In Jerusalem, the art of juggling is reassuming its rightful place as a traditional way of expressing joy.
Surprised? Juggling is actually an ancient tradition - an honored Jewish tradition, as a matter of fact.
As a form of both entertainment and expression, the roots of the art form of juggling sink deep into the soul of the Middle East. According to research published by professor Arthur Lewbel, the earliest-known depiction of a toss juggler comes from Egypt, from a Beni Hassan tomb that that may be 4,000 years old. Four figures are depicted in various postures, appearing to toss numerous balls over their heads.
Jews were quick to adopt the art of juggling as their own. According to the Mishnah, "Pious and prominent men used to dance with burning torches in their hands before the thousands of celebrants" during the Sukkot celebrations, explains Rashi. "They would throw them high and catch them. Some were expert with four, some with eight. They would continually throw and catch, throw and catch."
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, it states, could "take eight flaming torches and throw them in the air, catch one and throw one, and they did not even touch one another."
In Israel, interest in juggling as art, sport and unique entertainment is enjoying a revival.
A "Jerusalem Juggler's Club" thrives, as do clubs in Haifa, Pardes Chana and Ra'anana. An International Juggler's Convention has become an institution - the first such, held 13 years ago, attracted 50 to 60 people; the following year, about 100. But last year, more than 800 jugglers from all over the world - amateurs and professionals - came to watch, learn new tricks and perform.
The 2006 convention - the 13th annual - opens this spring at Gan Hashlosha National Park, and promises to be a sell-out.
Past attendees rave about the Jerusalem club's enthusiasm and amenities, many noting that it's the "best convention in the world."
Having a Ball!
Why this renewed interest in juggling?
According to Scott Seltzer, one of Israel's most prominent jugglers, it's simple: "Juggling is fun."
Beyond that, he says, "It's also a great outlet for energy. Juggling improves coordination, rhythm and reflexes. For children, it encourages self-confidence and focus, and offers a great opportunity for them to express themselves creatively."
Seltzer, a native of Tucson, Ariz., who made aliyah in 1992, started juggling at age 7, when his older sister was trying to learn the talent from a book.
"I just started juggling three balls," he says.
Even though Seltzer spent a few years working in high-tech, juggling has always been his obsession. On arriving in Israel, he took up street performing.
"I went to Ben-Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, put a hat on the ground, and started tossing balls, clubs, hats - whatever I had. At first, I dropped a few and earned very little, but by the end of the summer, I was earning a bundle."
Seltzer was then hired by the Cardo Culinarium, a Roman-themed restaurant in the Old City, and worked regularly there for six years - "until the tourists stopped coming."
Seltzer juggles not just balls and clubs, but handles knives, hats, rings, burning torches and other props. One of his most popular routines involves eggs.
"I juggle several eggs, and then I drop a few so they splatter on the ground, on my head, all over the place. The kids laugh and laugh."
He even involves his two children - Raheli, 4, and Bat-El, 1 - in the act, sometimes juggling Bat-El along with two balls.
"They love it!" says Seltzer.
"There's something in juggling that kids of all ages adore."
But for him, juggling is a very real business: "I customize routines for corporate purposes of all kinds," he says, noting that he's written and performed product-specific routines for numerous trade shows in Israel and abroad.
Making It Motivational
Of course, he goes on, "motivating employees and team-building are corporate objectives that juggling is suited to demonstrate. It's a great analogy to many products and services; we make creative use of every kind of prop and product, and make it relevant to any industry."
Juggling in Jerusalem isn't all commercial. Moshe Pfeffer, another local favorite, took up juggling at 31?2 years of age.
"We lived in Florida," he says, "but every summer we spent two weeks in Georgia, where the College Studies Circus also summered. I'd spend my vacation watching, learning new tricks, and then go home to practice for the rest of the year."
Pfeffer, a ba'al teshuvah who came on aliyah in 1998, recently married and studies full-time in a Jerusalem yeshiva. Now, he offers his talent for chesed.
"I seek out opportunities to volunteer at hospitals, homes or schools - any charitable organization.
"My juggling and comedy act makes kids laugh, and that's important," he states unabashedly. "I want them to remember they had a good time."
To learn more about the 2006 jugglers convention, go online to: www.ijc.co.il/eng_  frameset.html.