Monday, December 21, 2009

Find the Light in the Night
Blog for Parshat Miketz, performed at 14th Street Y in NYC
by Jon Adam Ross

There was a moment at the beginning of our show, Field of Dreams, when I knew that our audience was fully engaged and ready to go on a journey with us. I was playing ‘Grandpa Judah Maccabee’ and I couldn’t find my hammer (of course it was sticking out of my back pocket). Now as I was spinning around the stage looking for my hammer, many children and adults in the audience started shouting for me to look in my back pocket. One enthusiastic child felt it was his responsibility to grab the hammer out of my pocket and give it to me. It was a kind gesture. But then he wouldn’t let go. For about five minutes, every time I held up the hammer, the little boy would run up to the performance space, and grab the hammer back from me – just as a reminder, I suppose, of who the hero in the audience that found the hammer in the first place really was. Chanukah is a holiday all about heroism; we tell many stories about the bravery of the Maccabees. And yet, I had never made a connection in my head between the Chanukah story and the corresponding narrative in the Torah that we read this week during our festival of lights. But that name for Chanukah, the ‘festival of lights,’ holds the clue.

In Miketz, we hear about Pharaoh’s bad dreams – the ones about the 7 fat cows and the 7 skinny cows, etc. And we hear the tale of how Pharaoh cannot find anyone to satisfactorily translate his dreams into actionable intelligence; that is, until he meets Joseph. Joseph (played in our show by the multi-talented Jewish rock star ShirLaLa - founding company member Shira Kline) not only translates Pharaoh’s dreams for him but gives Pharaoh the gift of en'light'enment. For so long Pharaoh has been unable to sleep through the night – his dark nightmares cursing him to lie awake in bed – staring into even more darkness (not an uplifting situation). But Joseph reveals that 7 years of plenty are on the way, followed by 7 years of famine. And that if Pharaoh can devise a way to take the plenty and make it last 7 more years (kind of like getting oil for a lamp to last 7 more days), then all will be well. A long time ago our ancestors were living through a dark situation themselves: the first winter. It was getting darker and darker as the days were getting shorter, so our ancestors lit a candle, and the next night another candle. For eight whole nights this went on. And they weren’t scared anymore. We can go back even further to God’s first words in the Torah: “Let there be light!” There was only darkness before and God created light to fill the void. Joseph gave that light to Pharaoh, to save all the people in Egypt and the entire region (including his own family). Each time I have the privilege of performing as a Storahtelling maven, I feel that I am being put in Joseph’s position. Just as Joseph translated Pharaoh’s dreams, so I translate the Torah, shedding light on a story that may otherwise seem to dwell in a dark, faraway place that has no relevance or bearing on our lives today. But that sharing of light can happen in our everyday lives too. We ended our show this past Shabbat afternoon by asking people to think about how they might share their light – what wishes they would make on the candlelight of the Chanukah menorah. We have a few more months of winter ahead of us, but hopefully, we can find that light inside ourselves, the light that Joseph shared with Pharaoh, that our ancestors used to scare away the dark, and that God first granted on our new world. As we say goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010, may we all find and share the light that dwells within each of us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2 groups become allies: Storah Telling partners with Educational Alliance
by Judith Messina
Dec. 13, 2009

While most big nonprofits are likely to outlast the grim economy, smaller organizations now have to create new operational models to weather the increasingly tough fundraising environment.
When the recession hit, Storah Telling—a Jewish organization that creates educational programs around Torah stories—was already struggling to raise money as it shifted its mission from performance to education. The implosion of Bernard Madoff's investment empire landed another blow to the tiny nonprofit, killing $500,000 in support from foundations and individuals caught in Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Storah Telling cut its budget by 50% and laid off four people, nearly half its staff, including the director of development.

Fortunately, the organization had a well-heeled ally in the Educational Alliance, with which it had collaborated in the past. The two organizations began to discuss their potential synergies and ended up with a formal partnership while still remaining independent. Today, Storah Telling has its headquarters at the Educational Alliance's 14th Street Y, saving it $65,000 annually in rent. It gets office, training and rehearsal space, while the Y gets staff training and programs for its early childhood education center.

“We're calling it a strategic alliance,” says Storah Telling founder and Executive Director Amichai Lau-Lavie. “It should be seen as a model [for others].”

"Storahtelling" Brings Torah to Theatrical Life in Tampa Bay
by Jon Adam Ross
Dec. 15, 2009

Widely acclaimed Jewish theatre artist Jon Adam Ross will bring Torah to life this weekend through “Storahtelling” at Congregation Rodeph Sholom and Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, as well as Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater. Through storytelling, character pieces and dramatic performance, Ross will tell the story about Joseph and Pharaoh's dreams (Parsha Miketz) at all three congregations.

Ross, a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, is a founding company member of Storahtelling, which makes ancient stories and traditions accessible for new generations through dramatic performance.

“I’ll be bringing theater into the sanctuary – providing a tool for accessing the text of the Torah,” said Ross. “A lot of people feel a disconnect between the ritual of reading Torah and their own lives. Prayer is personal, but this is a world we don’t identify with. Storahtelling tries to bridge that gap -performance gives you permission to access and own the stories of our tradition. You're no longer just looking at a book of text in your lap. You're actively engaged in the story.”

Ross also travels the country teaching Jewish educators how to use Storahtelling techniques with their students, and he will be teaching those techniques to Tampa Bay Jewish educators during a special training session this weekend as well. He estimates that more than 50 synagogues around the country have embraced Storahtelling techniques in their classrooms and services.

