Thursday, July 10, 2008

Crossing Jordan

By Amichai Lau-Lavie
Storah on the Road

6am today, Thursday morning, and only a few steps away from the hotel room in the Upper Galilee is the Jordan River, quietly winding its way through lush grasses and trees. My brother, Rabbi Benny Lau (read about his revolutionary politics in this week's Jewish Week:) takes a group of about 50 people across the river for an early morning walk and a teaching on donkeys - in honor of this week's Torah portion, featuring Balaam's famous talking donkey. We are at Kfar Blum - a kibbutz guest house hosting the annual conference on Jewish Israeli culture, attended by a few hundreds people - mostly religious - modern orthodox, and a few secular Kibbutznicks. Yesterday afternoon Ii was on a panel discussing the dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora and trying to pinpoint the enormous problems of Jewish illiteracy and lack of engagement that are troubling Jewish leaders worldwide. As an Israeli working largely in the US, I was representing the voice of the frustrated Israelis who are seeking their Jewish voice, pluralistic opportunities and creative outlets - outside 'home'. I am reminded of the terrible night, eleven years ago, on the eve of the Tisha B'av fast, when I was forcibly removed from the Western Wall by police for having participated in an egalitarian prayer service – women and men together. That night was one of the reasons I decided to go abroad and explore Judaism elsewhere. The good news – shared by some of t he panelists who are involved in innovative work here, dealing with learning, ritual and inclusive Jewish education – is that the scene is changing, and the Orthodox Monopoly on Jewihs life is being seriously challenged. The panel got heated, was interesting and led into conversations that lasted into the night. Many people were fascinated to hear about the Storahtelling concept and eager to see it 'translated' into the local scene. I was delighted to let them know that it's HOT AND HAPPENING!

Earlier this week, in Jerusalem's Kol HaNeshama Congregation (one of Israel's leading Reform communities) I kicked off the Israel Maven Training Program! This was an introductory evening for a year long training that will start in the fall, intending to equip select trainees with the Storahtelling skill set. 15 people showed up, ranging in ages from 20's to 60's, mostly native Israelis, and others who have moved here from the US, UK, Brazil and New Zealand. Some of them hope to take the Storahtelling Maven skills to their congregations - Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist - and even Orthodox. Others are interested in developing other venues - street theater (!) Birthright groups on location in Israel, nursing homes, and high schools. It's very different to do Storahtelling from Biblical Hebrew into Israeli Hebrew - much more of an interpretation -midrash than an actual translation. For all present at the open evening (including several rabbis, actors adn educators) the process was the highlight - leading to what will certainly become an exciting product, hopefully helping to provide real access to Jewish content for the largely secular, and seeking, Israeli society. I'm thrilled to bringing this back home.

Stay tuned for more - next week in Boston!


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