Thursday, September 24, 2009

RE:VERB FORTY-NINE
Yom Kippur Special
Enter
A weekly Torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie


A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I 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.


The ‘enter’ key on my laptop got stuck yesterday, just wouldn’t work and neither could I. Restarted the computer, wiped the keyboard, hoped, and prayed. Click. It ‘worked’. Once again I was able to enter the domain of words and communications, vital, urgent, in the midst of this busy season. For a moment I pondered how I would manage without this ‘key’: A physical and technological command absolutely essential to who I am and what I do daily. Who thought of calling this familiar keychain into so many doors, indispensible to our modern lives - a ‘keyboard’? Funny how the key that reads ‘enter’ is sometimes labeled ‘return’.


Entering and returning are simple daily act -physical, psychological and electronic - but they are superimposed with gravity during this season of return – Teshuva –these high and holy days of awe. The invitation that these days summon is to enter the inner life, to enter, in the footsteps of the ancient high priest of Israel, into the Holy of Holies – for the purpose of at-one-ment.


(The traditional selection from the Torah for the Day of Atonement is Leviticus 16, describing the detail by detail instructions for conducting the atonement rituals in the sanctuary – the desert tabernacle that then became the Jerusalem Temple. The highlight of the high and holy day is the moment, the only one during the year, when the High Priest, all in white linen, parts the veil and enters the sacred innermost chamber, the holy of holies. The Hebrew term used in this context is KODESH - Robert Alter translates it as ‘the sacred zone.’ Once inside, in the presence of the Divine, he fills the chamber with the cloud of incense. He then quickly exits – returns - and prays privately on behalf of the people. The atonement is complete.)


I’ve been reading and teaching a lot in the past two weeks about the lost mystery of the high priest and the access to the sacred zone. With no temple, no holy of holies, and no highest ranking Levite to enter the sacred on our behalf – how do these symbols, if at all, still mean something, still serve as keys into the inner life, into the process of returning, focused, to the center of self?


What would it mean for me, for you, to enter, this Yom Kippur, the sacred zone, ever so briefly, click restart and return and live, and live better?


I asked this question this past week on three different occasions: at a private study salon in a beautiful library on the Upper East Side, at an open study session in a hip Tribeca loft, and at an interfaith event in Midtown Manhattan. The answers varied from terror to giggles. R. recoiled from the possibility of identifying what ‘holy and holies’ may mean to him and what it may mean to enter. ‘It fills me with terrible fear’, he said. B. imagined standing on the beach outside her home on Yom Kippur and writing the word ‘compassion’ on the sand, over and over again. K. talked about the ritual of going to therapy – entering that room. At the very moving midtown event (check out www.faithhousemanhattan.org ) S., a minister, spoke about entering through the front door and encountering the ‘other’ and the sacred within each one of us. Others spoke of entering the sacred through the liturgy, the music, and about the paradox of being surrounded by so many people in these modern new temples, yet being called to enter the intimacy of this sacred chamber and be alone. (And are we ever?)


Last night I flipped to the last few chapter of the Torah – this week’s portion, Ha’azinu, is but one before the last. And there, just at the end I was reminded of the other, darker side of entrance – the closed door.


Moses’ epic poem lingers through chapter 32 of D’varim, and as its epilogue is the dry narrative reminder of his fate. On the threshold of the Promised Holy Land – his destination for so long – access is again denied by the God of mysteries:


‘You will see the land afar off; but you will not enter into the land which I give the children of Israel

(Dvarim 32:52)


Some doors have no keys, and sometimes keys are lost or stuck, and we cannot enter.

The Holy of Holies, like the Promised Land are not merely geography - they are also metaphor and symbol, markers on the maps of our inner life.


Like Aaron, the first High Priest, we are invited annually to face the mystery and enter the sacred, and exit, and return to our ordinary lives in peace. Like Moses, his brother, we are reminded that despite all our yearnings, sometimes, some doors will not be ours to enter. This too requires our inner peace.


What will it be like for each of us to take a minute on Yom Kippur and imagine, visualize, utilize the key and enter our own private sacred zone?


