Monday, June 23, 2008

Storahtelling in LONDON - a Storahtelling Maven in training – premiering Storahtelling in a Reform congregation in London, UK. Read on…

By Joel Stanley

Storah On The Road

On 17th May, Parshat Behar, I did what we'll call a mini-Maven i.e. it was just me - no second performer except the rabbi who did a bit of the framing dialogue - for West London Synagogue. Not only was this the first time I'd performed as a Storahtelling-style Meturgeman (Torah translator and interpretor); it was also the first time this kind of work had ever been seen in a UK synagogue.

It took place in the main sanctuary of the shul, an amazing space, and I delivered my translation from a floor of marble, stretching out in front of the raised bimah. West London was founded in 1840 and is the oldest and grandest reform synagogue in the UK.

The performance took place in a special family service (there are four of these per year) which also tied in with the 60th anniversary of Israel. Even so, the Maven was very experimental for them, quite a leap for a synagogue where the wardens still wear top hats in the service.

We chose to 'authenticise' the experience for them by printing a small section in the 'service booklet' which gave a brief introduction to the ancient tradition of the Meturgeman and listed the Talmudic laws associated. But it gave no clue as to the dramatic/updated nature of what they would see. If anything it led them to expect a straight translation. We wanted to use the element of surprise.

I had written the script after two long chevrutah (paired study) sessions with Rabbi Josh Levy, currently the junior rabbi at West London and the Torah reader on the day. It featured three characters, all of which I played, changing costumes in the vestry between the sections. First up was an environmental protestor, using the Torah reading to relate his vital message: the land needs a rest, for G-d's sake! Then was Professor Morris Rubin, an overworked, overachieving academic who hasn't seen his kids in days but feels fine lecturing the community on the 'ancient Israelite tradition of the Jubilee year', in which landowners would return to their families. Finally, an old alter ego of mine made an appearance: Rabbi Zalman Meintz, preaching the resources each community member already has growing in their souls.

And it went fantastically! Many people came up to me at kiddush and thanked & congratulated me, while Rabbi Levy and the West London head of programming have received a huge number of positive comments. "Why don't we do this all the time?" and "It gave so much to think about... There were some really important issues in there" were two personal favorites.

All in all, a great start here and it really opens up the possibilities for future Storahtelling work in the UK.

Friday, June 13, 2008

SF's "Jewseum" Opens to Acclaim of Chosen-People Celebs

By By Deborah Schoeneman

Storah On The Road

It could have been the San Francisco Sex and the City premiere party. Last Saturday night, over 1,000 people were turned away at the door, while 3,000 made it in, decked out in decidedly more flashy outfits than typical for the fleece-and-crocs locale. It was the grand opening of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and a celebration of the holiday Shavuot rolled into an all-night cultural arts festival called DAWN. The $47.5 million building (designed by Daniel Libeskind as an addition to a brick, circa-1907 power company substation) opens onto a new public plaza across the street from the Yerba Buena Gardens, just a block away from the SF Musem of Modern Art.

The most striking element of Libeskind’s design is a two-story, dark blue cube turned on its side—a stark contrast to the classic brick original structure, designed by Willis Polk. A similar cube sticks out of the roof. At 63,000 square-feet, the Jewseum only features 9,500 square-feet of exhibition galleries. There’s no permanent collection, and the current show features artists including Matthew Ritchie and Barnett Newman.

Though the mood at the opening was festive (think bar mitzvah for the Seinfeld set), the lighting was downright terrible. Flourescent corridors and foyers would have made Jewess patron saint Natalie Portman lunge for some sunglasses, had she been in attendance. Instead, the boldfaced names were a smattering of San Francisco society, including Nancy Pelosi’s son Paul, fashion designer Julie Chaiken, museum benefactor Roselyn “Sissy” Swig, Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams, and Skyy Vodka heir Jeff Kanbar.

The performers (many part of Reboot, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Jewish heritage and culture) included author Jonathan Safran Foer, television writer Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under) and Josh Radnor of the television show How I Met Your Mother, who read an essay he wrote about having Britney Spears guest star as his love interest. The band Dengue Fever performed, and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain and her husband, Ken Goldberg, created an interactive installation with video and sound based on the breaking of glass in Kristallnacht and the Jewish wedding ceremony. At midnight, hipster rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie presented I-Vow-Now, a ritual marking the sacred tradition of the sky opening up at midnight on Shavuot. He asked partygoers to make a vow, while video art projected behind him and Scotty the Blue Bunny, a New York performance artist, screamed out his own vows—many of which were not particularly kosher.

*Images taken from BlackBook

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Renew Your Vows

An intention for Shavuot 2008

By Amichai Lau-Lavie
Verse Per Verse

Once upon a time, up on top of a mountain, a rare moment in human history happened: the veil between the worlds parted, and, briefly, the realm of the divine and the reality of humanity connected on earth. The encounter was accompanied by thunder, lightening, a silence deeper than any other, and the blowing of ram's horns, that piercing cry that some poets claim is what God actually sounds like.

This is just one way of describing the mystery that is known as Revelation on Mount Sinai – a historical (or is it mythical?) milestone in which the Torah - literally –'the teaching' - was revealed to our ancestors, kicking off the Jewish people's journey of literacy, legal disputations, and endless love of learning the lore.

At Sinai, it is told, a deal was sealed; a covenant between God and Israel. God gave the Word – the Torah, the people gave their word – their agreement to make the Torah their road map and sacred path. According to mystical traditions, Sinai was a wedding – God and the people as bride and groom, face to face, each needing the other, each vowing to love each other and be there for each other, always.

If Sinai was a wedding, then Shavuot, the holiday coming up next week is the anniversary. And like anniversaries, it is an opportunity to revisit the makings of the relationship. Shavuot – the Hebrew word meaning 'weeks' marks the counting of 7 weeks since Passover. But the Hebrew word Shavuot also means 'vows'. Thus, this holy day is a celebration of Revelation, an annual opportunity to recreate and revisit the mystery, honor the legacy, and renew the vows. Every relationship needs a boost and a refresher – or at least an annual check up, and the relationship with the great mystery which is known as God is no different.

Traditionally, Jews stay up the night of Shavuot to celebrate the gift of Torah – reviewing the small print of the agreement before agreeing to renew the vows. Technically, the contract is binding, and the deal is done, but from another perspective, each and every Shavuot is a real opportunity for each and every one of us – as individuals, and as communities – to honestly re-examine our 'buy in' and refocus our interests, questions, and priorities of focus. What needs more work? Where, in this relationship, have things gone sour? Where has doubt overshadowed love?

This Shavuot I'd like to invite each one of us to privately examine our personal relationship with our spiritual path, our core truths, and our intimate bond with whatever our private definition of God is. Stay up, as late as you can, on Shavuot night. With friends and loved ones, or maybe alone, discuss the contract, the vows. Coffee helps, as do blintzes.

If you were to choose only ONE ritual, value, thought pattern to represent the Torah – the vows - just one that you will firmly commit to revisit, vow to maintain in order to strength your relationship with the spiritual path – what would it be?

Stay up all night.. bring on the dawn, take this advice from the poet Rumi:

"Don't go to sleep one night.

What you most want will come to you then.

Warmed by a sun inside, you'll see wonders."

Shabbat shalom,
And a delicious night of revelation,