Monday, December 17, 2007

Weeping in Jerusalem

By Amichai Lau-Lavie

Storah On The Road

Saturday Morning, Dec. 15, at Kehilat Kol HaNeshama in Jerusalem – a Reform congregation led by Rabbi Levi Kelman – he has been a mentor and friend of mine for many years now. Back when I was living in Jerusalem this was the first non orthodox synagogue I would often come to, especially on Friday nights, in secret, then go home to our orthodox Shabbat meal and lie about where I've been.. Many years have gone by since then… and Today I was invited to demonstrate Storahtelling here – ALL IN HEBREW! I chose three of the seven aliyot (amazingly – and this is the only Reform Congregation I know does this – KH reads the entire torah portion!) and focused on the moment when Joseph comes out to his brothers and reunites. What it does it take to open a heart? To effect change? To transform a difficult situation into one of hope and possibility? How about a tear, a song, and a story? These three gates served as today's recipe as I narrated the story through they eyes of Benjamin, Joseph, and Serach – the young daughter of Asher, who was famous for the song she sang to Jacob, her grandfather, and saved his life through giving him hope that his son Joseph was still alive. The power of tears – shed often in this story – was one of the focus points and for the second aliya I called up all those proud of their ability to shed tears – especially men – many of whom came up – not a small fete for Israeli society…

Kol Haneshama is a very welcoming community and over the years it has been the spiritual home of a local home for mentally retarded adults, who joyously attend almost every service and are much loved by the congregants. Today they were there in full force – loudly commentating, answering my questions when prompted (or not) loudly debating Joseph's actions, crying, and clapping whenever. At one poignant point when I narrated Joseph's famous question – Is my father still alive? One woman jumped up and yelled – YES! And I also have a father! I love my father! It was very moving and real – the point of the story as I positioned it was to see this moment as an eternal opening of reconciliation – between people of all walks of life, brothers and sisters in this land who have forgotten their one common ancestor and the ways of peace. On a very personal level of reconciliation – my own mother sat there also – her first time seeing my presenting a full Storahtelling and her first time in a reform congregation! She was proud and affirming and I am so proud and grateful to her for stepping across the threshold and affirming me and my life and work.

After the service, outside in the warm winter sun during Kiddush, several people told me that the folks from the home, Maagan, I think it's called, were more engaged and focused than they've ever seen them. At a short talkback later several members of the community were eagerly asking me about the possibility of training them to do Storahtelling more often in their community – just what I was hoping for! Two more workshops are planned in the next two weeks – for educators and parents of several schools and liberal congregations and I think the prospects of a local cohort being trained to Storah-tell in Jerusalem is a big possibility!

Two notes on the difference between 'translating' from Hebrew into English and 'translating' from Hebrew (biblical) into Hebrew (modern) – one – it is possible that unlike our usual storah –custom, it would be better here if we wouldn't translate after each verse but take a few verses at a time. Second – it is clearly way more midrash than translation, and works best as a character from the story who really livens up the text. I chose to use the voice of Benjamin for two of the aliyot and the voice of a narrator for one of them- and I think character works best.

And, finally, an excerpt from an email I received on Saturday night, from a woman who attended the program, focusing on tears and their role in this morning's Torah story:

'I wanted to thank you again for a most memorable experience this morning in shul …your Storahtelling enriched the reading, our understanding, and synthesizing of the many issues, relationships and lessons to be learned. Especially for me was most significant your bringing out the role of tears/ crying in light of family reunification.

The night before last I spent an evening with survivors through "amcha" - an organization devoted to the physical and mental wellbeing of Holocaust survivors and their children, and an Arab colleague of mine who teaches about the Holocaust in his classroom in Kalanswa…and we were both hearing from several of the survivors how difficult it is to cry. One amazing woman described how for over 50 years she has not been able to shed a tear.

She finally cried her first tears…a few years ago when she received in the mail a packet from the second generation of the Polish family who had hid her during the war.

Her biological son in Israel watched her open this envelope and weep.

So today in shul, it was very moving for me as you connected us with our living text, the parsha, through the journey of our people…from Egypt to Jerusalem….with tears shed as families unite, across history, geography, and trauma. '

Those who sow in tears – will reap with joy…

Jerusalem Storah-diary to be continued…

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