Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cleveland Connections!

by Naomi Less
November 26, 2008

This weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of being surrounded by Storahtelling family in Cleveland. Judy Schiller (StorahLab Cohort 1) who is the director of the Retreat Institute of Cleveland, galvanized her community to bring Storahtelling to perform BECOMING ISRAEL, Storahtelling's touring show about what's in a name, identity and the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah from 3 different time and space perspectives!

Judy is an incredible example of linking silos in communities - enabling different populations to interact and interface with Storahtelling in different ways. The entire high school community was invited to come to the performance. She put together primer and follow up activities to deepen the learnings around the performance. She invited me to run a 3 hour educators' workshop utilizing the text and different Storah-techniques.

Judy has also been Maven-trained as a Mobile Maven. She and her local Maven partner Jesse Freedman did their first maven show for a 5th grade retreat.

And now, she and Laurel Barr (Cohort 1) and I are discussing what it would take to engage more people in the local community to equip themselves with tools around the Cool Tool, Maven and Raising the Bar (our three core programs).

We'll keep you posted - but we are definitely excited to help communities to fish for themselves!



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us 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.

November 25, 2008

Somebody shouted in the middle of the night: ‘DIE!’

It woke me up - a woman’s voice, in my building or very nearby: shrill, young, and angry. And then - silence, the Jerusalem night resumes, I am deep inside the covers, 3am, cold outside. I haven’t lived here long enough to know the particulars of who and what lives here and what constitutes ‘unusual.’ Back in NYC, downtown in the East Village, I know my neighborhood noises intimately: the screamers in the middle of the night, the loud love-makers, the door slammer two floors up - the urban secrets nobody talks about. But this is new territory and I can’t even figure out if she shouted in English for someone or something to stop living, or in Hebrew in which ‘Die’ means ‘Enough already’ (as in, Dayenu)…

Shouts in the middle of the night are the stuff of nightmares and, like bad dreams and heartaches, we mostly tuck them away when it’s daytime. I imagine that this repression, this act of forgetting the inconvenient, is a very healthy survival trait that the human race picked up on the evolution trail. Gotta focus, and move on with one’s day. But what happens when the shouts or the memories of the shouting persist into the daytime, into the midst of our wide-awake lives, refusing to be ignored, refusing to be forgotten? What then is our responsibility?

I sit up in bed: The echo of the shouting lingers, but what is there for me to do? I turn on the bedside lamp and pick up a book – Meir Shalev’s novel ‘Esau’ (In Hebrew, an Israeli ‘classic’ from the 80’s), and there too I find the nighttime shouting and the sleepless rage. Shalev’s modern-Zionist fiction references the original conflict between the Biblical brothers Jacob and Esau - and soon I flip through the pages of Genesis and find them in the chapters that are part of this coming week’s Torah portion, Toldot. And that’s when I hear it again: Esau’s shout, the terrible shout of the one who had been terribly wronged, finding out he had been tricked by his brother and deprived of his father’s final blessing:

“When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with a great cry and very bitter outcry and he said to his father, “Bless me, too, Father!” (Genesis 27:34, Robert Alter’s translation)

What leads up to this moment is an elaborate and successful hoax. Jacob enters his dying father’s bedroom, dressed up in Esau’s furry hunter gear, fools his blind father, and steals the firstborn blessing: he, and he alone, will be heir to all the riches, the real-estate of Canaan, the Divine blessing. By the time Esau returns – it is too late. His shout is followed by a terrible question to his father – ‘Is there but one blessing?’ Does it have to be either/or? Can’t both brothers be blessed to share the abundance of Isaac’s legacy? Isaac is also terrified but can only offer a consolation prize –not the privileges conferred upon Jacob. So Esau hates, and Jacob runs away, and Esau has since been shouting: we’ve been busy running and trying not to hear the shouts.

