Purim: Party on, hevre

From its humble beginnings, the Boogie dance party has evolved into a unique Jerusalem institution.

purim shpiel 88 298 (photo credit: Illustrative photo from 'Hairspray)
purim shpiel 88 298
(photo credit: Illustrative photo from 'Hairspray)
To the sound of a funky James Brown riff, a young mother whirls around carrying her two children in time with the music. A smiling grandma holds hands with her grandson while getting down and nearby a mom executes a deft modern dance move while her bemused infant looks on from her carriage. As a bunch of religious girls in identical dresses come in and start to dance in a circle, the DJ switches to some Irish music and the cluster of two- to three-year-old children in the corner doing collaborative art suddenly streak across the room, jumping excitedly. After a brief live music interlude and movement workshop, the DJ is back to spinning eclectic dance music and the kids and adults are at it again. It's Horim Veyeladim ("Parents and Children"), one of the new initiatives put together by the Boogie, one of Jerusalem's longest-running dance parties and arguably the most unusual. Created in 1997 as an event for free dance and improvisatory movement aficionados, the Boogie has grown along with its community into a regular event featuring diverse dance music, live performances, theater, religious content and more. As well as the regular bi-weekly dance evenings and Horim Veyeladim, the Boogie has begun a series of Torah learning sessions in conjunction with Beit Avi Chai, and throws mega-events around the holidays, including its big Purim party, to take place this Thursday night at Binyenei Ha'uma. Founder Avi Edry explains: "I wanted to find some place that artists, musicians and dancers could come together, and then it grew by word-of-mouth. It's not like a disco - you can do your own thing. If you see 20 people dancing, you see 20 different dances, and it comes from a place where people are paying attention to the music, not the ego." Edry formed a non-profit organization to manage the Boogie events and attracted a board of directors and a core group of volunteers to help keep things moving. The Boogie organizers do not make money from the events, although individual DJs and performers do get paid. "We do it from a place where people love what they do, and the idea is to do something great in Jerusalem," Edry says. "I had known Avi for a long time, but the first time I came to the Boogie it was a serious shock," says Rabbi David Menachem, a member of the board who was raised religious. "But I started to get to know people and then we did a Tu Bishvat Seder and other things - there is a real spirituality there. It's not like a nightclub, but something more Israeli and real." Menachem, a dynamic young rabbi who is also an accomplished singer and musician, is one of the teachers at Hu Haya Omer ("He was saying"), the Boogie study sessions at Beit Avi Chai that have been running on Tuesday evenings - the next one is this Tuesday at 8 p.m., in preparation for Purim. True to the Boogie's alternative way of doing things, the evenings combine text study, music, theater, hevrutot (study partners) and talks all based around a common theme. "People come to us because we are teaching Torah with love," Menachem says. "It's interesting for me because I come from a religious background, but each time people [who are not so learned] have ideas and insights that I write down - people have an internal Torah." "I've been going to the Boogie for a long time, since '99," says Ashara Witt, whose husband Sharia is scheduled to do the Megilla reading at this year's Purim event. "It's the only place I've been to in Israel where you can dance, express yourself and not worry about impressing people. It's not a meat market, or a place where everyone's drunk - well, except on Purim. "It's great they are doing things with kids, it's really fun," she continues, reflecting on the changes the event has undergone. "A lot of people who 10 years ago were Boogie people have families now and they can still be in the mix. Also it used to be more freaky people, but now there are more older folks and also teenagers. Not really freaks, but people who want to dance and do something new without worrying about being cool enough." Witt, who is religious herself, says the Boogie organizers honor religious people without being overbearing toward the largely secular crowd. "I don't think anybody feels like they are trying to get people to become more religious," she says, "but sometimes people can get taken aback [by religious elements at a dance party]." At each dance event there is a separate dance area for women to use, although she "hasn't seen people using it that much." For Edry, all the elements come together at the Purim party, which is the biggest Boogie event of the year, attracting 1,000 people or more. "From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. is Horim Veyeladim, and the Megilla reading is at 8:30 p.m. Afterwards there are the DJs, plus a big band of Balkan gypsy music and an open stage for music, comedy and performances." Also scheduled to perform (with an eight-piece ensemble) is singer Gil Ron Shama from the band Sheva, and rocker Eran Tsur is booked to take a turn DJing a set of electronica. Edry is quick to point out that an entire family can enter for the cost of a single ticket, which is NIS 60 to NIS 70. "We want everyone to come and not to have to get babysitters," he says. For more information see www.boogienights.co.il or call 566-0018/052-860-8084.