Thursday, November 15, 2007

Becoming Israel at Temple Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA

By Franny Silverman

Storah On The Road
And Jacob was left alone, And a man (EESH) wrestled with him until the rising of the dawn.
(Gen 32:25)
"What is your name?"
"Your name will not be said: Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with the Divine and with people and were able."
(Gen. 32:28-29)

This weekend, four Storahtellers and over 500 congregants of Temple Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA consciously became Israel once again.
Since 2002, Storahtelling company members and affiliated artists have been wrestling with the Torah text of Jacob wrestling. In 2005 we realized this text demanded a greater show, not for only one shabbat out of the year, but for every day, because every day we, as Storahtellers, found ourselves wrestling with what it means to be "God-Wrestlers".

We have in this time:
- Created countless Bibliodramas, writings and performance compositions inspired by this text.
- Created and performed over 6 different translations and interpretations of this text
- Choreographed and performed the famed wrestling sequence more than 3 different times
- Written at least 3 separate pieces of music to illustrate this event
- "Drashed" through performance the idea of the EESH being Esau, Jacob's subconscious, Jacob's past, the Divine, Jacob's inner demons.
- Challenged congregational audiences in South Florida, Upstate New York, Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City with what it means to BECOME Yisrael, to BE "The Children of Israel"

This weekend marked the premiere of the culmination of our work. On Friday night, after the silent meditation and before the kaddish, the congregants of Temple Beth Or found themselves with the Matriarch, Leah, on the banks of the Jabbok River witnessing the iconic biblical events of the text above. They were with Rachel and the thousand other Holocaust survivors aboard La Negev sailing towards a new life in Palestine and wrestling with the ghosts of the past. And they were with the ambivalent college student, Jake, on his first trip to Israel, when he met the American who urges him to make Aliyah and the Arab man who shares a piece of history that his tour guide is not teaching him, and then competed with him in an ultimate game of backgammon/shesh-besh against an Israeli soldier who (sort of) shares his name.

Havdalah attendance tripled after Friday's performance and so on Saturday night, twenty-four hours later, in a converted farmhouse in the homiest of barn mansions that I have ever seen, we did a lovely Havdalah bringing back the characters from Becoming Israel and old faves like "Ain't No Sunshine" and Debbie Friedman. We ended with a rousing round of "This Little Light of Mine". Avi Fox-Rosen and Shawn Shafner led with the support of Melissa Shaw, Annie Levy and myself and it was awesome. We segued into a talkback about the show where congregants had the opportunity to share their thoughts and to ask questions about the piece:
"That was me. I might be older than Jake, but I just went to Israel for the first time last year, and I had that same experience."
"I was crying the whole way through..."
"My Grandmother left Europe on a boat just before the war..."
"Jake is our son!"

We finished off the weekend with workshops on Sunday for the Hebrew school. The kids were wonderful. Picture two rows of 10 year olds facing each other. One row is of "Jacobs" and one row is of "Angels".
One of us called out 5 specific moments in the show and the kids accompanied the storytelling with full-body gestures representing the actions. In chorus, they showed us:
1. Wrestling
2. Being Injured/Injuring Jacob
3. The sun coming up

And then in dialogue, one after another, with accompanying words, they showed us:
4a. Angels: "I need to leave"
4b. Jacobs: "Give me a Blessing"
5a: Angels: "Your are no longer Jacob. Your new name is Israel."
5b. Jacobs: "My name is Israel

Looking forward to many more opportunities to wrestle with Becoming Israel!

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had been there! Franny has told it all so brilliantly. Oh, wait I was there. What I meant to say is I wish YOU had been there.