Esau, more than anyone else in Jewish Mythology is our eternal brother turned ‘Other.’ He is the hairy enemy, identified as the nation of Edom, Amalek, the Roman Empire, and later - the Vatican. Some contemporary voices regard the Palestinians as Esau’s descendents. But in chapter 34 of Genesis, Esau is not yet a mortal enemy - just a wronged brother, hurt and angry, and shouting: why does it have to be like this? Why can’t we both be blessed? Both live here? Co-exist, together, on our inherited lands, in prosperity and peace?

The Zohar teaches that the fate of Jewish history and exile is a result of Esau’s shout – and that not until it is heard by us, and amended, and healed - will our internal exile from our true selves end, and we will all be back ‘home’ – in the place of true peace and reconciliation with the ‘other’ in our lives.

But do we hear the shouts? Do we listen? Here in Jerusalem, thousands of years and dozens of wars and countless, daily shouts of refugees and victims are marked on the doorposts. Israel, busy surviving, is trying hard to avoid the shout of Esau - Headphones in our ears, cell phones ringing, it is mostly successful. But, sometimes, in the middle of the night, you can hear someone screaming - Enough Already! Dayenu!

Listen: Esau’s shout raises a fist at the very notion of hierarchy, political divides, the realities of this human system that is built on rich and poor, winner and loser, either/or. Can’t there be another way? It’s a call one hears more and more today as the world is trying to make sense of the global economic mess and offer solutions to spread the wealth and provide all of us with the human birthright of dignity. Maybe it’s the shout of so many of us who are afraid of what lies ahead – afraid of the real or imagined hunger ahead - that needs to be heard around Thanksgiving tables this year. What would it be like to bring Esau’s question to the celebratory tables of harvest and gratitude? Is that the first step in our responsibility towards hearing – and healing?

And, maybe, sometimes, one has to get up in the middle of the night and shout, and howl, and do what I was taught to do by ‘Tears for Fears’ – my favorite band back in High School: ‘Shout, Shout-- let it all out: these are the things I can do without…C’mon – I’m talking to you… Come on...’

News from Tribeca Hebrew

Raising the Bar at Tribeca Hebrew
Pictured at right are members of our 6th grade "Raising the Bar" class, which focuses on the art of dramatic storytelling as a way to connect with Torah.

Last week the class studied creation stories. They read a version of the scientific article "Volcanoes May Be The Original Womb of Life" and then performed the creation stories they heard: both Jewish ones, scientific ones and combinations of the two.

They also studied metaphors in poetry and Torah tales and shared what changes they are looking forward to in the coming year. Below are some of their expectations and metaphors.

"Awaiting a happier city, a more successful wall street and a healed world."

"Having our prides demolished by a soldier's pain. They will come home again."

"By the time of my birthday I will have shot up like a rocket and be as tall as a tree (hopefully)."

"I am looking forward to Obama; he will lead us to the beautiful skies and healthy growing greens."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

RE:VERB FIVE/FALLING (in love) - weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join me 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.

November 20, 2008

What’s love got to do with it? I am sitting with Dorit Bat Shalom, an old friend of mine, at a Café in the German Colony and we’re talking about our elderly parents and about our children (and her grandchildren) and about love. We’re both single – so it’s a hot topic. “You know, it’s funny, “she says, as she doodles with crayons, transforming the photo of the newly elected Jerusalem Mayor, smiling on the front page of the daily paper into an oversized clown - “but when it comes to our parents – I don’t think that ‘love’ is the right word.” We’re talking in Hebrew and using the word “Ahava” – roughly translated as ‘love’ and as equally inconvenient as its English counterpart. We use the same word to describe what we feel about a tasty dish, a great song, our mother, cat or lover. It’s not the same action or emotion, so why is it the same word? “The Torah doesn’t command us to love our parents”, Dorit says, “only to honor them. And God knows I try…”

Beyond the fact that I am thrilled to be learning Torah from Dorit, who grew up secular and not really into ‘religious stuff’, but found her way into deep spiritual, mythical and Jewish learning – I am also amazed to pause and think about this difference between ‘love’ and ‘honor’ – as action items in my life. How am I different when in dialogue with ‘other’ – be they my parents or the people I am trying (no luck so far!) to date, or the few friends who truly merit th auspicious title – ‘friend’. That other auspicious word ‘Love’ has become so trite and overused in our language (like ‘like’ or ‘God’) that it actually takes an effort to pause and ponder, seriously - when, on a daily basis – am I really experiencing ‘love’ and how is it different, if at all, from affection or plain fondness, and – the big one here – what does the absence of a lover in my life tell me about my ability to ‘truly’ love another human being? And what can I do about it??

