Thursday, May 29, 2008

“What is the name You use?”

Maven at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, MA

By By Ellen Bernstein (Intro by Jake Goodman)

Storah On The Road

On Friday, May 9th, Shira Kline and I performed a Maven Torah Reading Ritual for Parshat Emor at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, MA called “Pierced”. It centered around the power of names, especially the power of THE name. There are so many wonderful moments to share from that weekend, but seeing as how I often write on this blog, I decided to share this space with one of Congregation Sha’aray Shalom’s congregants, Ellen Bernstein.

I do not know Ellen very well. After the Maven ritual, she came up to both Shira and myself, introduced herself, and shared a gorgeous and soulful piece she wrote about what it meant to be a Jew, after seeing a previous Storahtelling performance. The very next morning, Ellen returned to us with the beautiful writing that you can find below, inspired by “Pierced”. I want to share it with you.

Ellen, thank you so much.

Yaweh, Lord, Hashem, Adonia, a higher power…………… God,

What is the name you use?

What is it about a name that is so difficult to pick? To remember? To give? Do you use a game, an association, to remember someone you just met? Repeat the name over and over? Make a rhyme? Ask once twice three times to remember it? Do you just hear it and then it is gone yet you continue to talk and get to know this person nameless as they maybe at the moment. Why is it we, I, cannot seem to remember a name from one second to the next, from one meeting to the next. What is the name? What does it represent? By sharing your name with me you have welcomed me into your life, your community your worId? You have shared your chosen name, shortened or a nickname, or you have told me your given name, do not change it we are not that welcome to change who they are to you. Not yet. I hated choosing names for my children. I was always happy to know if I was having a boy or a girl so that I would only have to think of one set of names. How do you name them for someone you do not remember or did not know? Someone your child may never meet? How do you chose one person to honor over another. How do you name someone you have not met, have not seen, someone you do not know? You feel them, you dream of them, celebrate them but how do you name them? They are not real… yet. They are not here in your arms or your eyes but they are in your heart. How do you name someone, something you don’t understand? You know they exist, he or she, it. But can a single word truly define who they are, what they mean to you. Is it just a label so that you may speak of them? Is it a label so that you may begin to define them, to believe in them, to make them real? How can you give someone or something a name that can be with them for their lifetime, for your lifetime? A name, a meaning, a belief, a label, a declaration that this person, this being, this higher power has a place in your life, in the world, in the universe, a name that means one thing to me and something totally different to another. A name that reminds you of a dog you knew , or a mentor, a rabbi, a boss, an experience, a hero, a loved one. A name that fills your head, your heart your being with joy, sadness, excitement, anxiety, peace. A name that is a word, a label, an insult, a term of endearment, a secret shared, a secret kept, a belief, a declaration. A name that is something to you that you cannot explain to another, something so strongly felt that should it be used by another in the wrong way can cause pain, anger, hatred, heart break and when used with understanding, love imagination can bring joy, amazement, astonishment, awe. How do you chose a name when there is no name, no single word or phrase that allows you to share what it means to you?

Is this why there are so many names for God? Adonia as we sing it in prayer, My God as we watch in horror, Halleluyah as we celebrate, Hashem as we reflect? It is difficult to pick just one that will define someone, something, some feeling… for a lifetime.

A name….. It is what it is.

“I am that I am. “

Friday, May 16, 2008

Becoming Israel World Premiere

By Jake Goodman

Storah On The Road

Storahtelling held its world premiere of Becoming Israel on May 14th at the JCC in Manhattan, marking Israel’s 60th anniversary.  It was spectacular.  Although I had nothing to do with the creative process of this production, I must say that I have never felt more proud to be a Storahteller.  The JCC’s theater was sold out—over 200 people saw this performance and $45,000 was raised for Storahtelling in ticket sales alone.  Throughout the performance, I looked around and saw a sea of completely attentive people, many with tears in their eyes.  Afterwards, every single person stayed for a talkback in which person after person gushed to share her/his experience watching the play:  they felt compelled to share how moved they felt, how important this play is, how they wish more people could see it, how they cherished the fact that they heard multiple perspectives and left with more questions than answers.  The play was performed again the next night at the JCC by a different Storahtelling cast, and was again followed by a steady flow of laudatory feedback from the packed audience.  Finally, the play was also given a staged reading at the UJA on the 15th by Shira Epstein and Naomi Less.  As a member of Storahtelling, I feel that I am very much part of something incredibly innovative, deep, high quality, timely and vital. 
Because they deserve great credit, here are the casts and creative teams for both performances)
May 14th:  Elana Bell, David Schiller and Franny Silverman
May 15th:  Jonathan Riddleberger, Sarah Sokolic and Emily Warshaw
Concept by Amichai Lau-Lavie
Created & Written by Amichai Lau-Lavie, Annie Levy, Shawn Shafner, Melissa Shaw, Franny Silverman & Emily Warshaw
Directed by Annie Levy
Stage Managed by Shani Murfin
Original Sound Design by Katie Down
Finally, allow me to share some of the feedback we received:
“The performance  of Becoming Israel was exquisitely moving, beautifully acted, wonderfully directed and staged, and created by a Creator. We cannot thank you enough.”
“In less than a year, Erev Yom Kippur, and last night, Storahtelling gave us spiritual and community engagement for which there was no precedent in our lives.”
“Extraordinary evening-  I know that your interpretation will accompany me in the nights of my wrestlings, as I am hopefully becoming... I am deeply grateful for your teachings.”
“Not a dry eye in the crowd.  Amazingly smart, and the acting and performance really connected with the audience.”
“This is such an interesting combination of an educational as well as entertainment experience.”
“Wonderful showcase of the talent of Storahtelling”
“I was completely wowed by last evening's display of creativity, depth, emotion.  Wrestling, indeed.  What better way to frame the situation ... You have managed to touch upon just about every issue in the Israeli dialogue -- from the Shoah, the Arab Israeli issue, the relations between American and Israeli Jews, the unaffiliated Jew, the rationale for a Jewish state, the text, sibling rivalry (American/Israeli, Arab/Israeli), etc.  The list can go on and on ... The opportunities moving forward with this production are limitless.”

