Principals Perspective (April 2022) - Rabbi Matthew Bellas
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Lower School Israeli Dance as an Expression of Ahavat Yisra-el/Love of Israel

How time flies…It’s remarkable to think that it has been six years since the Lower School reintroduced Israeli Dance into the school program. It was in the spring of 2015 that I attended my first Israeli Dance Festival DC and asked myself, “Why doesn’t JDS have a dance group participating in this amazing community event?” I learned that at some point in the past we had had one, but that it faded away many years before. As a school in which Israel education plays a crucial role and for which Ahavat Yisra-el/Love of Israel is one of our Core Values, I was committed to bringing an essential element of modern Israeli culture and history back into our program for our students and community and we were back and the Festival the very next year!

Israeli dance is an art form that embodies the spirit, vibrancy, and diversity of Am Yisra-el/the People of Israel in so many ways. It offers our students an experience of Israel that is unique from all others, disconnected from the conflicts and disagreements that arise when politics and foreign policy are at the center of the conversation about Israel. When our students learn about dance from our Israeli Dance Specialist, Hamorah Lisah Bernstein, they hear about the contributions and influences that the many ethnic groups within the Jewish people have had on it: from traditional Eastern European, Mizrahi, and Yemenite moves and music to more modern ones from within Israel and North America. Students practice and learn dances that have been danced by generations of Jews at times of familial and communal celebration as well as contemporary ones choreographed and danced by the new generations of Israeli dance enthusiasts. Through circle dances, line dances, and even partner dances, our students become connected to each other, to the Jewish community past and present, and to the State of Israel in a joyous and exciting way. Dancing to music sung in Hebrew and receiving dance instruction in Hebrew, our students are immersed in an authentic Hebrew-rich environment that enhances our students’ Hebrew learning and further connects them to the People and State of Israel. It is always a great pleasure for me to hear our students singing and dancing with smiles on their faces, using their Hebrew and finding love and joy in their connection to Israel and its culture. Israeli dance is a true embodiment of Ahavat Yisra-el. 

Two weeks ago, the Israeli Dance Festival DC returned after two years away and our incredible Horah Arayot performance group of over 20 4th and 5th grade students danced their hearts out and made our school (and their families) proud! The Horah Arayot group also performs annually on Yom Ha-atzma-ut in school and occasionally also has the opportunity to perform in the greater Rockville or DC community. We hope all of our students, but especially this year’s 3rd and additional 4th graders, will be inspired by this year’s troupe and want to join next year to bring their own and our school’s Ahavat Yisra-el/Love of Israel to life for themselves and for all to see. When Theodore Herzl z”l dreamed of a State of Israel, he envisioned a country rich in culture, which would develop a distinctive Jewish/Israeli culture all its own. I have confidence that Israeli dance is a true example of the fulfillment of his dream and that he would have such pride in its evolution and in the children who are carrying its tradition and development forward.