And there it is, smirking at me – in this week’s Torah Re-run – the first mention of the word ‘love’ in the biblical cannon and I’m looking closely for clues and inspiration, and words of advice from the ancestors.

Chapter 24 of Genesis concludes the Torah portion called ‘Chayei Sarah’ - and we got a happy end: Isaac meets Rebecca, out in the fields, and brings her home. The text is rich – it’s sunset, she arrives on a caravan of camel and swoons off of one into his arms, and Isaac “brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and took Rebecca as his wife, and loved her, and was consoled after his mother’s death’. (Genesis 24:67)

There is an obvious link between Isaac’s grief over his (recently) dead mother and his need and ability to find consolation in the arms of another woman – the next matriarch. Perhaps this is also the place between ‘honor’ and ‘love’ – he was only able to express the emotion known as love when he was ready to honor his mother’s memory and let go of his mourning – his attachment to the past. Isaac was 40 at the time of his marriage (Rebecca, say the sages, was either 14 or 3.. lets stick with 14, and anyway, I’m really focusing on him this time) so he had plenty of time to yearn for a suitable partner – and his love – so softly described – is perhaps a testament to the hope that such love and comfort are indeed possible. Was it love at first sight? Did she love him also? We don’t’ know – but the text leaves us with the notion that Isaac, emotionally ready, ‘fell in love’. I think that People fall in love when they are ready to change, or to start a new life, and Isaac, as this story shows – was ready to make room for the future – and to move on, beyond the past.

Maybe that’s the lesson here - love requires enough empty space on your hard-drive, and what’s blocking us – and perhaps blocking me, from making room for the dramatic reality of a loving relationship is a lot of ‘honoring’ of the past and not enough ‘loving’ of the present? Maybe that’s why it’s called ‘falling in love’ – it just kinda happens – when we’re really ready and not looking for it – not clutching, just being. Just before this scene, the Torah tells us, Isaac went strolling in the fields – conversing, meditating, and some say praying – taking time out to just BE. And then – from the corner of his eye – there was the caravan of camels..

Avram Infeld, sipping his tea, hates the expression -‘falling in love.’ “It is a problematic Christian concept – derived from the view that sex – and mortal love - is sinful and the Fall from Eden is the Original Sin. We don’t have that expression in Hebrew - you don’t fall in love in Hebrew – you become more loving – and it’s a mutual act.” We are sitting in the same café as the one I sat at with Dorit the previous day, talking Torah. Avram has been my mentor and friend for over 20 years – the man responsible for my career in Jewish Education. We have a deep love for each other – and I am honored to have earned his respect and trust. We say goodbye, hug and walk away, it’s sunset, and I’m smiling – it was a good conversation, a tasty sandwich, and I got good music on my brand new IPOD and I’m loving this present moment. It’s not capital L love – but I, like all of us, I guess, in one way or another, am always working on ‘it’. (And keeping just one eye on the lookout for camels…)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Parshat Noach at Ohev Shalom in Bucks County, PA

By Megan Sass
Storah On The Road

I’ll be honest. I was nervous. It was my first Maven, and it was the epic of Noah . . . there were three sections to translate and one to summarize. My nervousness didn’t subside until probably ten minutes into our show, when I began to look around, and see that something was happening. There I was, translating Torah verses, my partner, Deanna Neil playing devil’s advocate, and the people in the congregation were . . . get this . . . awake, listening, and interested. I know this is nothing new to the experienced Storahtelling actor or to anyone who has seen a Storahtelling show, but this was my first. People were attentive, anxiously awaiting to hear the next part of a story they must have heard so many times before. (It is Noah and the Ark, after all.) Standing on the bimah in Bucks County, PA, I learned something very important about Storahtelling: What we set out to do, we accomplish.