Friday, May 09, 2008


On the eve of Mother’s Day and in the midst of the celebrations for Israel’s 60th – I want to share with y’all some thoughts and intentions for wishes to be made before candles are blown on birthday cakes and glasses raised to mothers everywhere. L’chayim – to life!

By Amichai Lau-Lavie
Verse Per Verse

On May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, my father Naphtali, age 22, watched David Ben Gurion announce the birth of the State of Israel. “The proclamation electrified the crowd” he describes this moment in his memoir Balaam's Prophecy: Eye Witness to History . “Men and women who had never seen one another before were hugging, kissing, and crying, overwhelmed by the momentous event”. But the war was already raging and the celebration was restrained and brief, there was no dancing and singing in the streets. “The euphoria was muted by grief over the many who had fallen and by anxiety over the Arab reaction”.

60 years later Israel is celebrating its continued survival, independence and phenomenal growth, but once again, the joy is muted by anxiety and concern. When I called my parents in Jerusalem on Yom Ha’atzmaut – Independence Day to exchange greetings and wishes, they too expressed restrain, mingled in with the satisfaction of being surrounded by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren - all born in Israel.

With all the hu-ha around Israel’s 60th in Israel and around the world, the prevailing sense is that of ambiguity and the recognition that there is a process in the making here, a ‘becoming’ phase. ‘When I turned 60’, a friend in Tel Aviv told me ‘the last thing I wanted was a big party… so why should the country? By 70 I was ready to celebrate…’

So what do we celebrate this year? For me - the power of process, the art of becoming. The very name ‘Israel’ means the ‘god wrestler’ – the one engaged in the process of transformation, honoring that which is continually evolving.

There is a story in the Midrash about two sages who travel one night in the valleys of the Galilee. As dawn approached in the horizon, one said to the other: “this is what the redemption of Israel resembles – at first she rises, little by little, then she begins to sparkle, then gathers strength, and spreads over the sky.” (Midrash Rabbah - The Song of Songs 6:25)

Birthdays are usually a good time for making wishes for the future, and in honor of Israel’s birthday I invite you to raise a glass this mother’s day to the motherland – homeland – and make a wish – for a rising dawn, redemptive hopes, and a patient peace that will become our reality.

(Make sure you check with Mom before dedicating a toast to Israel during Mother’s Day though, just in case…)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


One Giant Leap in Princeton, NJ

By Jake Goodman

Storah On The Road

This past weekend Chana Rothman and I drove down to The Jewish Center in Princeton, NJ to perform One Giant Leap, Storahtelling’s fabulous kiddie show with puppets and music. The play begins the morning after Pharaoh agrees (or is strong-armed) to let the Hebrews go, and centers around a Midrash about an Israelite guy named Nachshon ben Aminadav—played by an blue muppet-puppet little boy, built by Anna Sobel—who took a leap of faith and walked right into the Sea of Reeds, knowing that the waters would part as God promised. According to the Midrash, it is Nachshon’s act of faith—and not Moses’ staff—that causes God to part the sea. I love performing this show—it’s hilarious, filled with engaging and accessible content in creative ways, and I am always amazed by how the kids are mesmerized by this puppet and Chana’s music.

These two performances at The Jewish Center were were sponsored by Ziona and Rabbi David Wolf Silverman—who had seen Storahtelling perform our Selichot show this past Fall—in memory of their daughter Shira Silverman, z”l, who recently passed away. Prior to coming to The Jewish Center, I had spoken with Ziona multiple times on the phone and we worked together to make sure that this program would honor her daughter in the best way possible—and relate to both Passover and Yom Ha’atzmaut. I felt a huge responsibility, more so than usual. And I have to say, this play felt so powerful. The message of every one of us being strong enough to take one small step to freedom felt so meaningful. Connecting this exodus of freedom from Egypt to Israel’s independence in 1948 felt so poignant. Afterwards, the kids spoke about how we now have freedom and independence, but we still need PEACE and ACCEPTANCE and TOLERANCE. Maybe those are the next stops on our Jewish journey. Their comments were beautiful.

Today, Ziona wrote me and said, “You are lovely people who put your heart into your work. That is what Shira was like. Therefore, we are especially grateful and pleased.” I feel very honored, and lucky.

“Shira Silverman was very talented in the arts and lived her life expressing them all at one time or another. She studied literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and was also a member of the Khan Theater Group, starring in many of their productions. Upon her return to New York, she taught various arts programs to children and adults. In more recent years, she concentrated on poetry and became well known for her wonderful use of language and writing. She was a leading presence among poets in New York who assembled weekly in Peekskill to read their writings. A memorial anthology is in the process of being published by that group. Shira had a beautiful voice and sensitive soul that expressed itself in art, dance, drama, poetry and prose.”

--from The Jewish Center’s newsletter