Wednesday, October 29, 2008

“Family Firsts”: Maven Goes to Church!

By Jess Lenza

Storah On The Road

This weekend was a first for all of us! My first time mavening and Annie Levy’s first time being Lead Maven. It was Isaac Everett’s first time accompanying a Maven performance and Jenny Aisenberg’s first time recording the whole experience. Most importantly, this was the first time a Maven performance has ever been brought to a church. It was only fitting that our show was entitled, "Family Firsts" and honored the many firsts that occur in Parashat B'reishit, specifically in the story of Cain and Abel. Annie and I explored this complex story from the perspective of Eve and Cain's wife. In addition to examining the Torah text and creating dynamic characters, Annie, Isaac, and I had to think about how we could restructure the Maven model to speak to a Christian community.

We were thrilled to be at the First Congregational Church of New Canaan. It is such a warm and welcoming community. Even though we asked them to step out of their comfort zone at times, they embarked on this first with open minds and open hearts. We received many flattering compliments and appreciative remarks following the service. It was particularly meaningful when Reverend Dr. Ivy J. Beckwith said to us, "I think that is the way we should always tell Bible stories." The truth is that it is our stories that can bring Christian and Jewish communities together. Our common history and the desire to retell it in a way that is relevant in this modern world is what will make this first Maven performance in a church the first of many.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

RE:VERB/weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join for a year long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let’s make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

October 30,2008

All around Jerusalem the olive trees are full of ripe fruit these days - harvest season is well underway, but this is not a year of bounty. Last year's scarce rains have provided for a leaner harvest throughout the region (water sanctions were announced today), and for Palestinians in the West Bank trouble is double – the more radical among the Jewish settlers continually disrupt the harvest, harassing the farmers, and fighting with Israeli soldiers who stand guard and with peace activists - Israeli and foreign - who come out daily to support the Palestinians. Get out of here! They scream at each other – both sides claiming the land as theirs, as the olives scatter. It's not even a media worthy story anymore. old news.

GET OUT OF HERE!! One year after entering the floating bunker known as 'The Ark', Noah is instructed to open the door, get out, and rejoin the world. The flood has destroyed the planet, and the sole survivors amble out into a new environmental reality, somewhere over the rainbow, while a dove, with an olive branch in her beak, circles above them. Something about this grand Biblical myth, coming this week to a synagogue near you, is a timeless reminder of the perils and possibilities of survival in times of crisis. The ark, for me, represents this year not necessarily a safe haven away from the storm, but an insular reality – a psychological choice of shutting out the misery of the world and focusing on self survival alone. We all do this sometimes– in one way or another – we often must. But then comes a moment when a voice commands from within: 'Exit the ark' (Genesis 8:16) the Hebrew verb TZE is elsewhere translated as 'Leave', 'Go Forth', or, my favorite – 'Come out of the ark'.

As a super important election process looms over the US and now over Israel as well, I choose to read the order to get out as a call to awareness, and a call to action. The Divine command seems to say – 'Don't just sit there inside your cocoon or cozy situation – get out and rebuild the world'. Some of my friends have heard this call - they are now in Ohio, walking door to door, or on the phone or online, fighting for change, or at checkposts between Israel and the territories, monitoring the daily routines of occupation.
Here in Jerusalem, in my cozy new apartment, on this side of the Separation Barrier, now that my jetlag is starting to fade and another rhythm falls into place, I gotta get out. I picked up the newspaper yesterday and saw an ad: 'Volunteers needed to help with the olive harvest in the West Bank.' I called the number and after a brief interview was signed up for a shift next Thursday. It's not much, but I got to start doing something – get out – not ignore the flood of hatred and fear.

According to legends, the dove brought the olive branch from the Garden of Eden, flying her way into becoming the immortal symbol of peace, waiting for us to open the door, squint, and get out. Are we there yet?

How, this week, will you get out of the ark?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Weekly Torah Takeaway
October 22 2008
By Amichai Lau Lavie

ONE: Genesis/Bereshit

Beginnings: As many of you know, I have just arrived in Israel to begin a year-long Sabbatical. It will be, I hope, a year of reconnection, introspection and focused writing. I intend to document this journey, and invite you to join me on this road trip as I chart this year on a weekly basis, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. I hope you will join me with questions,answers and comments and make this a conversation. (this weekly blog is still in BETA phases - so your feedback as to content, form, delivery - most useful. Special thanks to Peter Pitzele for backstage mentoring and edits.)

It starts here, in the beginning:

Hope like Water

Flight 86 lands at Tel Aviv just two hours before the last of the High Holidays, Simchat Torah, begins, and by the time we drive into Jerusalem the streets are full of men and boys in festive dress heading to the synagogues. My mother, already in silk and pearls but still wearing an apron, throws open the door: Welcome Home! It's so good to be back, but I can't help thinking – IS this home? Can one really have more than gravity center – more than one home? I've spent the past decade in New York City- and now I'm back with my parents, in this familiar house - home away from home? How do I balance NYC and Jerusalem -my two homes - and keep focused and grounded? The following day, as the Torah scrolls roll open and start again at the very beginning I find a wink, a response, in the ancient script of my ancestors, and I take counsel from the Waters of Genesis, whose first mythic action on the planet is to focus, gather, and define the meaning of 'place'.

