Marinites celebrate havdallah with mime, music and merriment

It started with participants shaking hands with someone they didn't know and wishing them a good Shabbat. Then they were told to scratch the back of someone they didn't know.

The rains took a holiday as more than 200 people gathered in the courtyard of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael to celebrate Marin County's first community havdallah.

Titled "Havdalah at the Spring Equinox," the celebration held late last month marked the beginning of spring and the end of Shabbat.

Sponsored by area Jewish organizations, the event gave young and old the opportunity to enjoy more than just a havdallah ceremony. It was a full evening of folk dancing, singing, entertainment, mime and refreshments.

"We want to delay the end of Shabbat, if possible," said Rabbi Henry Shreibman, head of Brandeis Hillel Day School, explaining during a pre-havdallah talk in the sanctuary why Shabbat is a special day. "We have six days to do the work and one day to rest. To fly like a bird above the work."

With that, Shreibman's arms became wings and he, a bird, happily soaring freely. A full-time educator and part-time mime, Shreibman used his nonacademic talent to illustrate why Shabbat is different from the other six days of the week.

He asked participants what they did during the workweek. Homework. Make lunches. Art therapy. Giving safety tips to factory workers and taking out the garbage were some of the answers.

After each activity was called out, Shreibman acted them out, showing the labor and drudgery.

But to make Shabbat different and special, members of the assembled congregation said they light candles, eat ice cream, say a prayer over the wine, stay up late and don't answer the phone.

After several songs from Rodef Sholom's children's choir, havdallah could be delayed no longer and everyone reconvened outside.

Standing in the center of several concentric circles, Rodef Sholom's Rabbi Michael Barenbaum, with a little backup from Camp Tawonga songleader Jonathan Ferris, led the ceremony.

Barenbaum told the story of a poor Jewish family with only enough flour and eggs to make a small Shabbat challah. In the middle of the night, the family was visited by a stranger who was even hungrier and poorer. The family gave its challah to the stranger and let him sleep in the warmest place in the house. The next morning, they arose to find their table overflowing with food. The stranger was Elijah, who gave everyone in the family one wish. After the wishes were whispered, Elijah announced that all the wishes were the same.

"No matter how poor and how hungry we are, I wish we always have enough to share with someone else," Barenbaum said.

Although clouds obscured the moon and the courtyard was dark, it soon became bright as more than 50 havdallah candles were lit. Prayers were said, spice boxes were passed and candles extinguished in a cup of wine.

Then came singing, dancing and kibitzing.

In the sanctuary, Shreibman gave a quick mime workshop.

"This is your canvas," said Shreibman, indicating his body and explaining that mime involves coordination, imagination and improvisation. He passed along such fundamentals as making gestures slowly, using firm hands, keeping the back loose, practicing with music and creating internal rhythms for every gesture.

As he talked, Shreibman climbed an invisible rope and before long, participants imagined their own ropes and climbed to the sky.

The event was sponsored by Congregations Rodef Sholom and Kol Shofar, the Marin Jewish Community Center, Brandeis Hillel Day School, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Camp Tawonga and UAHC Camp Swig and Camp Newman. Refreshments were provided by Mangia/Nosh.