fiber I rebelled. Because He had had thousands of children burned in His pits? Because He kept six crematoria working night and day, on Sundays and feast days? Because in His great might He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many factories of death? How could I say to Him: “Blessed art Thou, Eternal, Master of the Universe, who chose us from amongst the races to be tortured day and night, to see our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end in the crematorium? Praised be Thy Holy Name, Thou who has chosen us to be butchered on Thine altar?”I heard the voice of the officiant rising up, powerful yet at the same time broken, amid the tears, the sobs, the sighs of the whole congregation:”All the earth and the universe are God’s!”
He kept stopping every moment, as though he did not have the strength to find the meaning beneath the words. The melody choked in his throat. And I, mystic that I had been, I thought: “Yes, man is very strong, greater than God. When You were deceived by Adam and Eve, You drove them out of paradise. When Noah’s generation displeased You, You brought down the Flood.” When Sodom no longer found favor in Your eyes, You made the sky rain down fire and sulphur. But these men here, whom You have betrayed, whom You have allowed to be tortured, butchered, gassed, burned, what do they do? They pray before You! They praise Your Name!””All creation bears witness to the greatness of God!”
Once, New Year’s Day had dominated my life. I knew that my sins grieved the Eternal; I implored His forgiveness. Once, I had believed profoundly that upon one solitary deed of mine, one solitary prayer, depended the salvation of the world.
This day, I had ceased to plead. I was no longer capable of lamentation. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man. Without love or mercy. I had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty, to whom my life had been tied for so long. I stood amid that praying congregation, observing it like a stranger.
The service ended with the Kaddish. Everyone recited the Kaddish over his parents, over his children, over his brothers, and over himself.
We stayed for a long time at the assembly place. No one dared to drag himself away from this mirage. Then it was time to go to bed and slowly the prisoners made their way over to their blocks. I heard people wishing one another a Happy New Year!
Translated by Stella Rodway