Dennis Prager writes: I guess one can say that with “Dancing With the Rabbis,” the movement toward “the rabbi is just one of us” reached its apotheosis. Our rabbis — or at least the rabbis who participated — are just one of the guys or girls. They, too, are hip. No more ivory tower rabbi. Our rabbi is so with it, he will dance with a 22-year-old swimsuit model: In the words of The Jewish Journal, the rabbi “twirls across the dance floor. His beautiful young partner reaches out her hand, and together they do a quick step and spin into each other’s arms.”
Had the rabbis danced with Jews with special needs, I could understand the message sent. But what was this message?
Though I was not present at the event, my opposition is to the concept, not the execution. I don’t think I am alone in the Los Angeles Jewish community in thinking that this was well-intended but not wise. Not only did no Orthodox rabbi participate — and not only for halachic reasons, I suspect — but some non-Orthodox rabbis also refused, and not because they were afraid to dance publicly. When I asked one of the country’s leading Reform rabbis, Rabbi David Woznica of Stephen S. Wise Temple, whether he would have participated had he been asked, he responded that he was asked, and refused.
A sell-out crowd packed the American Jewish University’s (AJU) Gindi Auditorium on April 3 and watched as Rabbi Zoë Klein of Temple Isaiah tangoed her way to the inaugural “Dancing With the Rabbis” trophy. An ecstatic Klein, cheered on by her family, wowed the audience with her passionate routine with professional partner Daniel Ponickly.
In what turned out to be an incredibly fun evening, the rabbis and their partners put on a show that had people clapping and cheering in their seats. Rabbi Mark Borovitz opened the night with a playful, jaunty cha-cha, and was followed by a game Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, who danced the fox-trot in a top hat and tux. Rabbi Nina Feinstein got deeply into the spirit, wearing glittering bell-bottoms as she danced the hustle with partner Forrest Walsh. And perhaps the sweetest moment of the evening came when Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s partner, Brittany Palmer, spoke glowingly of the respected scholar, saying that she left every rehearsal with him feeling like she’d had a great day.
Louis Van Amstel and Karina Smirnoff of ABC-TV’s “Dancing With the Stars” made a special guest appearance and tore up the stage with some truly impressive dance moves, though their last dance was so racy that it may have had more than a few members of the audience wondering whether they should clap or head home for a cold shower.
But the evening was Klein’s, and she won a generous donation for the American Jewish World Service with her dance moves. Asked what if felt like to be the rabbinic dancing champion, Klein called the experience “once in a lifetime” and said she was “so excited” that her family was there to watch her win. If the success of the inaugural event is any indication, this may not be the last that Los Angeles will see of “Dancing With the Rabbis.”
And for those wishing to get in on the act themselves, the AJU will be offering dance classes taught by the rabbis’ professional partners, so that everyone can learn to tango like a champion.