First of all, Rabbi Schonfeld totally failed to signal with her body or voice that her Benediction was in content or intent any different from any of the other speeches given at the DNC.
You must center yourself. It can take literally two seconds, but don’t ever just motor on up to the mic and start declaiming. I don’t care what the organizers tell you. They will tell you to hurry, rush, just go out there and blare it! Give them the withering stare of icy death and smile nicely while your eyes remain daggers that say, “Do not tell me, one of the few humans who is trained in the oratorical arts, how to do my job, honey.” Centering yourself can take as long as one breath. It can happen in a few blinks, in a soft inhalation. It is up to you to make that shift happen and make it happen fast. You’re a pro. You’re a race car on that track. Start your engines as you walk onstage and be ready to claim that space as soon as you hit your mark.
Rabbi Schonfeld did not hit her mark. She smashed into it and started talking.
This was not a Benediction. It was kind of a prayer/speech mash-up. A benediction is a sending forth, a blessing upon the community as they leave the sacred space and re-enter the world. These words did not accomplish that — or if they did, it didn’t come until far too late, because I frankly stopped listening. I can only tolerate so much flat-line hollering. Also? Politically? I did NOT appreciate the “this nation and our allies” line. It’s far too loaded coming from a rabbi, and I was like, “Oh, come awn, this is a shout-out to Israel, and this is not the time or place.”
Disagree with me if you want, but that’s where I’m at.
To whom was Rabbi Schonfeld speaking? She was verbally addressing God and “Dear God,” but she was making eye contact with the audience, who are presumably not God. If you’re praying, you’re not looking at people. If you’re offering a Benediction, you most certainly are. You begin with something like, “And now, as we go forth from this place renewed in spirit and bla bla bla, may God be with us and bla bla bla.” You are addressing the assembly and laying the God love and power on them as they go! You are not talking to God about how you hope God will do stuff and then looking at people.
I could do without the fist pounding the podium, which is a distinctly speech-like thing to do and does not in any way belong in a Benediction.
These civic occasions are definitely tricky, I’m not gonna lie to you, pigeons. But as you figure out how to navigate between Holy Cheerleader, Godly Mouthpiece, and Self-Differentiated Religious Leader, you absolutely need to know what your liturgical moment is and prepare your content and prepare your physicality from there. If you’re giving a Benediction and you don’t want to use the traditional “peace out” blessing gesture or the modified orans pose (I do not know what the Jewish gesture of parting blessing would be — readers?) you need to figure out something else that suggests sending forth but that you can maintain for as long as it takes to deliver your prepared words.
This does not mean that you must strike a pose, Madonna-style, and then hold it while sweat drips down your forehead and falls into your mouth, it means that you must decide on the general posture and work through appropriate shifts in that posture as you review your manuscript. I think we’re all wise enough to realize that one doesn’t ever deliver an extemporaneous Benediction when one is on national television participating in historic occasions. You prepare that content and then you prepare your gestures accordingly. Where will you look? What will you do with your arms? How do you intend to modulate your voice?
As for the rabbi’s image and attire, she is firmly locating herself in around 1989 from head to toe. Could have been worse, could have been much better. This is an incredibly important moment.