Tuesday, September 25, 2007

ONE GIANT LEAP at Congregation Beth El in New Jersey Sunday, September 16, 2007

By Jake Goodman

Storah On The Road
By Lauviticus

This last Sunday Chana Rothman and I traveled to Congregation Beth El in South Orange, New Jersey to perform our musical, puppet-filled production of ONE GIANT LEAP. The play begins the moment after all the Israelites have crossed the Sea of Reeds and explores the tension between faith and doubt. Chana brilliantly played the faithful, guitar-playing Miriam while I puppeteered the frightened, neurotic and very hungry Nachson. According to Midrash, when Moses raised his staff to part the Sea of Reeds, nothing happened. All the Isrealites just stood there, waiting for a miracle. An Israelite named Nachshon, however, jumped straight into the water and it was actually his faith that caused the sea to part. In ONE GIANT LEAP, this Midrash on its
head: Nachshon is now the doubter, the one who does not think that the Israelites will be provided for in the desert, and who wants to go back to being a slave in Egypt where at least he knew he would
(usually) be fed.

One funny story: ONE GIANT LEAP is a play that encourages audience participation and, gratefully, the kids at Beth El eagerly obliged.
At one point, when Nachshon was complaining about his terrible thirst, one of the older kids shouted out, "Why don't you go back to Egypt and drink from the Nile?" Without missing a beat, this blue puppet retorted, "We can't! The Nile has recently gone through a...transformation. Let's just say: it's not kosher anymore!" This was a great moment because many of the adults and older kids who understood the joke burst out laughing. The younger kids, who did not understand the reference to the Nile turning to blood during the first plague, quickly turned to their neighbors and demanded to know what was so funny. And then a second, louder wave of laughter began! It was hilarious, and a clear demonstration of how engaging this type of ritual theater can be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Storahtelling Tashlich Ritual September 14 2007

Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

About twenty of us from the Storahtelling family gathered on the second day of Rosh Hashana on the Hudson River pier, to shed away the year that was.

Sitting in a circle on the lawn, under a grey sky, we were led by Jake Goodman, who beautifully md’d an original version of the Tashlich ritual. First we chose pieces of bread, two each, of different varieties, symbolizing our life’s choices. Then we went around in a circle, spreading strawberry jam on our bread to represent our sweet moments from the year that passed, then peanut butter to represent what will stick with us for the next year – worthwhile challenges and personal goals. The sharing took a while and was very moving. And then came the tasty bit – we made our sandwiches, ate the middle, and saved the crusts for the fish. The crusts, Jake explained, represent that part of our life that we are grateful for but are shedding in order to make room for new experiences. Together we climbed the rails along the pier and tossed our crusts into the Hudson River, much to the delight of a local flock of seagulls. A Chinese feast followed and a new year ushered, carb free.

Kicking off 5768

Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

The 40th floor of 7 world trade center in downtown Manhattan is home to the NY Academy of Science, and a bronze bust of Charles Darwin graces its entry hall. Under his austere and hopefully amused gaze, a few hundred people gathered on September 12 and 13 to mark the 5,768th birthday of the planet – not exactly in line with evolutionist theory. Storahtelling’s fourth annual Rosh Hashanah celebration featured a partnership with Tribeca Hebrew – a growing and dynamic grassroots NYC Jewish community, and attracted many guests off all ages, backgrounds and faiths. Amazing music and liturgy was led by Amichai Lau-Lavie, Shira Kline, Chana Rothman, Ronen Itzik, Jeremy Brown, and Katie Down. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah we held a memorial service for 9/11 – just a previous day and a few hundred feet away. 7 World Trade Center is the first of the ground zero buildings to be rebuilt, and this powerful symbolism was echoed as we remembered the loss and started a new year with a prayer for world peace and self renewal.

The following day we split up – offering a children’s’ service and activities in one room while the adults gathered in the main space for musical liturgy and the telling of the Torah tale for Rosh Hashanah – the birth of Isaac and the banishment of his brother Ishmael. The Storahtelling version of this dramatic tale, entitled ‘Child’s Play’, directed by Franny Silverman and featuring Shawn Shafner and Emily Warshaw, brought alive the Genesis tale of a dysfunctional family that happens to be the ancestral soap opera of both the Jewish and Muslim nations. At one point during the telling, the voice of Hagar, the other mother in this tale, and the mythic matriarch of Islam, was speaking to us, voicing pain, anger, hope and possibilities for healing of old wounds. Many people reacted later, in person and via emails – “I Loved how you brought in Hagar's point of view..It left me pondering ..We discussed it all through lunch later that day!”