When the sun sets this coming Monday, the Neila will conclude, and with it the final prayer of Yom Kippur, and the doors will close, and the Book of Life will be a closed book, sealed and delivered. I hope, and pray, that for many of us, a door opens (is it an eternal revolving door with no keys at all?), and we will re enter, returning to our sacred tasks on this earth, renewed and restarted.


Gmar Chatima Tova

May we be signed and sealed in the Book of the Good Life.


Oops I Did It Again: True Tales of Transgression

Stories Sins and Songs for the Night of Atonment. Join us at City Winery following an alternvative Kol Nidre Service for a new spin on an old tradition, where comedy meets reflection and fasting goes faster.

Hosted By The Susannah "The Goddess" Perlman - (Last Comic Standing & Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad) and featuring a dream team line-up of NY's best performers.

Sunday September 27 @9pm
City Winery
155 Varick St
New York, NY

The show is FREE

If you want to attend the most amazing Kol Nidre services
on the planet, those service start at 7pm and
tickets are available:
www.higholidays.com

Performers:

Margot Leitman (VH-1, Conan, Comedy Central)
Mindy Raf (VH-1)
Rob Gorden (Mark & Rob)
Carl Kissin (Chicago City Limits)
Ophira Eisenberg (Comedy Central & Moth)
Steve Zimmer (The Moth)
Joel Chasnoff (Montreal Comedy Festival)
Michelle Citrin (Rosh Hashannah Girl)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

RE:VERB FORTY-EIGHT
Rosh Hashanah Special
Wean: A Reflection for the New Jew Year
A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie


A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I 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.


I saw M. this week and she looked really well rested. What happened? I asked. My 3 year old son finally weaned, she said. Now I can get a full night sleep again!

This is a good week to be thinking about weaning as a metaphor. What am I ready to let go of in order to start the New Year right? What’s the mythic meaning of weaning?

Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish year kicks in this Saturday. It is also called Yom Harat Olam –The Day on Which the World Was Conceived - a day of new beginnings, recalling the birth of the universe. But in some ways it also is a day that celebrates what often happens way after birth - the mystery of weaning and its significance to our adult lives. Here’s why: Like all holidays, this High Holy Day is also accompanied by a biblical narrative, chosen by the early sages for the appropriate themes of conception, birth, human growth and divine intervention. On the first of the two holy days we are introduced to the Torah tale of the miraculous (not immaculate) conception of ninety year old Sarah, at last assuming her role of Matriarch. The story in Genesis goes on to describe the happy birth of Isaac, the feast held in honor of his weaning into adulthood, and the family drama involving his step brother Ishmael. Weaning is central to this primal myth, although it is often just overlooked trivia:

"… And Abraham made a big feast on the day that Isaac was weaned…" (Genesis 21:8)

This is the first and only weaning celebration ever recorded in the Bible. The Oral Traditions of the Midrash explain the necessity for the feast: people were gossiping that the baby was not really born to Abraham and Sarah – two senior citizens past their prime. To dispel the rumors, Abraham invited the world for a party - and asked Sarah to publicly breastfeed their son, for the last time.

The real drama happens in the middle of the party. Just as Sarah is done with her speech, marking the letting go of Isaac, off her breast and into the world, she sees her son ‘playing with’, or ‘fooling around with’ or ‘abused’ by his older half brother Ishmael, Hagar’s son. The Hebrew term, ‘metzachek’ is obscure. Whatever happened - Sarah’s rage is relentless and, backed by God, she convinces the reluctant Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael from the compound, making sure Isaac is the one and only heir to Abraham's fortunes and spiritual legacy. Thus begins the Arab-Jewish conflict.

How old was Isaac when he weaned off Sarah’s breast? Why is this the only weaning feast we ever meet in the Bible and where has this tradition vanished to? And – what DID happen between Isaac and Ishmael that provoked such wrath? The annual re-reading of this tale calls for these and other compelling, ethical questions. Now that we are aware of the painful political repercussions of Sarah’s decision to deport another mother and her child – how do we respond? What is the lesson we are learning from this story and passing on to, say, any modern day Isaac, sitting in the synagogue on his mother’s lap, this Rosh Hashanah?

One key to this perplexing tale and its meaning to our lives is the secret of weaning.