“A generation from now, kids learning through Storahtelling today can become people who do this as part of congregational life,” Ross said.

Congregation Beth Am is one of the local congregations welcoming Ross.

“Our job as Jewish leaders and Jewish educators is to try to make the Torah come alive, to show that it's not just an old book of stories, but a sacred book which helps us understand our own stories, and our own lives,” said Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of Congregation Beth Am. “Storahtelling has been building a reputation as masters of just that. They build Jewish identity and knowledge through hands-on, fun, interactive, creative programs.”

“It’s about engaging the congregation,” said Judy Van Der Stelt, the Director of Education for Congregation Rodeph Sholom, which is also welcoming Ross to its sanctuary. “I’m so excited for our community to experience Storahtelling because it’s visible, it’s auditory, and it’s live. Just like going to the theater.”

Amichai Lau-Lavie, who founded Storahtelling in 1999, believes that Storahtelling events translate the Jewish legacy into accessible, exciting conversations, connecting Jews of all ages and backgrounds to the core values of Judaism.

”Storahtelling bridges the gap between modern Jews and ancient Judaism by focusing on the essential building blocks of Jewish identity: the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and the rituals that honor these inherited stories and enable us to wrestle with their modern meaning,” said Lau-Lavie.

Ross is currently on tour with his new solo show, "G-d of Our Fathers," in which he plays all the members of a fictional Jewish family living through a generation of assimilation. And he has performed his first solo show, "Walking in Memphis: The Life of a Southern Jew," Off-Broadway and around the globe.

For more information about Ross and Storahtelling, please visit and

-LMPK staff

To view the original article, click here

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

“Harmful Side Effects May Occur” Maven in Fanwood, NJ
By Vicky Glikin

How lucky can a girl get? Not only did I have the opportunity to write and perform my very first start-to-finish show with a terrific partner, fellow cantorial student Joshua Breitzer, but we also got to perform the show twice! 2 for the price of 1 = AWESOME. Our Maven for Parsha Toldot “Harmful Side Effects May Occur” first premiered on Monday, November 16 at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC). On Friday November 20, Joshua and I brought the same show to Temple Sholom in Fanwood, NJ, a 230 family Reform congregation where I serve as the Student Cantor.

As you might have read in Joshua’s reflection on our HUC performance, our Maven centered on a restless Jacob the night before he reunited with Esau. The bullseye: how can we take care of our loved ones while pursuing our individual visions? While the show was written specifically for the HUC community, Joshua and I kept the audience of Temple Sholom in mind throughout our creative process. Originally, we played with the idea of having different bullseye questions for the two communities. However, in the end we decided that the same bullseye would be relevant and enticing to both communities. Thus, with the exception of minor details, such as the examples we provided for calling up the aliyot, we performed an almost identical show twice. Or, did we?

While the show was basically the same both times, the experience of doing it twice demonstrated to me that the Mavens (or, Mavens-In-Training in our case) write and perform the show, but it is ultimately the members of the audience who morph and shape the tale into its final form. While we guide the stretch and provide pointers for the direction of the conversation, the overall affect of the stretch and the show itself are hinged on the goodwill, investment, and creativity of the audience. Thus, the show and the lessons gathered from it by the audience were different at Temple Sholom than they had been just a couple of days earlier at HUC. Some of the pleasant surprises from the Temple Sholom performance included the unabashed participation from about ten sixth graders, who were present at the performance, as well as the very deep insights from the adult audience members. Regardless of age, most of the audience members were experiencing Storahtelling for the first time and they absolutely loved experiencing Torah in such an exciting new way. What an honor to be a part of their first such journey and discovery!

Mavens-in-the-Making at Hebrew Union College: Last Minute Tweaks
By Josh Breitzer

On Monday, November 16, Vicky Glikin and I had the wonderful opportunity to present a Maven for our classmates and teachers at Hebrew Union College in New York during that morning's t'filah. Our take on Parashat Toldot, "Harmful Side Effects May Occur," centers on a restless Jacob the night before reuniting with Esau. He recalls his early childhood, how he craved his father's attention and how unappreciated he felt, and ultimately relives the infamous birthright purchase, knowing that he must face Esau in the morning for the first time in years. The bullseye: how do we take care of those close to us while in pursuit of our individual dreams? We were blessed with the support of the HUC administration, some extremely generous sh'lichei tzibbur (one of whom was a fellow Maven-in-the-Making), and the presence of our friend and teacher Jake Goodman. None of us anticipated the presence of a large group of visiting out-of-state synagogue delegates, but we relished the opportunity to include our surprise guests in the maven. They participated eagerly in the aliyot and in the stretch, contributing as much as (if not more than) the resident HUC community.

One thing that surprised me during the rehearsal process was that despite all the hours we had set aside, we were still tweaking the show right up until that very morning. While I was never really able to divorce myself from the script, I still found opportunities to "play" within the characterization of Jacob, improvising whenever the moment seemed to allow for it. We also had to improvise when the sh'lichei tzibbur moved right from returning the Torah to the 'Aleinu, skipping right over our chatimah. Fortunately, some split-second communication allowed for us to offer the chatimah before the Mourners' Kaddish. I was very grateful to have worked with such flexible service leaders, and came away from the experience even more certain of the need for good communication - before, during, and after the maven!