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.

1 comment:

  1. Maggie Monroe RichterNovember 14, 2008

    Intense and provocative—the subtext that stories (memories) are to be used cautiously/judiciously (that they have as much power to stop conversation as to start it) is critical in its own right. Your argument ultimately asks for a high ethical standard in applying story/memory/Bible/art, toward maintaining true forward momentum: I’m all for it, and it’s not a popular argument in a world enamored of sophistry. Go on, Plato.