The Miracle Worker Of Tel Aviv- Feldenkrais The Man
“He had this natural feel for the body somehow…” remembers Rosa Dorevitch. “he just knew what to do because he cured himself…he had a nice face, but nothing extraordinary except for his hands, he had a touch that none of the others had.”
Rosa, now in her eighties and living in South Yarra, had back problems in the late 60’s that culminated in a laminectomy that left her crippled. When her surgeon then recommended a pin for the spine she became distraught. Then a friend from Israel came to visit. “You know we have a miracle worker living in Tel Aviv,” she told Rosa.
Rosa took an artist’s studio in Tel Aviv a short distance from Moshe Feldenkrais’ office. She began by taking the bus for her lessons three times a week, but soon was walking the distance. On return to Melbourne her younger son was beside himself as he watched his previously crippled mother bend down to the ground. From then on she did Feldenkrais by tape and continued to play tennis, to swim and to go for a morning walk into her old age.
Such stories about Feldenkrais are not uncommon. At the time Rosa went for her consultation, it was well known that the Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was a devotee. As an older man Ben-Gurion suffered from recurrent lumbago and one day received a letter from a Moshe Feldenkrais claiming he could cure him. The prime minister dismissed him as a crank and it wasn’t until he suffered a particularly bad attack in 1956 at the start of the campaign in Suez, that he was advised to see this Feldenkrais. By 1957, newspapers and magazines all over the world printed a photograph of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s prime minister and then a student of Moshe Feldenkrais, standing on his head on a beach in Tel Aviv.
Ben Gurion had been so dedicated to the State of Israel that he had neglected the state of his own body for too long. Feldenkrais gave him many tests and eventually sought to teach him to do that famous headstand, but with care and intelligence. The prime minister was warned by other doctors that this could be dangerous but as Moshe said, “Who’s taking the greater risk, you or I? If you have a stroke, you’ll be dead. I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail or worse, scorned as the man who killed Ben-Gurion”. The prime minister saw Feldenkrais almost daily and he became part of the inner circle, even accompanying Ben Gurion and wife Paula to Egypt during the Suez crisis.
One story has it that Ben Gurion interrupted a meeting in the Knesset saying, “I’m sorry but we will have to take a recess, I will be back in exactly an hour.” His instructions were that nothing was to interfere with his lessons. Except perhaps for a call from Eisenhower, his meetings with Feldenkrais were non-negotiable.
Later in this career Moshe Feldenkrais had many other well-known students. Among them violinist Yehudi Menuin and Moshe Dayan, who proved to be an interesting case.
According to the method, one way to test how well (or not) a person uses their body is to roll their head. This is one way to sense the extent of movement in the head and neck. From an evolutionary point of view, a mobile head is a biological necessity, as it is needed for a quick response to threat or opportunity.
After many years of practice, Feldenkrais was asked whose head rolled most easily, of all the athletes, American pro-basketballers and others he had tested. His answer was unequivocally, the one-eyed Moshe Dayan. According to Feldenkrais, Dayan was truly a man who could see things from all sides. Having such a range of head movement literally meant he wasn’t fixed in one point of view, which was perhaps why he had such success in understanding the Arabs while still officially opposing them.
From 1949 — 1952, Moshe was also head of the Electronic Department of the Defence Forces of Israel, but all of this is somewhere near the peak of his story. A brief look at his earlier life, the breadth of his studies and his contact with extraordinary people in interesting times goes some way to explaining where his ideas originated.