Congregants approached Deanna and I post show, expressing their excitement, gratitude, and curiosity. I actually heard the words “You really brought it to life!” and I heard them more than once. Talk about a ringing endorsement. People wanted to know all about the who, where, and when; “Do you guys go all over the country doing this?” “How often do you do these shows?” “How many of you do this kind of thing?” And then there were the questions about the parsha itself. And what started as questions led to discussions; individuals discussing and debating with us and with each other the content and moral context of a story about a guy, his wife, his kids, a bunch of animals and a big wooden boat. Once again, I’m sure this is all a very typical congregational response, but for me it was wonderful to watch. These people were going to remember the story this time, and they were going to continue to process it and discuss it after we left.

Again, being my first Maven show, I have to say I was moved. I can’t remember having ever seen people this engaged in Torah study or Torah translation. It occurs to me that the section of the parsha that occurs before the text of our show, the beginning of the tale of Noah, was actually the one that I read for my Bat Mitzvah exactly ten years earlier. I myself have probably never been this excited about sharing this kind of text with other people. When I was thirteen, my speech about the man who was Noah and his mission from G-D was something I tried to make sounds exciting, but the format was rigid, and really I understood very little about the Hebrew I was reading or the story I was recounting. But this time, given the task of translation and interpretation, the Torah service was not an empty segment of the Shabbat morning service and much more than something to simply get through on the way to the end. In a way, I feel I have redeemed my own translation of ten years ago. This was most certainly not something I expected to feel when I joined Storahtelling, but it is certainly a wonderful surprise.

After our show at Bucks County what I thought I felt about our organization during Maven training in July and suspected I would feel more as I begun doing gigs has, in fact, been confirmed. I believe in the work that Storahtelling does and I am glad to be a part of it. We set out to enliven old text through the reinvigoration of the old tradition of the Maven, and to engage individuals with the modern and relatable interpretation of the ancient Hebrew text of the Torah. In doing so, it seems to me that we hope to reach people with our shared sacred text by teaching, inspiring, and yes, entertaining! I am so pleased to find that one of those people we can reach is myself.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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

Join me 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.

November 11, 2008

My father and I are walking in the park outside his home. It's a sunny Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, children are playing, and birds fly about. And from nearby East Jerusalem the call of the Muezzin is heard, calling the worshippers to the mosque. Soon it will be sundown and the Sabbath-Siren will pierce the same sky. A flock of ravens lands on the lawn next to us. My father looks at them and his mouth tightens. “I hate ravens,” he says, “afraid of them.” I sort of knew that – its part of the family lore of random facts having to do with my father's Holocaust experience. “But why exactly?” I ask him. We've been talking about specific memories of his on this walk, and I've been taking hasty notes on my left palm as we're circling the park. I'm trying to talk to him about his faith – not to re-probe the painful memories – to get beyond the facts. “They ate bodies. This was in Auschwitz – they would swoop down on us in flocks of 20 or 30 birds and use their beaks to grab the body parts of the corpses that were just lying there. They used their beaks to puncture the eyes. I don't know why, maybe it was more juicy.”

Father and son walking in circles, burdened by a past that keeps binding us both to ancient wounds, and both of us, for different reasons, don't or won't let go. This weekend marked his father's Yahrtzeit – the date on which it is estimated that my grandfather, leading his community as the last rabbi of their town, reached the gas chambers in Treblinka. The Hebrew date this year falls on November 9th – also the commemoration of Kristalnacht. Israeli TV channels are broadcasting special programs in commemoration and in our living room two memorial candles were lit tonight – one for my grandfather and one for his son, my father's younger brother Shmuel, who most likely perished with his father on the same day. “Your father had never lit a candle for his brother before tonight, for all those years,” my mother confides in the kitchen. “I'm not sure why.”