Weaning is a complex business. The departure from mother’s milk onto ‘independent’ nutrition is a big deal in therapy and research. The perfect, seldom achieved weaning is fully mutual - both mother and child are ready to let go and move on. The less perfect and more common cases are those in which one of the two parties involved is eager for change, and the other is not… and that’s when weaning becomes more complicated, even if seldom discussed.

For me, this time of year, thinking about weaning becomes an opportunity to think about change.

Rosh Hashanah is a first page in a new book, full of promise, of change, of opportunity. But it is also a farewell from the familiar past. Can I wean oneself from what was yesterday’s nourishment – like mothers’ milk – but is no longer a staple of the present or future? Can we constantly evolve; wean ourselves into more mature and responsible beings? It is possible that this is one of the themes that accompany us, in a subtle way, as we repent and prepare for the New Year upon us. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for including this biblical narrative in our liturgy.

And perhaps there is one more important lesson that can be learned from this biblical story – despite itself. What if the weaning that we are required to go through is also the weaning away from myths, beliefs, and doctrines that once served us, but now no longer do? Can we wean ourselves away from Sarah’s anger, from her maternal zeal, from the alienating of others, the deportation of brother, and mark a new page in our storybook of hope and family co-existence? Can this Day of the Conception of the World help us celebrate the joy of all those who live in this world – and not just those who are of our kin and tribe? This year on Rosh Hashanah, can we retell the Weaning Feast and transcend its tragic aspects?

As the New Year approaches, apples and honey and all, I hear the words of Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi poet, son of Ishmael, gently reminding me: “Wean yourself, little by little wean yourself, this is the gist of what I have to say.”

Shana Tova!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Like a Prayer for Slichot in New Jersey and NYC

by Chana Rothman
Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Do we need to cry out like Hagar, or can we simply whisper like Chana? Is either one OK? You can decide for yourself.

In Springfield, New Jersey at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, we all – audience, performers, clergy - seemed transfixed by the idea of prayer and abundance. Why have we only been taught one way to pray, as if that was the only option? What happens when we open up other options, other ways to connect?

Until Sarah Sokolic and I began the talkback, I hadn’t fully realized the power and possibility of this question. The idea that there is more than one way to pray can (and did) truly transform a person – even a group of people!

Sarah and I have been performing this Slichot show for three years now, under the brilliant vision/direction of Annie Levy, and the meaning seems to shift and deepen as we go along. Somewhere along the way we decided I would sing my song “More Than One Way” as a punctuation point to the stretch, in which we asked the question that began this blog (ie, how do we pray?)

The rabbi revealed, during our talkback, that there was a Baptist preacher inside him just straining to get out, but what would the public say? He bravely acknowledged the pressures of the kahal, the community expectations which stood between him and the kind of prayer he knows he can lead. Later we spoke one-on-one about this and he shared that sometimes he does get into preacher mode, and someone from the choir might call out, “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!”

Let me also paint a visual from earlier in the day: small children sitting on the gym mats in front of the large, dark 14th Street Y stage. As I knelt before them to ask my question, they looked up at me, wide-eyed. “Remember how Hagar called out her prayer? Do we need to call out like that?” Some nods, some shakes of the head. “How about Chana’s prayer? Do we need to whisper like Chana?” More nods, more shakes of the head. “Is either one OK?” Everyone nods. “You see, the beautiful thing is,” I wind down, “YOU get to choose. You can decide.”

Sarah Sokolic tailored this script to young people, and while it succeeded in simplifying and getting across the bulls-eye to a young audience, perhaps what was even more moving and impressive about her writing is that it also reached an older audience when we performed it a second time in New Jersey later that day.

We all – children of all ages - need and crave the reminders that we can, are allowed and even encouraged to pray and connect in a way that feels meaningful to us.

As Elul begins to hone in on the Ten Holy Days from Rosh Hashanah to the closing gates of Yom Kippur, I wish all of us the strength to reach for a prayer; whether we cry out like Hagar, whisper like Chana, or find different way to pray, may we have the strength to connect with some form of prayer, and may the prayer give us strength to continue to pray.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

RE:VERB FORTY-SEVEN / NITZAVIM VAYELECH / WITNESS
A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie


A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I 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.

