Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Observations from my Sabbatical Leave: Dancing with Gwen Ifill

I just returned from a family wedding in Denver, and aside from the fact that I left snow in Madison to encounter a blizzard there, we had a wonderful weekend of food, relaxation, and celebration.

Family has always been an important part of my life, but with my rabbinic profession demanding that I remain at Beth El on weekends – a time when many family life cycle events take place – it is somewhat rare that I attend family simchas.  That is not a terrible reality; it is simply a condition of my dedication to my profession and my chosen community in Madison.

But this wedding was a wonderful exception, and my family really appreciated my presence.  My cousin who tied the knot served as a news producer for PBS: at first, for the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, then for the Jim Lehrer News Hour, and then for the PBS News Hour, today moderated by Gwen Ifill.  And because of the years of their association, Gwen Ifill was wonderfully present at my cousin’s wedding weekend.

One high point of the weekend was the rehearsal dinner, with roasts, toasts, and fun.  Most prominent was a video parody of the PBS News Hour, which spoke about the “union of two powerhouses” (my cousin and his new bride) and the intrigue that accompanied their amalgamation of forces.  The video was ‘hosted’ by Gwen Ifill, and included many familiar PBS reporters for whom my cousin had produced news segments over the years.  The video was a stitch, a great parody, full of laughs and love that was developed between the PBS reporting staff and my cousin over the years.

And the next night, at the wedding, we were all gratified to see that Gwen Ifill was there.

Now some people dissemble excitement at the appearance of a celebrity.  They act cool, when they're really excited to no end.  But people left her alone, and I am sure that, from her standpoint, the evening was one of sacred presence for the bride and groom.

And when it was time to hit the dance floor, my sister Miriam and I found ourselves dancing in a circle of six people, including Gwen Ifill herself!

The tunes were 70’s and 80’s hits (You Millennials many not recall those ditties!), and Ms. Ifill – who was born the same year as I – was brilliant as we all danced and sang along to those former hits.  We discoed and we rocked, and all of us acknowledged the fun and the love that brought us together that evening.  The dancing together – simply having fun and enjoying the experience – was just that, and everyone appreciated the energy and the sparkle of the wedding couple, not the presence of this or any particular individual.

This night of celebration, and ‘dancing with a star,’ simply brought home to me the idea that people are people regardless of their profession and their circumstance, and that the notion of celebrity – however we define it – does not need to separate us, even though some become star-struck and immobilized when a person of notoriety enters the room.

If fact, we were present for some completely holy moment in the life of a family...and that was the most important aspect of all.

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