Rabbi David Kline (Shira’s dad) was our shofar blower and blew a record 58 seconds long final blast… Darwin seemed to like it, and the 300 people who were there left with a lick of honey and a taste for more. To be continued on Yom Kippur.


Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah by Sarah Sokolic
By Sarah Sokolic

Last Saturday night, Chana Rothman and I went to The Jewish Center in Princeton, NJ, home synagogue of the Sokolic family for the past 20 years (my "in-law" shul, if you will) to be a part of a Princeton-Mercer-Bucks community-wide Slichot program. Chana and I premiered a new piece which I conceived and wrote with the help of some of previous works from Storahtelling. Entitled "Like A Prayer", and directed by the lovely and talented Annie Levy, the piece retells the collective stories of some of our most cherished archetypes of the season (Aaron, Sarah, Hagar, Chana), focuses on the origins of prayer, and reflects on themes of "birth and rebirth", forgiveness and introspection. "Like A Prayer" was unique for Storahtelling in that it was not a Shultime or Maven program that would take place during the Torah service, nor was it a traditional theatrical piece. This was a "hybrid" model - I chanted in character amidst the dialogue, and Chana translated as part of the storytelling.

This technique resonated deeply with the congregation. During our half-hour long talk balk after the performance, many audience members commented on how moved they were to see characters they have known all of their lives portrayed as "real people", and how the use of chanting throughout made them remember that the stories and the dialogue come right from the text. Following the program Rabbi Adam Feldman, who worked with Storahtelling to put the program together wrote in an email:
"What a great evening. It was everything I wanted and more. Chana and Sarah are both very talented and a pleasure to work with and the performance was thought provoking and very well done. You helped us set the tone for the holidays in a way unlike anyone else can do. I am sure that many of us will think back to the performance as we read these stories in the Torah and Haftorah over the holidays."

Shana Tova.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Its Raining Words

Verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

According to legend, the poem that consists of this week’s entire Torah episode, Nitzavim VaYelech’ is recited one day before Moses dies. The second opening stanza of his swan song reads:

May my discourse come down as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
Like showers on young growth,
Like droplets on the grass.

Dvarim 32:2 (JPS Bible)

The King James Bible translates:

Drop as rain doth My doctrine;
Flow as dew doth My sayings;
As storms on the tender grass,
And as showers on the herb.

And the Aramaic of Pseudo-Jonathan:

My doctrine shall be soft as rain; let it be received as the dew, and my word be as the breath of the rain that breathes upon the grass, and as the showers of the latter rain upon the herbage.

What awaits here beyond the metaphor of rich rain in the parched desert of a bitter old man? Note the three different choices of translation for the image of ‘rain on the grass’: Storm, Droplets, Breath of rain.

There is a whole vocabulary in the Torah devoted to kinds of speech: songs, doctrine, hymns, teachings, prophecies, words. The Hebrew word used here is ‘LEKACH’ f- ’sacred teaching’, or ‘discourse’ or ‘doctrine’, a word that is derived from the primitive root for ‘take’ and by extension here to ‘take what has been given’: in other words, to receive. Perhaps some types of wisdom are received by us as we welcome rain – receiving a gift that nourishes our life. But also, how often we do carry umbrellas when gifted with rain? So it is with the sacred teachings. Or do we dance and sing in THAT rain? What does wisdom feel like to us - Storms, droplets, breath of rain, other?

Though the King James gives a sense of possible violence to the words Moses will deliver( “storms”), all the other translations convey gentleness, a discourse like a soft Spring rain-like benevolence of this “doctrine” which rains softly on tender ground, is the feminine noun ‘emrah’.. If we hear ancient echoes of the story of creation, we are no doubt meant to: On the third day of creation God brings forth the grass and herbs, and the same word is used there and here: ‘deshe’.
There are certain ways to telling story that manage to open our heart, fill our eyes with tears, and wet our appetite for the exploration of mystery. Such is Moses’s last poem and such is all great art.

It was a Christian saint—Benedict—who spoke of listening “with the ears of the heart.” Just a few days before Rosh HaShana, here is an opportunity to examine our private reservoirs of received rains: what is the wisdom that we, like grass lawns, have received and absorbed? And what are the new ones we yearn for? The secret power of speech, the words we always remember, the songs that reach our heart and stay there, deeply listened to, celebrated as rain to a thirsty lawn.