Thursday, April 02, 2009

Flour Power
Maven Shabbaton Weekend for BBYO Gold Coast in Florida

By Annie Lewis

“You own the past. You sacrifice. You become something different.”

This past Shabbat, David Loewy and I went down to Sunrise, Florida for the annual Gold Coast Regional BBYO convention, set this year to the theme of Fiddler on the Roof. Teens quoted the classic, “Without tradition, our lives are as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof,” as each local chapter competed for spirit points, with their traditional name and mascot and original garb and skit.

Our Maven for Parshat Vayikra explored the messy tradition of the guilt offering. Torah offers a recipe for getting rid of guilt, which ideally includes animal sacrifice. Those feeling unfit for society due to exposure to animal contamination, bodily fluids, broken promises or complicity through silence may go before the Cohen with an offering tailored to their means. The assigned sheep, pair of birds or measure of flour is then transformed to smoke on the altar. A connection is re-established between heaven and earth, between the guilty party and the best self, between the Source and the community.

We told the story as a talk-show called “Cooking with Cohen,” described as “Two-Parts Dr. Phil, two parts Top Chef and a healthy helping of Fear Factor.” I played the role of a woman consumed by Jewish guilt, who, desperate to do something, appears as a guest on the show. She is appalled by the Chief-Chef’s prescription for animal sacrifice and turns to the studio audience for alternative suggestions for coping with guilt, and for a way to transform the tradition into something relevant for our day. In the end, my character opts for an immediate, symbolic, hands-on ritual transformation through flour, a way to move forward with a traditional ingredient.

This was my first time performing a Maven. We packed a wheely-suitcase in New York with a sack of flour beside the giant purple Storah Talit, which the BBYO-ers dubbed the Storah-Snuggie. I took my own Jewish guilt carry-on, as always - the stuff in my stomach that is individual, residual and collective. The stories of my family and my people, the broken hearts and shattered tablets. It is the bewilderment I experience sometimes, a few hours after waking up in the arms of life. Why me? How I am I so lucky to be here? It is one of many responses I have to the mystery, yet the questions of worth can nag and weigh and muddle Divine messages. So there in the Gold Coast room at the Holiday Inn in Sunrise, I exhaled, giving flight to a cloud of flour in my palms. With the teens and Torah to witness, I let go of some guilt. I am here and I am grateful.

“Some of us did not die

We’re still here

I guess it was our destiny to live

So let’s get on with it.”

- June Jordan


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