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.