Monday, October 05, 2009

10 Day High Holiday Residency in California

By Naamah Harris

Now, we all know the Torah says rain is a blessing, but it was an absolute pleasure being out in sunny Los Angeles with Naomi Less for Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur and all the days in between. Naomi and I had one of the best, craziest, (longest) and most rewarding gigs ever! We had the privilege of doing a ten day residency at Valley Beth Shalom, in Encino, California, where we were able to work with many facets

of their “all-in-one” synagogue; this included the youth programs, the day school, the Hebrew School, as well as their clergy, educators and congregants.

We started off the first day of Rosh Hashana by doing...well, what else...storytelling!! In “Child’s Play,” a Maven based on Parashat Vayera, we focus on the rift that happens between Sarah and Hagar, and how our interpretation of their story is only one of many. We come to recognize the difference between truth, lies and myths and how these stories that are told over and over, year after year, change depending on the storyteller. We must be open to all tellings and recognize that our version is not necessarily the only one.

We kicked off the second day by doing a production of “Like A Prayer,” a fully staged Storahtelling show, that focuses on the different ways and places in which we can connect with God. We shared the stories of Sarah, Hagar, Chana, and Aaron, and how they each found their own way of praying to God, through laughter, crying, pleading and even finding secret, special places to pray.

Throughout the week we had the opportunity to run several workshops for the Hebrew School, the Day School and even an educators’ workshop, lead by Naomi Less, Storahtelling’s Director of Education and Training, in addition to several performances of “Like A Prayer.” We concluded our time at Valley Beth Shalom with a Maven for Yom Kippur called “Innermost,” based on Parashat Acharei Mot, that deals with the responsibilities of the High Priest and what he must do in order to erase the Jewish people’s sins. While we no longer have a High Priest, we suggest to search for people within our communities who fill that role today, as well as figuring out what we can do as individuals to cleanse ourselves of our wrong doings.

While Naomi and I had many meaningful experiences during our time in L.A., there is one that really stands out in my mind. During the Days of Awe, where we as Jews are working to improve our ways from the previous year and better ourselves and others, Naomi and I had the honor of having Shabbat dinner at Valley Beth Shalom, with people who fight for improvement not only on these ten days but every moment of their lives. These people are members of the Beit T’shuvah community, a Jewish residential treatment center and a full-service congregation, whose vision is to reduce the incidence of addiction and other harmful behaviors through individual and family education, with a focus on Judaism and Jewish values. It was truly inspiring to be around fellow members of our Jewish community who continually have the power and courage to recognize and admit their mistakes, lift themselves up and devote their lives to becoming better people.

People are often so quick to pass judgment on others and exclude anyone who appears to be “different.” Therefore, it was dually inspiring to spend the High Holy Days in a congregation like Valley Beth Shalom, whose clergy and congregants openly and willingly invite and accept members of the community who do not always feel like they have a place in the world. In Judaism we are taught to lead by example, so I would like to extend my gratitude to the members of the Valley Beth Shalom and Beit T’shuvah community for paving an exemplary path for me and others to follow. Thank you and Shanah Tovah!

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