Vayera, this week's Torah installment, contains the birth of Isaac and then his Binding, as well as the exile of his brother Yishamel, not to mention the demolition of Sodom. Genesis packs 'em in: so many verbs, so little time.

The Binding is the big story here...father and son walk together, not far from where I sit right now, active participants in a terrible act of blind faith, bound by destiny. But I choose to focus on another difficult moment in these chapters – one glance and its fatal consequences.

Chapter 19 in Genesis tells of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Nothing in the plain text describes rampant homosexuality, by the way – the crimes of Sodom are greed and selfishness). Lot and his family get the VIP treatment and are rescued, warned not to look back on the loss of their home and loved ones – to just move on. Lot and his two daughters march on and survive, but Lot's wife – known in the oral legends as Edith – famously looks back into the pain, and is frozen on the spot.

"But his wife looked back, behind him, and she became a pillar of salt" (Gen. 19:26).

When does the act of looking at one's history become destructive? When does turning back to look at what used to be become not reflective but obsessive, dangerous, fatal? When is it time to let the past be and only focus on the future? Having spent a month here, so close to my father again and to his Holocaust narratives, am I becoming, like him, like Lot's wife, immersed in this saga of horrific memories? Can I walk away? Can he?? Is it time to persuade my father to stop dwelling, remembering, discussing what was? Do I have the right?

We took another walk today and I asked him about Lot's wife and the wisdom of her choice. “The problem,” he says, “is that most people don't want to know what lies ahead and prefer to dwell on what already happened, even if it's terrible.”

”And maybe,” he adds after a long pause, “it's a blessing for her… not to continue with the memories.”

This 'looking back' reminds me of 'rubbernecking' on the highway, peering at wrecked cars: this human tendency of ours to probe, like ravens, into the dark and the dead. Looking back at our pain, like 'rubbernecking,' may lead to clogged roads within. Inspired by this story and by this reading of Mrs. Lot's choice, I challenge myself today to glance in the rearview mirror - but not turn and look back while driving. Somehow, I need to learn how to honor the past, keep recording the tales – but not stay there – move on to a deeper understanding and a possible healing, reconciliation with the past. Isn't that the real role of stories and storytelling, just like salt: making everything last longer and taste better....

I wonder: When you look in the rearview mirror of your life - what do you see?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Review of “13”, the Broadway Musical

By Tehilah Eisenstadt

Storah On The Road

As the Program Director for Raising The Bar I get to do lots of fun things. As someone who works with Bar and Bat Mitzvah age tweens and their families, people often think of me when anything Bar or Bat Mitzvah related comes up. Thankfully, last week this situation scored me free tickets to see “13” the new musical on Broadway. It’s always nice to give back, so in order to repay the cosmos I am posting a free review! I am also excited to announce that Tribeca Hebrew—the location of our Raising The Bar, the institutional version (2.0?)—will be bringing their families to see “13”, and Raising The Bar will be offering a contextualizing Storah-intro to see them on their way! Now…back to our irregularly scheduled “13” review:

I did not have high expectations for "13". A friend and fellow educator had a ticket and so I thought I would give it a try even after reading reviews like this one:

... "13" treats Evan's pursuit of Popularity (and when you're 13, the word carries a capital P) in broad generic terms spiced with topical references, as if enacting an ages-old ritual dressed up in Abercrombie & Fitch and accessorized with cellphones. The characters are as eternal as types in commedia dell'arte, and the plot as set as that of a Passion play by way of young adult fiction.

