Tuesday, March 13, 2012

An Incredible, Edible Weekend

An Incredible, Edible Weekend in Wayland, Massachusetts
Emily Warshaw, Maven
Etan Bednarsh, Maven
Jessica Bay Blyweiess, Maven
Isadore "Alex" Wolfson, Maven

What an incredible weekend at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA. We (Mavens Jessica Bay Blyweiss, Emily Warshaw, and Alex Wolfson, and myself - Etan Bednarsh) were warmly welcomed with open hearts, warm feelings, and gigantic fruit baskets.
Friday night’s beautiful services were a welcome start to Shabbat. We were treated to mellifluent prayers led by Rabbis Gold and Litcovsky and Cantor Lori Weinstein accompanied by piano, cello, and bongo drums, and an appearance by the Shir Tikva Women’s Choir.
At the delicious dinner (a recurring theme of the weekend), after services, Emily led a Meet the Maven workshop discussing the torah reading in biblical times, translation, and the nature of stories. In a discussion of the translation and meaning of the shema, one of the congregants shared an idea that the congregation had come across on the Temple trip to Israel last year. He told us that when he says the shema, he pinches his thumb and pinky forming a shin on his forehead and helping him to personalize the shema as a mantra.
Emily and Etan led the Maven StorahService Shabbat morning with a production of “Assumptions Make a Calf of You and Me.” Emily and Etan, playing angels, explored the story of the golden calf and ultimately asked what forgiveness looks like in our lives, and how we can change our patterns and reactions to specific people and situations. Thank you to our wonderful Torah readers: Sheila Deitchman, Marissa Kaye and Joel Sadagursky. Thank you to Sheila in particular for this beautiful picture (and for a perfect attendance record for the weekend!):

On Saturday night, after a havdala led by Rabbi Gold, Jessica, Emily, and Alex performed the full length theatrical production, “Becoming Israel.” After the play, many of the members drew a connection between the performance and their own experiences in visiting Israel as a group one year earlier. One woman shared that her grandfather’s own life story was eerily echoed by one of the characters journey in the play.
After the performance and talk back, Shir Tikva held a reception with wine and cocktails (we told you, recurring theme. We skipped some. Trust us) where we were able to talk more about the play and our own stories with our audience. As wonderful as all of those were, they were equaled by the incredible cake prepared for us. And we do mean – for us:
Said Maven Alex Wolfson “mnmnmn,” as he bit into his piece. Or something like that. We couldn’t really hear him through the cake.
On Sunday morning, Jessica and Alex brought a StorahSteps performance to the Hebrew School. A crowd of over 100 kids and kids-at-heart were treated to the story of Moses and the rock. Special thanks to Gersh, StorahSteps’ puppet in residence for his appearance, and to all our kids for their suggestions, and their fantastic yelling skills.
It really was a great weekend. We want to thank Deena, Julio, everyone else for welcoming us so warmly, providing and caring for us, and coordinating all our technical needs (Thank you Michael and Alan!). We’d especially like to thank all the people who came out to see one, two, or all three of our performances and for actively participating and dialoging with us so honestly.
Thank You!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Storahtelling & Conservative Principals' Council: Challenges & Inspirations

by Jake Goodman

This last week, I had the privilege of facilitating a 2-hour Storahtelling workshop with the Conservative Principals' Council (CPC) at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights, NY. The attendees were all principals or educational leaders in various settings, very experienced, knowledgeable and hungry for innovation - if it fit within their understandings of what is responsible Jewish education. I so respect them for their rigor and passion, and teaching Storahtelling's methodology to them was an exciting challenge because I was constantly asked to reflect upon Storahtelling's philosophy: why do we make certain choices? For us, what is the difference between translation and interpretation? Do we care at all about teaching values from our "style" of Jewish text study? If so, what? If so, how? How can our Maven Method be translated for a wide range of learners, from high school all the way down to kindergarten?

These questions were not easy to answer, but trying to do so was great fun! I really felt that the principals and I were engaged in an important conversation and, miraculously, we all seemed to be on the same page at the end, laughing, inspired by each other. For me, this was proof of Storahtelling's universality and power. The access this methodology creates is relevant and vital to Jews of all stripes and colors, to humans of all stripes of color - regardless of denomination, experience or preexisting content knowledge.

