Have you ever heard of a didgeridoo?
Is it a bad cough, a mutant kangaroo, a new type of blackberry?
Here’s a hint: It’s over 1500 years old. Made from a tree.
And gives off a droning sound. But there is one older instrument,
made from an animal and gives off a piercing sound. What
A didgeridoo, also known as a didge, is considered to be
the world's oldest wind instrument. It is usually made from
a branch of the Eucalyptus tree, which has had its interior
hollowed out by termites. The didge is usually around 4-5
feet long and looks like a long wooden horn, open at both
ends. The didgeridoo player places his mouth on the mouthpiece
end of the didge, and the droning sound it gives off is
produced by his continuously vibrating lips using a special
breathing technique called circular breathing. The drone
takes on different variations and sound effects, based on
the player’s lip vibrations and tongue movements.
Why am I writing about the didgeridoo? Because by Divine
Providence, our Chanukah party next week will feature this
unique wind instrument, among other exotic and eclectic
One of our great challenges today is finding ways to bring
our ancient traditions alive and relevant. Relevant is the
key word. For many people today ritual has been rendered
into a mechanical and even dogmatic routine, only serving
to alienate those seeking something deeper, something more
This is quite a tragedy, with far reaching consequences.
It’s one thing if the age-old traditions had no soulful
meaning beyond commemorative and nostalgic value. The fact,
however, is that our holidays and customs are actually powerful
spiritual tools. They allow us to access and manifest our
deepest potential, and help us align our psychological and
emotional lives with our existential needs, creating a balanced
life – fusing body and soul, matter and spirit.
How much time and anguish would be saved – not to
mention money paid to therapists – if we just knew
how to tap the potent spiritual strengths within our rituals?
I have taken this schism between the ritual and the spiritual
as a personal challenge – to come up with creative
ways that can celebrate the profound soulfulness and energy
contained in what can otherwise be seen as hollow traditions.
By no means is this an easy task. It requires a careful
balance between the old and the new; between innovation
and maintaining, without compromise, the integrity of the
original. Our systems today often err to one extreme or
the other. Many disciplines today, in their attempt to modernize
religious structures, can become so contemporary that they
dilute or lose the integrity and spirit of the original.
Others, in their attempt to protect religion and their fear
of change, can become so rigid and inflexible, to the point
that tradition becomes so mechanical, routine and dogmatic,
that the spirit and soul is often lost or asphyxiated.
How to create a dynamic and spiritually charged experience
while upholding the highest standard of quality control
is the key challenge.
You may be surprised to hear that the word “halacha,”
which means law in Hebrew, can also be pronounced “halicha,”
which means movement. Usually people think of “law”
as rigid, inflexible, unmovable. Yet, the law of “halacha”
is realizing its fullest potential, and living up to its
name, only when it compels us to travel to new places!
Think of it like musical notes, which on one hand are immutable
and do not change by whim, yet at the same time create majestic
music, which transports us to another time and space, or
even beyond time and space.
Imagine, then, a mitzvah – which means “connection” – as
a vehicle that transports (and connects) and takes you on
a spiritual journey to hitherto unprecedented heights.
Chanukah – a time when people celebrate and are open to
new ideas – is an excellent opportunity to experiment with
innovative ways to bring alive the story and holiday of
Chanukah, in ways that resonate and transform our personal
In this spirit, our Chanukah event this year is an attempt
to do just that. Chanukah in essence is the story of discovering
light within darkness, and then turning that light into
a perpetual flame that prevails over all challenges. After
the Temple was desecrated and all pure olive oil defiled,
they miraculously discovered a small cruse of pure olive
oil. Then, in another miracle, the bit of oil burned for
full eight days.
What relevance does this have in our lives today? Is there
more to Chanukah than commemorating an ancient miracle?
Answering this precise question ought to drive us to create
a deeply meaningful, as well as energizing Chanukah experience
– one that stimulates our senses and our souls.
Hence, the didgeridoo…
Titled “Light In Motion: The Story of Our Lives In Three
Movements: Shadow, Spark, Illumination,” our MLC Chanukah
event this year will be an interactive Chanukah party and
theatrical/musical experience. Through narrative, song,
music and drums – and the haunting drone of the didgeridoo
– this evening will play out the drama of traveling from
the shadows of doubt, to the discovery of a ray of hope,
to fanning the spark into an illuminating and enduring flame.
Earlier this week we ran a rehearsal of our program, which
combined – in quite a fascinating way – Chassidic
melodies and chants, virtuoso guitar chords, with Brazilian
and Spanish inflections, African drum beats, and the primal
During the rehearsal I learned that the price for didge’s
range from $500 to $10,000, depending on the extent of the
termites ravenous feast on the insides of the branch. Wow,
I never imagined that those pesky termites could add so
So, coming this Wednesday, December 16, at MLC@ 6th,
in New York City’s East Village, we will be having a an
extraordinary Chanukah party, with all the “regular” components
– Menorah lighting, latkes, donuts, drinks, festivities
– infused with some unique and different elements – hopefully
turning Chanukah into the ultimate personal experience,
filled with dynamic energy, and empowering all those that
attend to take on with renewed vigor all our life’s challenges.
For more details or to register for this event, please go
In case you were wondering, the instrument even older than
a didgeridoo, is the shofar…