-"Stranger in Strange Land: The Acne Years," NEW YORK TIMES, OCTOBER 2008

While the review was not such a positive one, after seeing the show, I agree with it - except that I think these elements are part of what makes "13" so good. While the characters are archetypes the emotions they evoke are genuine and give space for audience members of all ages to reminisce on the teens in their lives (currently or in our childhood pasts) that these individuals evoke. The music and singing were pretty outstanding. I agree with the NY Post reviewer who said:

I can't remember the last Broadway musical with a big Torah number... With a raw, rousing score by Jason Robert Brown sung by a cast of 13- to 17-year-olds, it's Sondheim for MySpacers…

- "Musical Mazal Tov for Heartland Teens," NEW YORK POST, OCTOBER 2008

Believe it or not I even agree with the "Sondheim for MySpacers" assessment (the songs are really catchy!). I think "13" relates to becoming Bar Mitzvah in a pretty realistic way for the majority of kids heading towards their Bar/Bat Mitzvah year. Evan's Bar Mitzvah Torah chanting takes one brief, but beautiful moment (on the Broadway stage!). However, Evan's growth process, through peer learning and life experiences lead him to become a better human, and in my mind, if contextualized – a better Jew. As a show "13" is great, the music, the humor and the passion of the teen actors and musicians are all wonderful. As a learning tool, 13 isn't "there" on its own, nor does it need to be. Hopefully the show itself will open up meaningful conversations between tweens, teens and their peers. As a show with no character or positive role-model older than 13 I believe it comes to the rest of us to make ample room for meaning in discussions that can proceed or follow. It will also be interesting to follow how this particular theater piece reaches an unusual Broadway audience of tweens and teens by using new media like facebook, broadwayspace, myspace and twitter.

Oh, and since Broadway has no rating system that I know of, I have rated the show myself: PG-13 (please refer to image above).


Storahtelling Show at Kol HaNeshama

By Amichai Lau Lavie

Storah On The Road

Saturday, November 3rd was a full Storah Weekend at Kehillat Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem. 25 trainees in the Israel Maven Training course met for a full day of study with Amichai on Friday, and then joined him for a Saturday Morning Maven show in the main sanctuary – packed with hundreds of people who came, especially to see Storah translate Torah from Biblical Hebrew to Modern Israeli.

I had two accomplices for the retelling of AFTER THE FLOOD – the Noah story - two of the Maven trainees. Varda Ben Hur, a local actress, and Michael Klein-Katz, a member of Kol Haneshama. Michael played Noah –a pessimistic alcoholic who refused to leave the ark and has trouble believing that the world is worth a second chance after the terrible destruction of the flood. Varda played Naama – Noah's wife – optimistic and eager for life to resume – including making more babies with her reluctant husband…

We Maven'ed three of the seven aliyot, engaged the audience in a great discussion about post traumatic hope, and spent the afternoon debriefing with the Maven training team. Even my Orthodox nephews and nieces came – and had to get over the shock of being inside a Reform synagogue for the first time! They gave us great feedback and really liked the concept. Why, they wondered, was it not more cynical??? We got into a great conversation about earnestness and irony in religious settings – interesting differences between Orthodox and Liberal – Israel and America! This Noah telling was a great precursor to the celebrations that followed on Nov. 5. – YES – this is a world worth saving….

Next Storah at Kol Haneshama in JM – February 7th.

See below – a letter sent from one of congregants in reaction to the Noah Maven:

Dear Amichai,

In addition to saying thank-you, I want to let you know that I think your approach to Torah-reading is deeply important, right and inspiring. Not only did I laugh, but I also thought about elements in the parasha in a way that got me excited. I'd like to share some of my thoughts with you.

I once read that teva (ark) also means 'word'. If Noah and all of us leave the WORD, language, verbal communication, what do we have to hold onto?

A rainbow is an apt response. A rainbow expresses the individual's longing to reach up to Heaven. We imagine we can cling to this miraculous, beautiful ladder and it will take us up to God, just as it seems to be a gift from God every time it appears in the sky. But alas, this is an allusion. Just as we ascend and reach the top, so we must descend. We come down a changed person -- sadder and wiser.

The place of man is on earth, not in the heavens. We all want to fly with the dove, but we are grounded.

When we leave the teva (ark), we are traumatized. Only by talking about life in the ark, and remembering all its details (how each animal ate a different food, etc etc, the sleeping arrangements, the sound of the rain outside etc etc) and sharing these stories with others from generation to generation, only with the word (teva), can we overcome the trauma.