WITNESS

Two minutes before the ceremony started the rabbi tapped me on the shoulder: one of the witnesses hadn’t arrived, would I mind being the second one to sign Naomi and Glenn’s Ketuba - marriage contract? Clearly, not an offer one can refuse, under most circumstances, and definitely not when the groom is already making his way down the aisle (to Disco music, actually, it was a 70’s theme wedding, Brooklyn style... quite different than the one I attend the previous weekend in Canada.) When the time came, I carefully wrote my full name, in Hebrew, on the bottom of the beautifully decorated document, testifying that this marriage is valid, and kosher, and good to go. It’s just a signature, but like all signatures, potentially crucial, legally binding, emotionally significant. How many times a day do we sign our names? And yet, sometimes, it’s a radically different act. What does it really mean to witness someone else’s life? What are the implications of testifying on someone’s behalf – in a court of law or under a canopy of love? Who am I when I am a ‘witness’?

Beyond the ritualistic and legalistic aspects, witnessing is a grand human gesture of trust, and of faith. Historically, the Jewish calendar was annually reorganized (just around this time of the year) based on the trusted eye witness accounts of at least two adults who clearly saw the new moon over Jerusalem. Criminals could only be convicted based on reliable witnesses, and couples would marry and divorce only in the presence of two trust worthy humans (males, traditionally) to bind the act. Much of this remains today in courts worldwide. I’m not sure where the hand on the Bible to swear to tell the truth etc. comes from, but it too is a testament to how serious this act is, and seeped in both basic human relations as well as the bigger, mysterious scheme of things.

To bear witness is to become part of history, to observe and impact life’s goings-on with a unique, if fleeting perspective: an external point of view, the bigger picture. It’s quite a responsibility. What if something goes wrong? What if what I saw is not what ‘really’ happened? What if these two should not be standing here, all in white, giggling, and privileged to wed?

But most of the time, witnessing is just a formality, an added form of insurance, extra liability coverage. We sign, we sigh, we move on. The witnessing will only come back to haunt us (those who witness and those who are witnessed) only when things go wrong and the small print will need to be examined and every fact will matter more. Crisis is when the witnessing is recalled most, called upon to remind, remember, uphold, and support the original intention, the goodwill that sometimes, if briefly, goes off the tracks. At times of challenge – witnesses are the reminder of what really matters, what counts.

A surprising witness shows up on the stand, in this week’s Torah episode – the double portions – Nitzavim Vayelech. Moses is on his deathbed, worried. Everybody knows what will happen next: Israel will enter the promised land, loot and pillage, forget all the big promises, discard the laws, worship every God but YHWA and assimilate away. Moses is not worried about his ratings, he’s worried about his legacy - that will be forgotten, that the people Israel, human, oh so human, will go astray and not be able to maintain their vows of commitment to the abstract God, to the system of laws and regulations that makes them so special.

So he summons a witness to remind them – us – of what the original vows were all about. The witness is a song, or rather, a book, or perhaps, a string of words and images. It is the Torah itself, uniquely named here as both ‘song’ or ‘poetry’ and also as ‘witness’. The role of scripture, of the sacred words, in this case, is to remind us of life’s larger journey, of our human destiny, of our responsibility to this planet, and to our inner lives. Here is what Moses, the tired poet, instructs us to do, then, now:

“Write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this poem may be my witness against the people of Israel…That day, Moses wrote down this poem and taught it to the Israelites.” (D'varim 27: 19-21)

The Hebrew word for ‘witness’ is ‘ed’ – from the same root that means ‘eternal’.

In less than ten days a new moon will rise over the planet and 5770 years of history will be celebrated with apples and honey and blasts of shofars and prayers for a better year. We will come together to witness each other’s good will, best intentions, failures, pains, and hopes.

This season of High Holidays is all about getting back on track – how we feel, think, act, eat, love – and how we can do those better. Getting back on track requires this witnessing – we are each others’ witnesses just as the Torah – the poem that is the gist of Jewish life – is that which reminds us of the original premise, the original intent of the good life, the life committed to goodness.

No witness will be required to see the new moon rise and the New Year declared. We have evolved, and we now have trusted calendars. But witnesses are still required to bring people together in love, and to bring people together in worship and renewal of personal vows of love and life. Whose witness are you as this year begins? Who or what is your witness? What is the poem that will remind you, remind us, of what it’s all about?