As a side note, it also reinforced for me how much I love being an educator - especially when the learners are unafraid to voice their concerns, challenges and curiosities.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Night 8 of 8 VS. hate: Repair the despair


Tonight it's done. All eight candles are lit and the task is complete but is it ever? never.  We are the light at the end of each others tunnel  - and tonight's - it's bright. I need yours and I hope mine has been helpful to you. Here's the final touch:

(For this blog's overall intention:  8vshate:why & how )

I dedicate tonight's fully lit menora to the ongoing intention of adding light to where it's dark: in our hearts and mind, the fears that grip us in the night, tunnel visions of hatred that marginalizes others in the name of religion or dogma or privilege; the acts of violence that enrage and hurt;the greed; the invisibility of loneliness.
Can rituals help? something as silly and symbolic as a candle? I choose to say yes. I choose to name this ceremony of candle lighting as the oldest and newest technology of fighting despair - with repair. Turn on the lights - tonight, every night, little gesture of great possibilities. How else can hate be fought if not with love?

My intention tonight, on this eighth night is that our intentions matter, and the stories we choose to tell ourselves about what matters most and how we can change the world will matter more. Our sacred stories - such as the one of the little jar of oil that could - the triumph of the few against the many - are the victory of hope. Then and always. We are the light at the end of each other's tunnels. 
On this cold night, in the middle of a conference in the UK with thousands of people, strangers and friends, alone together I light with hope for love.

And one last Chanukah gift, the gift that keeps on giving - away to make sure that sacred stories are told with awareness and intention and a radical commitment to change: I donate online tonight - last minute tax free gift - to the community I founded, with hundreds of wonderful people worldwide trained to be storytellers for change, storahatellers for transformation. Help me turn on the lights for good: //Gift to Storahtelling

Lights On. Lights Out. Thank you for joining my journey and lighting my way with your kind comments and thoughts. 

To light! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Night 7 of 8 VS Hate: Occupy Death


Defiance of death was not what I planned writing about tonight but an hour ago I got a message from Jerusalem: My father's older brother, Uncle Shiko, died peacefully today, in his early nineties, surrounded by his wife, and many children, grand and great children. Baruch Dayan Emet.

Like my father, Shiko survived the Holocaust - he left early and made it to Palestine. Unlike my father, who though religious has many doubts about God - Shiko lived a life full of faith, little doubt in God, a true Hasid, with commitment to the Zionist ideal - he was a big fan and a leader of the settler movement. We didn't see eye to eye on that one, but in the big scheme of things it didn't matter. He also liked to drink, esp. Slivovitz, the plum brandy of champions. 
So tonight, night #7, my intention is to honor his death and to honor all deaths of loved ones in my life and on the planet this past year. I'll raise a glass of Slivovitz in his memory as the candles are lit. Occupy death by lighting a candle - yahrtzeit or chaunkah. Occupy death by living strongly, not afraid of mortality, honoring life, celebrating our now, sending light and love to my father, who will now sit shiva for a brother, as he had not sat for the brother who died in 1942 or for his parents who died in those dark years. 
In the photo attached - the last picture of my uncle Shiko, along with my father - Shiko, fragile in on the left. How how giants are humbled.. May his memory be a blessing to all. 

L'chayim. To life. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Night 6 of 8 VS. Hate: Occupy Violence


This sixth 6th night of Chanukah is another chance to take a deep breath, focus on the flames and make an intention for less darkness and more delighted light in simple moments, more safety, more joy to the world. 

(For this blog's overall intention:  8vshate:why & how )

Tonight's intention: Occupy Violence  - within our selves, and in the world - words and actions, born of hate, lead to death.  Each candle is a memory to victims of violence, a vigil of vigilance. 

What's a Maccabee? someone asked me this morning. It really means 'one who is armed' I had to explain. More specifically - 'one who holds a big mallett' - one of those effective scary weapons of days long ago. And though Judah and co. are named thus for their fight for freedom against religious oppression it is not hard to imagine them described by the Greek press as as dangerous terrorists. Its all a matter of perspective.  sometimes you gotta fight. Sometimes the fight is right. So often it isn't. What can we do reduce the rage within our own selves in the world around us? 

here are six sad facts for the sixth night. Food for thought: occupy violence. 

Fact #1: Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted. 