The teva (word) is the tikun for the teva (ark), just as the fig is the tikun for eating the forbidden fruit, the fig. Story is how we overcome trauma.

Another thought: God's sense of smell saved the human race. The sense of smell is considered the most spiritual of the senses. It is said when the Ten Commandments were given, the whole earth filled with a lovely fragrance. The etrog is the chosen fruit for the four species because of its smell. Smell is our most primitive sense, according to some pediatric researchers. Smells from our childhood stay with us all our lives, so that when sight and hearing and taste and touch have deteriorated, a smell can still conjure an entire childhood and take us to far-away places, even on our death beds.

This Torah is so rich. Thank you for sharing its riches this morning.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

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

Join me 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.

November 5, 2008

When was the last time I laughed like this? Belly deep, open mouth, a great relief, cheering wildly, clapping, very very happy? When was the last time I cried like this, in public, not caring that I’m surrounded by strangers, so deeply moved…? It felt like reaching a mountain top, after a long climb, looking up and out to all directions –and seeing a vast horizon of hopes.
Nov. 5, 6am at a Café in Jerusalem’s German Colony, with a giant screen projecting scenes from Washington DC, Chicago, the Streets of America – and here in Jerusalem – Israelis, Americans, foreigners from different countries – many journalists and media folks with video cameras and recording devices - congratulations, raucous clapping when President Elect Obama and his family fill the screen, plates of cakes, fresh coffee, smiles, tears.
8am, at the King David Hotel, the American ambassador held an “election breakfast” – I got myself invited. Red, white and blue balloons filled the room, TV monitors reported the victory’s details, and posters for both delegates still hung in the room as heated conversations spilled over to the sidewalk and elegant terrace.
Now what? Is this good for the Jews? Is he good for Israel?? ‘If he’s good for America - he’ll be great for Israel’ I told a local reporter, dour and not at all pleased. ‘You have to look at the big picture – this change is a vote of confidence in democracy – the rest is almost irrelevant.’
Taking a deep breath and looking at the big picture is going to be the next step for many – the winners, the losers, the rest of us. Taking the time to climb to the summit and carefully scan the horizon for clues and inspiration is the order of the day – and it is echoed in this week’s Torah text – introducing Abraham, the first among many world leaders to emerge in the Bible.
Chapter 13 in Genesis describes the parting of ways between Abram – a leader in the making, and Lot – his nephew and co-travelelr. They divide the territory and agree to honor each other’s separate path. When that is done, Abram (his name will change later) is invited up for a Birdseye view of his future life: ‘God said to Abram, after Lot parted from him: 'Look up now, lift your eyes, and see, from where you are now, to the north, to the south, to the east and to the west.’ (Genesis 13:14)
Look up, Abram is told. Transcend the divisions and the harsh reality of separations to see the 360 degree view of what lies ahead. He is shown a vision of potential and promised a great future – his children will be a blessing unto all families of the earth.

I met Ibrahim – one of Abraham’s descendents, two days ago – a Palestinian from Ramallah who was trying to harvest his olives, under Israeli military guard and under the watchful eye of near by Jewish settlers who accused him of stealing their rightful land. That same night I attended the wedding of my cousin Sarah – in a settlement only 30 minutes away from Ibrahim’s village. Both the bitter harvest of olives and the joyous wedding took place on November 4th – the anniversary of Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination thirteen years ago. Somehow, all of us, children of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar and Yishamel -all over the world, so rarely get to climb the mountain to see the full view, each other’s story, and how our stories mesh and compliment each other – and how we can become each others’ blessing and gift – as our ancestor Abram was promised.
I pray today that we look up, and that our leaders, including the newly elected, help us climb up the mountain, one step at a time, and transcend the divisions that prevent us from the peace, change and hope we all yearn for. Was it the nuns who advise Maria in ‘The Sound of Music’ –‘Climb every mountain, ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow, 'til you find your dream!