by A.J. Llewellyn
I had an incredible experience on Saturday night that I wish many more people could have shared. But for those of us who witnessed the giant opening of a butterfly’s gorgeous, all-encompassing, shimmering rainbow wings at the Beth Chayim Chadashim, it was an evening none of us will ever forget.
The GLBT temple’s cantor, the enormously charismatic and talented Juval Porat, in the words of the PR brochure, threw off his cantorial persona. He held a concert of songs and monologues on what he describes as the templates of love. Those of us who have been privileged to hear him sing week after week at the temple know he has that extra sparkle that superstars have. I have a feeling however that he himself has no clue of how seriously special he is, and that is part of his charm.
Yes, he has matinee idol good looks, a sweet smile that is haunting, and he has brains and mathematical talent on top of his high creativity. He also carries with him the heavy load of expectation. The formerly German-based Juval is the first cantor to be ordained in that country since the Holocaust. Yes, he is the shining hope of a nation still traumatized by the events of WWII.
It is his burden and an honor. I see the invisible bag of hammers he carries around and I empathize with him.
Since the city of LA snapped him up two years ago, he is the first to admit the transition was “overwhelming.” I too, came from someplace else and the culture shock of coming to America is huge.
As he performed last night with his partner, Todd, beaming from the middle row behind me, and his proud mother sitting a few seats away from me (she flew in from Israel for the event) I realized that Juval has done a lot of thinking and observing in his two years here. He has come to realize how love and fear have become horribly entwined. Not just here, but everywhere.
One of the monologues he performed from John Bowe’s book, US: Americans Talk About Love, was as a married mother of two who slowly comes to realize her true love is another woman.
His heart-breaking portrayal of Lisa Norgaard’s story was devastating. As he describes the loneliness of being free to be herself, fear transforms to slow acceptance. I saw many heads nodding. As he talked about the mingled thrill and terror of finding the one, who doesn’t come in the package she expected, it all rang true. Juval went on to talk about how all of us at some time or other in our lives hide behind a persona of some kind, yearning to be loved. For ourselves. Just for us. For who we are…and yet, we hide behind fear.
There was humor too in his fabulous rendition of “I’m Hip” and some of his interactions with his incredible band. I personally loved his encore of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and as the audience rose to its feet, applauding him, his shyness seemed to rise to the surface. I hope this is the first of many loving concerts the cantor performs (the proceeds of this event are being donated to Project Chicken Soup, founded at BCC and ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives). I hope we don’t end up losing him to a world tour and fame and riches, but I suspect not. I suspect that bag of hammers keeps him grounded and keeps him humble.
What I hope more than anything is that he keeps growing and exploring his art and the nature of Love in US.