(Stay tuned for next week’s Rosh Hashana Reverb special, and then we’re almost done…)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

RE:VERB FORTY-SIX / KI TAVO / TRANSLATE
A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie


A year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I 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.

TRANSLATE

“Translating Hebrew into another language is like kissing a bride through a veil” – I thought of this quote, most often attributed to Bialik, one of the greatest Hebrew poets of the 20th century, during a recent wedding in the French speaking parts of Canada. As the speeches began during the wedding banquet, an older woman turned to me and whispered, in English, with a thick (Slavic) accent, ‘can you translate mazeltov? What does it actually mean?’ I did my best to explain this generic Jewish way of congratulation, its forgotten Hebrew origin (astrology based - ‘may the planet that guides you be in alignment’), its juicy gist, but I still found it difficult to convey the indigenous essence, specific flavor. ‘Good luck’ doesn’t quite cut it, but it’s the closest and does have something to say about fate, and faith, and relentless optimism. She smiled and nodded – one of those smiles that bridged all languages. But did she ‘get’ it? Do we ever successfully convey the innards of our words when we translate into another culture? Or is it always skin deep? A kiss through a veil? And is that better than no kiss at all?

At this beautiful wedding the bride, a friend of mine, in a stunning white dress, wore no veil, and the marriage ceremony, civic and short and sweet, was also stripped of religious elements. But there was still a lot of translation going on, linguistic and cultural – as Catholic and Jewish family members and friends gathered with Muslims and Atheists in celebration of this lovely – and mixed -marriage. Any relationship is, arguably, a communication challenge, and when a Jew and Catholic marry, as these two love birds did, regardless of their current faith and allegiance to tribal heritage, making it work (for them and their loved ones) is a lot about finding common ground, the perfect translation. It’s never easy - a lot is lost in translation, we know as much, but what I find to be a really interesting challenge, especially these days, is to figure out what is also gained in translation. How do we accommodate reality and make the most of kissing through veils in this seductive multi-cultural global way of living.

With more than an estimated 55% of Jews in North America marrying out of the faith, the challenges of ‘translation’ far exceed the choice of words or the utilitarian needs of making key terms such as ‘mazeltov’ understood by a random cousin. Translation becomes a trope, a metaphor for making – or not making - sense of one’s inherited tradition in the ‘salad bar’ of Western culture where ‘mix and match’ is the accepted norm. Whether one supports or condemns intermarriage between people of different faiths, races, ethnic origins or nationalities – it is clearly a sign of the times. Rather than view it as an epidemic (and many do, see for instance this short video clip released this week to fight intermarriage and endorse trips to Israel MASA:ISRAEL JOURNEY VID CLIP) I am still wavering – and for now, prefer to see it as a compelling opportunity to think creatively about translation and transmission: a necessary, complex challenge. Possibly – a blessing in disguise.

Attending this wedding made me think a lot about the realities of intermarriage and inspired me a lot to think about what can be done with it – not stopping it – who can prevent love – but working with it. Making the most of this situation – and that’s where translation comes in. Finding smart ways of translating our languages vocabularies of faith and cultural symbols to each other can be not just a necessary tool – but also a bold attempt at visionary pluralism and peaceful co-existence - it can help us understand each other better have more compassion for those radically different from us – beyond the comfort zones and separations of similar and familiar lifestyles and behavioral codes of many many generations. Sensitive and smart translation can help our respective species to survive. Refusal to translate – to accommodate and negotiate meaning and context – can achieve the total opposite of survival.

Oy. This is a mine field. Intermarriage is a super sensitive subject for modern Jews, and it has, in fact, been a touchy subject from as far back as Jewish (or any) identity existed. So I’m treading lightly here. All through history, it seems, marrying out was a norm for a certain percentage of world Jewry, and a perpetual headache for Jewish leaders. As soon as the social walls of various ghettos went down – in Alexandria, or Toledo, or Berlin, or New York, – the ‘other’ beckoned and boundaries crossed. The Bible is full of curses and warnings against marrying out, but also describes quite a few such unions – including Joseph, Moses, and King Solomon – all married to celebrity pagan wives. Regardless of his own vaguely acknowledged marriage to the Midyanite Zippora, and throughout the Book of D’varim, Moses’ fifth and last book, he warns against assimilating with the local folk, and demands that his people keep within the faith. As one way to remind them of their tribal obligations, he comes up with an idea for a monument – a visual reminder of the Law.

