Friday, September 12, 2008

Your Friends & Neighbors” Maven in White Plains, NY
By Jake Goodman

Storah On The Road

This last weekend Yael Miriam and I went to Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York, to do two Maven Torah Reading Rituals for TIC’s first day of Hebrew school. This gig was particularly sweet for several reasons:

It was Yael’s first Storahtelling gig as a Maven. She played a little girl named Miriam. Fabulously.
Nancy Parkes, the Education Director at TIC, is a friend of mine from graduate school at JTS. She is a gifted educator and wonderful person. Performing in front of her was an honor.
Rabbi Gordon Tucker is the rabbi at TIC. Rabbi Tucker is a hero of mine for many reasons, not least of all because he wrote the most beautiful tshuvah I’ve ever read called “Halakhic and Metahalakhic Arguments Concerning Judaism and Homosexuality.” …writing it, it does not sound so riveting but it is. And brilliant.

This being said, preparing this particular Maven show was difficult. Parshat Ki Titze (Deuteronomy 21:10—25:19) includes laws about: what to do with a wife who annoys both her first and second husband; how not to treat a sinner who you impale on a stake; how cross-dressing is an abomination against God; what happens to a woman whose husband accuses her of not being a virgin after their nuptial night; etc. And we were building this show for 3rd-6th graders and their families! Woah.

In the end—and with the help of various other brilliant Storahtellers who served as our chevruta (Jar, Deanna Neil, David Loewy, Amichai Lau-Lavie)—we developed a script about the Golden Rule: love your neighbor as yourself. It went over very well—the kids were very much invested in the story, had a lot to say during the interactive elements and seemed very jazzed by the whole experience.

One quick story: The verse that I had the hardest time translating was the one that says, “Women may not wear men’s clothing and men may not wear women’s clothing. Doing this is an abomination to your God YHVH [toevat YHVH Elohecha]” (Deut: 22:5). The audience was too young to address this issue as thoroughly as I wanted, and also doing so did not fit the bullseye of our piece: loving your neighbor as yourself. Still, I did not want to give any impression that I thought this was okay. SO…. smarty Yael had the idea to just translate the line as simply as we could, have her character offer some dissent, and just leave it there. And that is what we did.

BUT, when we did the second performance, Rabbi Tucker was our Torah chanter. He chanted the line “toevat YHVH Elohecha” and I felt an excited chill in my body. This same word, “Toevah” is the same word that is used against men sleeping with men as they would with a woman in Leviticus 18:22, and which Rabbi Tucker wrote so eloquently about in his Tshuvah, described above. Rabbi Tucker chanted the verse and looked at us with a challenging smile, just waiting to see how we would translate/interpret this verse. We did our translation. He looked at us as if to say, “Are you done?” I laughed and we moved on. For me, it was a great moment.

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