Monday, June 08, 2009

Maven in Riverdale: A Delicious Doosey
by Deanna Neil
June 8, 2009

This past weekend was a doosey. I finished off my year long collaboration as a Maven Mentor with the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale. It was a doosey because it closed out the year and also because our show was the longest parsha in the whole Torah, and it had to be done full Kriyah. Parshat Naso, I shall never forget thee.

The name of our show was "The Priest and the Pauper." We examined the role of Ithamar, Aaron's youngest son, and his managerial responsibilities. We imagined what his spiritual connection was like after witnessing his brothers be consumed by flame. Our Ithamar was a bit disillusioned, to say the least. It was brilliantly played by Phil Keisman--our Mobile Maven who came from within the synagogue. A recent graduate of Brandeis, he jumped enthusiastically into translation and performing--two recently acquired skills. He's now on his way to Pardes to study Jewish education in Jerusalem. It seems as though his work with the synagogue and Storahtelling this year brought him to an interesting path.

The antagonist of our story was an Israelite woman who was seeking holiness. She wasn't a Levite and she was "just a woman" who felt she had no place in the spiritual community. She idolized the priesthood and Ithamar and eventually took the vow of the Nazarite in order to mimic some elements of priestdom and find a connection to God. The role was executed perfectly by Annie Lewis, who's skill of tying a headscarf was inspirational. Oh, and she's also studying to be a Rabbi.

What happened when this ultimate insider and ultimate outsider of Jewish spiritual community collided? They served as catalysts for deeper meaning in each others' lives. It also prompted us to ask the question to the congregation: Have you ever had "holiness envy" in your lives, like Ithamar and this Israelite woman had for each other? (I've since tried this questions on many friends and received answers as varied as Leonard Cohen to Orthodoxy to people who are in committed relationships.) It was rewarding and fulfilling to hear peoples answers in the shul, especially the kids, who commented that they would find God by "concentrating" really hard or that they had holiness envy for people who worshipped without caring what other people thought of them.

Personally, it was a beautiful experience to be a part of the congregation for the whole year. I got to see familiar faces, work with people, know the drama. Instead of jumping in and jumping out, as we usually do for Storahtelling gigs, I was going back with a recurring role. It made completing and creating this maven particularly meaningful. I hope that we have the chance to collaborate again, but even if not, I know that I will always have a place to explore. We ended the show by calling to stand all those who work things out by talking them through because that's what worked for Ithamar and the Israelite woman, and also because the parsha ends with Moses speaking to God, who's presence/voice came to him from between the two cherubim facing each other on top of the ark of the covenant. My experience at CSAIR proved to me again, that it is in our interactions with each other and what we learn by looking at each other--like the cherubim--and our different ways of being, that we can really see what holiness is, and "hear" something divine.

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