In this week’s Torah tale ‘Ki Tavo’, with only a few weeks left to the end of the saga and the entrance to Canaan, the people Israel are instructed to mark their homecoming with a construction project – to gather big rocks, plaster them white, and inscribe on them the words of God:

"And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this law very clearly."
(D’varim 27:8)

What’s interesting about this biblical precedent of a ‘stop’ sign or other visual traffic aides is how this verse was translated into Aramaic. The words ‘very clearly’ stem from the obscure Hebrew ‘Ba’er Heytev' which could have meant – ‘carve well’ or ‘explain in detail.’ Some 2,000 years ago, an anonymous Biblical translator translated this as ‘And you shall write upon the stones all the glorious words of this law in writing deep and plain, to be well read, and to be translated in seventy tongues.’ (Targum Yerhshalmi)

The original Hebrew may have instructed Israel to carve out the words of the law on big billboards- but the subsequent translation/interpretation already understood that the best way to keep the tradition alive – is to risk its translation into vernacular.

Translation, as many of you know, is at the core of my work. As an Israeli now living in the USA, as one born into Orthodox (one way or no way) Judaism and seeking ways of sharing my path with other paths that I encounter on my life’s journey – without diluting or losing the essence of what’s unique to my ancient and specific roadmap – translation looms large and important. Kissing through veils may not be the ideal – but is the real, and an obligation for those of us dealing with ways of making the ancient live, with dignity, in the contemporary world.

In the introduction to the King James Bible- rendering Scriptures in English for the very first time, veils flutter yet again: 'Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place.' (introduction to the King James Bible, 1611)

After the speeches and the dancing (no need to translate “hava nagila”) a double rainbow pierced the skies and we all went outside to ooh and ahh. It was a beautiful sign, a blessing of hope – all the clich├ęs about the colors of the rainbow learning to live together.

So, to the bride and groom, and to all of us on the almost eve of a new Jew year – Mazal Tov! May the planet be aligned for all of us, let luck intervene, and let’s hope for good new, inventive translations, and many, creative kisses.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Homecoming and Hindsight

Maven in Houston, TX
by David Loewy
August 30, 2009

They say (roughly) that you can't be a prophet in your own home town. Unfortunately, that was the gig. This past weekend, I flew down to Houston, Texas, to Congregation Emanu El (where I spent the first 18 years of my life as a congregant), and opened their first day of religious school with a Maven performance of parashat Ki Tavo. Just to lay the scene a little more clearly, 400 plus students (Pre-K to 7th grade), their teachers, TA's, parents, and administrators, all fresh from their summer vacations, ambled into a beautiful cathedral of a sanctuary, and lucky me, it was my task to engage them with the incredible dynamism of Moses's kvetchy memoir, the book of Deuteronomy. To put it mildly, I have had more auspiciously favored circumstances.

In a populist bit of stagecraft, I decided to enter from the congregation to begin the performance, and as I was walking up the aisle to the pulpit and climbed the steps, I had a drastic and lovely sense of deja vu. This was the bima where I was consecrated, became bar mitzvah, had my confirmation, and graduated Hebrew high school. This was the congregation that gave me my first teaching position, hired me as a storyteller, and helped send me to my beloved Jewish summer camp. The roots and signifiers of my personality lay plainly in the walls and in the assembled congregation. Truth be told, it was an effort to concentrate on the performance at that moment.

In Ki Tavo, Moses says to the people that for all they've been through, "G*d has not given you a heart to know or eyes to see or ears to hear until today." And when I first read that line, I thought it terribly rude. It seemed condescending to me to tell people who have experienced such drastic things as the Israelites had that they just didn't get it until now. Nonetheless, there I was, looking at one of the most familiar places in the world to me with a whole new point of view, one that synthesized everything the place had given me and put it in the context of my present self and my continuing pursuits.

My own experience of the performance ended up aligning completely with the central message of the show. The Torah, like my own life story to this point, is written, set fixedly in the parchment, but each time I am prompted to revisit the story, it meets me where I am. With the benefit of hindsight--a heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear--the fixed text takes on new meaning. I must remember to visit again soon.