Genesis Chapter 1, verse 9, describes the creation of the Third Day; "God spoke: 'the waters under the heaven will be gathered to one place, and dry land shall be seen: And so it was."

The Hebrew word for GATHERED is YIKAVU – translated most often as 'gathered, collected, come together'. The image is of a vast body of primordial water covering the planet as it is being drained into a single container and enabling the earth to emerge - solid reality manifesting from the fluids of chaos. The next verse introduces the word MIKVEH – the gathering place of water – the original biblical name for the sea. Nowadays the term Mikveh is recognized as the Jewish location for ritual immersion in water for the purpose of purification and self renewal – a place to gather one's self and emerge anew. In order to become who you are, the Torah tells us, you have to contract yourself and then contain yourself – the water that is in excess, all over the place become one contained place. This focusing and gathering enables the creation of creativity and the birth of life – on the third day, vegetation happens. But how does one move from the chaos of all over the place to the fulcrum of focus? Step by step, Genesis guides us, and with a strong sense of direction and aspiration, spiraling from contraction to expansion, again and again.

The Hebrew word YIKAVU does not just mean 'gathered' it also means 'hope' or 'aspiration'. Ever sang the Israeli Anthem – 'HaTikvah' – The Hope? It's from the same root. To hope, says Hebrew, is also to gather one's resources and energy in one clear direction. Every time we challenge ourselves to focus and ground ourselves we are re-creating the act of Creation – actively re-activating our human hope in the possibility of change, progress, and transformation.
So maybe I am lucky to have more than one real home, but my task this week- this year – is to focus on one place inside of me which is the real place of focus, dry land. My first task this week, as the first verses of Genesis are chanted in the streets of Jerusalem and New York, is to gather the water and make sure I fully land here. Today I went shopping for a desk, and tomorrow I will place it in my new apartment, in just the right angle, harness my energy, and hope for inspiration. Let chaos be gathered, and the solid reality of creativity emerge. I sit down inside this new home, still empty of furniture, and suddenly recall an 80's hit song line from my teen years – 'wherever I hang my hat – that's my home…'

So, friends, where in your lives do "gathering" and "hope" reverberate? How will you separate excess from focus? What will you need to do in order to plunge into the Mikveh of your soul, ground your self in this brave New Year and hang your hat?

Lets talk the walk...

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Friday, October 17, 2008

‘VIEW FROM THE TOP’ – Images from Yom Kippur at 7 World Trade Center

Pictures By Marielle Solan

Storah On The Road

Monday, October 06, 2008

Live from Oregon: the NorthWest Storah Troupe Rosh Hashanna Report

By Rosana Berdichveski

Storah On The Road

This was our big break! After 5 years of occasional Storahtelling presentations, finally we were permitted to stage a Ritual Performance during Rosh Hashana! We performed at the slightly less formal "downstairs" service, with about 400 people in attendance. At last we had the support of our new young Rabbi, who also helped us fine-tune the script and staging. Still, you never really know how people will react to something new and different, especially when your Rosh Hashana Torah Service suddenly features a 12-year-old boy wearing a Kafiyah!

Well, the response was great!! Our Ritual Performance was called "WILL POWER," and it focused on Abraham's conflict at Sarah's demand that he cast out Hagar and I! shmael. We used the device of Abraham meeting with an attorney to draft his Will. The lawyer, named Levy, was played by a congregant who is actually a family lawyer named Levy!

From the moment Esther opened with the song "Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind", to Gershon and Rosana (as Abraham and Sarah) consulting with the Family Lawyer, to Ricardo's stunning off-stage voice of God's Angel, to the appearance of young Ishmael, the congregation was intrigued and amused. They laughed at some of the lines, but they really "got it."

Some of the Aliyot were performed Pasuk-Pasuk, and some weren't. It was "interesting" trying to coordinate the script with all of the Torah readers. Not everything went perfectly, but the Targum was heard, and appreciated. We took turns being the M'turgeman.

Perhaps the most rewarding moment was when Ishmael concluded with "What if I had been able to stay with my father and brother?". The wh! ole roo m, about 400 people, uttered an audible "Ooooooooo....." It was a Gotcha moment!

After the service, and during the days since, so many people have told us they loved it. This is so gratifying. Many said that we should "do this more often." Rabbi Greenstein's comment was Wow! You guys were so professional! Rabbi Emeritus Stampfer said, tongue-in-cheek, "Only twice in the last 50 years have I clearly heard the Voice of God. Once was in a play where another person's voice was also heard, but today.... today was even more powerful. To hear God's voice on Rosh Hashanah? That is Divine."

Amichai has often said that it's good to go Mainstream, and I think we really did it this time. We are so grateful to Amichai and the whole Storahtelling crew for the help and support, and for the friendship and inspiration.

Shana Tova to everyone,

Rosh Hashanna at 7 World Trade Center

Pictures By Marielle Solan

Storah On The Road