Fact #2: One out of every six American women have been the victims of a rape or attempted rape 

Fact #3 Of the 6,624 single-bias incidents reported in 2010, 47.3 percent were racially motivated, 20.0 percent were motivated by religious bias, 19.3 percent resulted from sexual-orientation bias, 12.8 percent stemmed from ethnicity/national origin bias, and 0.6 percent were prompted by disability bias.

Fact #4 91.5% of LGBT students in the US report hearing homophobic remarks, such as “faggot,” “dyke” 

Fact #5  90% of 4th through 8th graders in the US report being victims of bullying

Fact #6 Estimated each year in the US 31,225 people are killed due to homicide, suicide and unintentional shooting. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day, or three death each hour. 

Thank you freedom fighters and activists for a safer world. 


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Night 5 of 8 VS> Hate: Occupy Ignorance


Night 5 of 8 VS. hate. Merry Chanukah! Billions of people are celebrating the power of miracles tonight all over the planet, Christians, Jews and those who love them are publicizing their faith (or at their least love of tradition) with the best of intentions. But what's joy for some if oy for others and sadly so many  choose to focus on what differences we have instead of what we share in common. Intolerance is born of ignorance. This is why is there so much violence and hatred in the name of religions, in the so called name of God.  How can we turn the lights back on? Start with understanding that this hatred comes from ignorance. Ignorance can be fixed. Tonight's intention is to occupy ignorance. 

(For this blog's overall intention:  8vshate:why & how )

Tonight's intention:  I honor all beings, and all faiths, and human paths, and respect all those who are looking for ways to add light to the darkness that descends on our brightest intentions. We will take on ignorance with kindness, one smile at a time.  I honor all those who strive for truth and dignity, and respect all paths, EVEN the ones that I have no patience for or piss me off. (such as the angry man who came up to me tonight, just a bit ago, right after I publicly lit the fifth candle at the Limmud Conference and added the matriarchs - imotineu - to the second blessing, and he was quite cross, in that British way and said how he wished I didn't mess with the original blessing and spoil it for the rest of them. Ahem. Even him.  I get it. changes are never simple. I smiled and thanked him for his feedback and told him how important it is for many of us to honor our mothers and grandmothers and heroines and that times are changing and have a good night.) I will strive to be more compassionate and patient and respectful, while still striving for dignity and honor for ALL humans. 

I dedicate this holy night to my friends in faith who are working hard to minimize ignorance and educate all people about other people' religions: http://www.faithhousemanhattan.org/

Tonight let's be the light in each others tunnel of ignorance. And celebrate the hope of co-existence - the only hope we got. 

Holy Night. High Five. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Night 4 of 8 VS. Hate: Occupy Loneliness


Night 4 of 8 VS. hate. Lighting up the fourth candle of Chanukah and the two candles of Shabbat = sending a ray of light to the darkness of loneliness, where shame lives, and the broken hearted. Every light here matters. 

this blog's context:  8vshate:why & how

Tonight's intention: Hello Darkness my old friend. Mid-way, mid-night over the Atlantic, the cabin lights are off, and only the flickers of small screens light up random faces. In this cozy darkness, with that-kind-of-romantic-drama-that-was-made-to-make-me-cry - I cry. Again. Secure in this darkness of anonymity, relishing the moment. 

Look. I don't know who's reading this, not a whole lot of you if FB likes are any indication so I'll allow myself to follow through with my commitment to go private in public (and thus force myself do this) with 8 nights of shining a spotlight on the spots of darkness that need illumination in my life and the lives of others. So let's be honest here. I'm single right now and I don't like it. I used to. But now it's annoying and the dark truth is that even the lovely gesture of someone putting a hand on the hand of their lover in, say, an airport, reminds me of how it used to be and how I yearn for it again. I am not alone in this single solitude. So many with whom I share this sentiment come out as well - gay, straight, old, young, divorced, widowed, unlucky in love, etc.  Somehow the digital age has given us so many options for connection but is also robbing us of real intimacy. Are we doing enough to help each other find love? Can we strike a match tonight to light a candle and take this match-making ritual to the next level? 

I plan to. Tonight - mid way through Chanukah, lighting among many strangers at a  the limmud UK conference 2011 somewhere in the middle of the UK, I will take a few minutes to think of those in my life who are lonely, for whatever reason and dedicate myself to what I can do about it: a phone call, email, smile, hug - even if to self. I'll think of ONE person who I want to help set up. Please do the same. Seriously, please ACTUALLY take a few minutes to think of one person in your life who is single and then go through your lists and gently kindly offer them a set up. You never know. Not unless we all try. Feel free to contact me for details...; )

My gift tonight is not a donation to a light agent in the world: It's a commitment to honoring the darkness and all and each and every phase of life - while celebrating the power of light and love to change it all for the better. 

