Monday, September 15, 2008


Launch of the Jerusalem Maven Training Project
By Amichai Lau Lavie

Storah On The Road

‘When you go out to battle against your enemies… you will see among the captives a beautiful woman and you will desire her, and take her….’ (Deut. 21:10-11)

OY-- What does one do with this disturbing biblical instruction for ‘ethical warfare’? How can we adapt, comprehend and ‘translate’ the scriptural matter of fact description of brutality and come to terms with them for our contemporary ethical behavior? These verses from the weekly Torah Portion became the script with which auditions were held last week in Jerusalem, as the first Israeli branch of Storahtelling was launched at Kehilat Kol HaNeshama, Israel’s largest liberal congregation.

22 people of various ages, backgrounds, genders and professional interests joined me in the main sanctuary to hear about Storahtelling’s vision and plans for operations in Israel, and to share their personal journeys and interests. Then, all 22 participants were invited to delve into the Torah and present their quick version of what a modern Storah-style adaptation may look like. The results were rich and compelling, giving us all a glimpse of what it may be like to ‘storah-tell’ Torah from Biblical Hebrew to Modern Israeli….

Once admitted to the training course (which will start in November), these Mavens-in-the-Making will be studying with me for a period of eight months, on a bi weekly basis, covering the entire Maven curriculum and learning how to bring Torah to life in their communities. The diversity in the group is immense – native born Israelis, recent immigrants from North and South America, seasoned actors and performers, alongside rabbis and Jewish educators.

The program is warmly hosted and organized by Kol Haneshama, a Reform congregation, but is attended by representatives of many other denominations including Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform and Modern Orthodox communities, as well as several unaffiliated artists and educators, all of whom interested in developing new ways of telling Torah in the ‘marketplace’.

When it came time to present the translations, storah style, of the challenging verses from the Torah that have to do with the war and captives, we were all amazed by the colorful diversity of choices. One group, comprised of two men, told this text from the point of view of two solders, back from battle, sex crazed and shell shocked. Another group focused on the woman’s point of view, pointing a finger at the price of war on innocent bystanders, then and now. Some of the groups chose very funny humor to deal with this text, and, to our surprise, we were all laughing and crying at the same time…

The fact that this first evening was held on 9/11 was also noted. This date will be remembered not only as a terrible day of death, but also as a turning point in world awareness for the important and challenging role of religion and sacred text in the formulation of political and social reality. Storahtelling’s answer to 9/11 is a heightened focus on Biblical literacy as a tool towards an informed, inclusive and empowered dialouge - challenging the fundamentalist reading of the sacred text with a more pluralistic reading. Thus, biblical literacy, as offered by the Storahtelling model becomes a tool in the modern striving for peace. In Israel, a country fueled by biblical narratives and anti religious sentiments alike – this ancient/new technique seems to offer an important bridge. The 3 hour kick off event ended on a big high – all present excited by the prospects of becoming part of this process of training, and eager to explore ways of developing the Storahtelling method further in their lives and communities.

For me, personally, this event was a significant milestone – back in Jerusalem, insider a sanctuary I have spent many Friday nights and Shabbat mornings in- now taking my craft to the new level of change and transofrmaitons much yearned for. In a sense – bringing it home. Even my parents dropped by for the first hour, curious to hear what their youngest son is up to… they were quite pleased…)

Stay tuned for more Storah news from Jerusalem from all over Israel!

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