Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Future/Present/Passed-Over @ Reform Temple of Forest Hills

By David Wolkin

Storah On The Road

This past Shabbat, I had the honor of participating in my first official "gig" with Storahtelling. Mind you, this is after two years of employment with the company, working in the office, planning a retreat, teaching, dancing, praying, enjoying, and an unbelievable amount of shlepping (no complaining, though). Finally, finally, I get to take to the stage, the very reason I found my way into Storahtelling in the first place. From the perspective of my own personal history, I am struck by two particular elements of this experience (that I will attempt to somehow tie to the performance itself):

1. I was lucky enough to be paired with none other then Deanna Neil for this gig. Not only have she and I known each other for more than 20 years, but she was an inspiring partner, teacher and friend throughout this process, rising from her sickbed to make it to this gig, to sing and perform and inspire while down with the flu.

2. Five years ago, I lived in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. I have not once been back since I moved into the city, and here I was, just blocks away from an old bus stop, at a synagogue I didn't know existed at the time. And as I walked to the train with Amichai, a whole chapter of my life that I had almost forgotten came flooding back to me, reminding me of how much I have changed in that time.

And this synagogue, the Reform Temple of Forest Hills, is a special place itself. On the way out, Amichai and I noticed a plaque on the building, informing us that on those grounds, Helen Keller had worked with Anne Sullivan, the inspiration for the play "The Miracle Worker".

And what of the gig itself? Deanna and I told the story of the tenth plague in Parshat Bo. We attempted to explore this painful narrative through the lens of a Jew throughout the stages of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Deanna deftly inhabited each of these three roles, each time taking a different perspective on both God and Pharaoh (played by moi) within this story. Was Pharaoh really the bad guy? Did God manipulate Pharaoh and if so, why? How do we tell this complicated tale to our children, since this is exactly what the Torah asks of us?

Our audience had many children who may not have fully understood the struggle that we were trying to present, but were clearly more engaged by us than they would be by the standard Torah service. And I was impressed by the level with which the adults were engaged with our performance, and the many thoughts that they offered during the second aliyah stretch. Taking a backseat during this stage of the show, I was able to take notice of one thing in particular. The looks on these people's faces, it was probably the same look I had on my own face the first time I truly encountered Storahtelling. So while we are still trying to figure out exactly what it means to be a Maven, I am personally satisfied that we were able to touch some people this past Shabbat.

And here's the thing: many years ago, when Deanna and I were children just like the one she played in the first Aliyah, we were in the same school, hearing these stories just a few classrooms apart. And 5 years ago, I was sitting in Queens forcing myself not to think about these pieces of the Torah because they were too difficult to accept. Today, just like in our performance, through this process with Storahtelling, I've made my own peace with the God that is written in the Torah, bringing my story full circle by re-telling it with an old friend.

1 comment:

  1. cheers to re-experiencing old friends and old stories in new light. bravo, david!