Peaceful Sabbath

PS: Lit third candle at JFK, right after security - thanks to Binyamin, a lovely Chabad guy who didn't like that I added the matriarchs to the blessing but agreed that it wasn't the end of the world.. My first chabad of choice positive moment in a very long time if not ever. Sweet. Thank you Binyamin. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

NIGHT 3 of 8 VS. HATE: Occupy Disease


Night 3 of 8 VS. hate. Taking time to focus on the darkness of disease, mind and body and soul, and how to shine a light at the end of these tunnels. 
this blog's context:  8vshate:why & how
The longest night of the year is behind us but for many, long nights are still ahead, in and by sickbeds, and in it for win it and the ongoing noble fight for health and wellbeing.  

one good way to start is by eating mindfully and with moderation during these holy days and nights. Easy on the latkes.
Next, continue by taking a few minutes after the candles are lit to think of who in our lives would need some light right now, and what do we ourselves need to be in better health? 

Which darkness of disease will you light up tonight?

My gift tonight goes to The Children's Tumor Foundation , with prayers and hopes for all our children.   What's yours?

And in the fight for civic and financial health - the comrades are of occupy judaism are in back at Zucotti Park  tonight to light candle#3. 6pm: occupy chanukah

I'll be in JFK this evening, off to the UK. I will light a virtual candle on my iphone and for the first time in my life am thinking maybe it will be nice to have a chabad guy at the airport with tin menorahs and a license to light? 

Gezundheit. To health. To light.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Night 2 of 8 VS. Hate: Occupy GREED


 This is night 2 of the 8 vs. hate Chanukah blog that was started yesterday. read the intro here: http://amichai.me/eight-vs-hatechanukah-2011-occupy-darkness.html
Last night, as the candles met gravity at the third and last of my candle lighting parties I took the time to sit and stare and found myself sobbing, oh, for all sorts of reasons. I was kindly held by a good friend and it helped a lot. 

The darkness, we agreed later, is also beautiful, a chance to 'go there' and note what is the personal/spiritual work we have each to take on so that days and nights are brighter for ourselves - and for each other.

I don't wont to just be the downer this Chanukah - just to take a few minutes out of each night for this fragile focus and fix. Then party on.

Tonight is the second candle. I will light with my children and family, and then with the Storahtelling crew, and gifts will be shared. I didn't grow up on Chanukah gifts - def. not one for each night. And I'm glad that my children aren't getting those either. Excess is greed's sister. We can all do with less of both. 

Tonight's intention: Occupy Greed. Take a moment to think of where in your life is the darkness of economic injustice, need, rage - and where is the opportunity for healing? 
Like many other strong voices for social justice and equal opportunity for all, the Occupy Movement, now worldwide, is fighting the fight of the ancient Maccabees for freedom, dignity and justice.  I choose to support my siblings fighting this good fight tonight here: http://occupywallst.org/donate/

In the fight against greed - what is your cause/action tonight? 

Lighting the Chanukah candles, like with most candles, is about as close as we get to magic: something actually happens and the light in the room really changes. Especially if one makes sure to turn off the lights. While the actual moment of lighting is not the best moment for serious reflection - the 30 min. or so that follow the lighting are ripe for the picking of serious focus, if brief. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Lit the first night of Chanukah tonight at the Educational Alliance's Weinberg Nursing Home in the East Village - Russian-Jewish, Chinese- American seniors - and a bunch of families celebrating a B Mitzvah with Storahtelling in the next year. We sang in Hebrew, English, Russian, Yiddish and two dialects of Chinese.  Tonight's version of Chanukah was about all people seeking freedom and dignity - all over the world and at all times. 

Tonight's intention - be each other's light at the end of the tunnel - combat loneliness and what is so often the lack of dignity of old age in our culture. 

My charity of choice tonight: my friends at The Educational Alliance - a non-profit org. restoring people's dignity all over downtown NYC for over 100 years.  
$18. Here we go. My little gIft to agents of light each night. 

Match me. What's YOUR cause to occupy darkness of dignity worldwide tonight? 

One more candle lighting to go in Brooklyn...