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.

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