Thursday, October 25, 2007

Storahtelling @ Queer Shabbaton

October 20, 2007

By Rabbi Jill Hammer

Storah On The Road

Storahtelling at Nehirim's Queer Shabbaton New York decided to tackle the story of how Abram/Abraham, while traveling to Egypt because there is a famine in Canaan, asks his wife Sarai/Sarah to say that she is his sister. The Storahtellers (Jake Goodman, Shira Kline, Shawn Shafner, Shoshana Jedwab and Rabbi Jill Hammer) felt this story had a lot of resonance for us and for other GLBT Jews. We called our production "Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Parashat Lech Lecha”. We decided to base our Torah reading on two midrashim, one from Genesis Rabbah and one from the Zohar. In the Genesis Rabbah midrash, Abram is so afraid that the Egyptians will take Sarai that he hides her in a box. When he reaches the border with Egypt, he offers to pay anything rather than open the box, but the border crossing official makes him open it anyway, and this is how the Egyptians find out how beautiful Sarai is. We made the theme of our service "journeys," and between sections of the service, Jake and Shawn delivered monologues: a nosy neighbor watching Abram and Sarai's household leave their native land behind, and a (hilarious!) Egyptian customs official warning of security concerns now that famine had driven so many foreigners to seek food in Egypt.

Our Torah service began as Shira narrated a story from her own life related to hiding. We called up journeyers, people who felt that they had been placed in boxces, and people who had gotten out of boxes. We narrated Abram's request to Sarai: "Say that you are my sister.." Shoshana/Sarai climbed into the cardboard box as Jill/Abram explained her concerns about Sarai being taken away. A funny dialogue between Avram and the customs officer led to the box being opened and Sarai being discovered. In the second aliyah stretch, Shoshana/Sarai introduced herself to the "harem," the whole audience, (noticing that Pharaoh had both men and women in his harem), and invited other harem members to talk about their boxes. Sarai then narrated the third aliyah, where Sarai's true relationship to Avram comes out, and Pharaoh sends Avram and Sarai away from Egypt. At the end of the Torah service, Jill reflected on the themes of journeying, trying unfamiliar things, making mistakes on the journey, and continuing to move forward. The service ended with Kaddish and Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.

There was a lot about this Storahtelling that I liked. The music was well-chosen, people got into their roles, and the audience shared beautifully. As someone who hates to fly, it was very cathartic for me to play someone at a security checkpoint who throws a fit and doesn't want to open the suitcases! But the thing that really touched me was the overall sense of freedom in the room: we could play with the story of Avram and Sarai as a queer story, with queer characters, in a safe, fun, and (relatively) reverent way. Both Shira's story and Shoshana's Sarai monologue gave me a sense that a Jewish queer story was being told in a compelling way, to an appreciative audience, and that was the best part of the day for me.

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