Friday, November 09, 2007

Fixing Broken Glass

By Amichai Lau-Lavie

Storah On The Road

Dear friends,

Today, the 9th of November, is the commemoration of KristalNacht – the night of broken glass. Today In 1938 the vandalized and broken windows of homes, shops, synagogues and schools throughout Germany became a terrible symbol of the great shattering that was to become the Holocaust of European Jewry. I woke up this morning with this image in my mind: a street strewn with heaps of broken shards of glass, empty except for one woman walking slowly, looking at the broken pieces as they reflect a bright blue sky. She is pregnant.

In some ways this image is linked to the historical date, to this week's Torah portion - and to what's happening right now in the lives of the people who are part of this community called Storahtelling – so I wanted to share with you a brief thought that elucidates this haunting image and hopefully will be meaningful to all of you who are, in so many ways, part of my family.

The pregnant woman is Rebecca, and as this week's portion, Toldot – Origins, begins, she is pregnant with twins. These are the first twins in history, and they are kicking in different directions, and Rebecca is confused and troubled – what is happening inside of her? She asks the first existential question in the Torah – 'if this is so – who am I?' And she is the first person in Jewish history to seek an answer, to investigate life's challenges – she goes to find God. The answer she receives is a complex blessing: she will become the mother of two boys, and they will become the fathers of two nations at war, two opposites who will fight for supremacy.

Jacob and Esau are born in struggle. The younger baby will grab the heel of the older one, already trying to grab the birthright, and so he is named 'the heel grabber' or Jacob. The older one, Esau, as told from the eyes of Jacob's descendents, is marked, from birth, for being the hairy hunter that defies the gentle pastoral life of the Semitic household, he is 'other'.

Fast forward to what Jacob and Esau will become in generations to come. In Judaic mythology, Jacob becomes Israel, and Esau becomes Edom and then Amalek– later on identified as the Roman Empire, Christianity, and even Nazi Germany. Rebecca is walking down a street strewn with the fragments of war between her children, then and now. What a haunting and hopeless image.

So what of the fixing? How do we not stay stuck in this grim prophecy? Where is the hope of healing and repair?

Perhaps the hope for repair, like this story of despair, is inside each one of us. I am reminded to read this saga the way we at Storahtelling have read so many other biblical tales – as a mythic allegory that is meant to give us an insight into our own inner struggles and enables us to contemplate the difficult but basic truths
of own lives. We are each of us Rebecca, carrying conflict and twin desires that sometimes clash, hurt others and are hurt ourselves. And we are each Jacob, and Esau, and the sum of their struggle. If we take this realization on, read this passage as an invitation for personal growth, not for historical and political justification of struggle, we can perhaps not only heal the historical pain by the noble act of remembering and honoring the past, but, more importantly, we can commit to reducing the hatred between others that is still impacting the future.

Nazi and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian, Democrat and Republican, militant Muslim or fundamentalist Christian – and so many others who are set up against each other in the fight for survival and supremacy: can the story be told differently? Can we start by telling this inherited story differently to as many people as we can? Can I start by identifying this story inside of me? Who is my Jacob, grabbing the heel of my inner Esau, where is my disquiet, what is the seed of my struggle to survive – and where does that stop me from being at peace with self and other?

So, yes, this is beginning to sound like a D'var Torah… a contemplation that ends with a call to action, a charge. Writing this to you – friends and family members of my Storahtelling tribe - I am reminded to remind us that this is precisely the core of this sacred work: Our goal is not to simply clarify and dramatize obscure biblical images but to actually address the burning issues of the day, to 'translate' the deeper meaning of this, or any other biblical story, into the inner life of each of one of us.

This weekend I will be presenting Maven at a synagogue in Boulder, Colorado, telling this tale of Jacob and Esau's birth (and I think I just got my opening story..), and tonight Brian Gelfand, Naomi Less, Jake Goodman and Emily Warshaw will lead a Ritualab for the Tribeca Hebrew community in downtown NYC– focusing on this story of Rebecca's search for meaning, while a team of Storatellers will travel to
Philadelphia to premiere the newest version of our newest show 'Becoming Israel' - Jacob's wrestling to become Israel, the one who struggles with life. This show, marking Israel's 60th year of independence is asking some hard questions – how does this legacy of wrestling effect our modern identity and affiliation with Israel?Under Annie Levy's directorial hand, Franny Silverman, Shawn Shafner, Melissa Shaw and Katie Down will become Israel this weekend – and I hope you will all see this show as we begin touring it soon. And as soon as Shabbat ends, Naomi Less and Jake Goodman are heading down to Nashville to represent Storahtelling at the UJC General Assembly – a whole other kind of struggle… what a packed weekend- one of many – where we get to share this new vision of the power of story with a world thirsty for new visions.

So, on this very personal note – with gratitude to all of you for joining me on the journey of fixing the broken glass of our heritage, thanks for being part of the fix-team. I hope we all get to walk down the streets of our remembered brokenness, and see the reflected vision, in each shard, of a bright future, where Jacob and Esau, hand in hand, are walking down the same street, and behind them, a smiling
Mother of All – 'the mother of the sons is happy' as it is written in the Psalms.

A Sabbath of Peace

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