Thursday, December 06, 2007

Training Teva Educators

By Julie Seltzer

Storah On The Road

This past week, I got to wear a different hat – my Storahteller hat.

I have lived at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center since last February, and people here know me as the baker. But the Teva environmental educators, who have been living here all fall, participated in a Storahtelling workshop that I led as part of their training.

We focused on two elements of Storahtelling’s work: breathing life into biblical characters, and the art of translation.

One of the highlights was an exercise called “Biblical Characters,” where the participants develop a particular biblical character (or in some cases of extreme creativity, inanimate objects!) through body work and creative writing. When their characters met one another in the improvisation, some of the synchronicities were superb: Avraham confronted Avimelech; Moshe addressed Moshe’s shoes.

Something else at the very end of the session really struck me. One of the participants, well versed in Torah text, expressed his befuddlement with one of the “Rules of Maven” texts we studied. The text was: “Rabbi Judah said, One who translates a verse literally is a liar; one who adds anything is a blasphemer and accused of libel” (Kiddushin 49b). A group of troubled parties continued the conversation through afternoon break and even into dinner, as we tried to get our heads around the seeming paradox.

I think the text intrigued them in part because of the Thesaurus phone game we played earlier in the workshop, a game that demonstrates the trials and tribulations of translation. You begin with a simple word, whisper it to the first person in line, who thinks of a synonym to that word and whispers it to the next person, and so on down the line. Somehow, we got from “desire” to “striving.” Somehow, we got from “hunger” to “gawking.” No wonder Rabbi Judah’s statement rang true!

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