Friday, December 17, 2010

10th of Tevet

Last night I chanted the kaddish prayer for the dead, standing at the
intersection of Ocean Parkway and 18th Avneue in Brooklyn. A few dozen
of us huddled together, queer and not, Jewish and not, at the Queer
Rising rally aimed at stopping hatred towards LGBT members of the
Jewish community. The area where we had been marching and were now
chanting is where many of the Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox rabbis who
regularly rail against the abomination of the queer lifestyle are
living and preaching. But we didn't come to protest. We came to pray.
I was holding a memorial candle, lit tonight as it is done every year
in my Orthodox family's home on this Jewish date, The Tenth of Tevet.
honoring the memory of those who died in the Holocaust for whom there
is no grave or date of death. There are millions such victims of
racism and hate, my Grandmother among them.  These victims are unburied but not
forgotten. I said the kaddish for her tonight on Ocean Parkway,
lit the candle with her memory in mind, but stood there in Brooklyn
moored in the here and now: proud and loud, cold but warm with the
knowledge that here we are, a bunch of crazy, freezing people saying
yes to the deepest values of human dignity and worth, saying no to
hate, yes to trust, lighting up the night with flickers of stubborn
hope that more of us will walk the big talk and make it matter more
in the name of all of who ever suffered indignation and hate: never,
never again.

Bravo to Jake Goodman of Queer Rising for making tonight happen. Proud
and loud, over and out. Memories turned into blessing.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The 10th of Tevet: A Different Meaning ("In God's Name" on December 16th)

Click here to view a short video from Storahtelling Founder and Executive Director Amichai Lau-Lavie explains the significance of The 10th of Tevet / National Remembrance Day and offers a passionate call to action for everybody to join Queer Rising on tomorrow, December 16th for "In God's Name," to condemn anti-LGBT rhetoric that is spoken "in God's name," by fringe Jewish leaders.

For more info, visit Queer Rising's website.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vayishlach Maven in Louisville, KY

By Jonathan Bubis

I have to say, the gig Deanna Neil and I had in Kentucky just kept on shinin’. At Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Louisville, Dee and I did a Setting the Stage/Workshop on Friday night, and a Maven on Saturday morning. On Friday we had about forty people, half of whom were from a church and had never been to a synagogue before! It seemed that the particpants were highly engaged as many of the churchgoers returned the next day to see the Maven in action. One highlight for everyone during the Maven, especially the kids, was the part where Jacob wrestled the angel. Dee and I decided to choreograph a live-action “fight” scene, interspersed with abstract, slow motion representations of Jacob’s past that come to haunt him while he is wrestling. This struggle reflected the subsequent stretch, which was all about whether or not people have the ability to change. Can we change our actions and personality? Or do our inherent natures and past experiences always creep back up on us?

This theme of confronting our past couldn’t have been more fitting for me at that moment. My whole family had just started watching family videos that had recently been converted to DVDs. In addition to providing a LOT of laughs, they were also profoundly enlightening about who my cousins and I were as children. I realized that I am still very much the same person. In some ways that is comforting, but in others it’s kind of troubling. Can I ever shake the quirks and shortcomings I’ve had since I was a kid? In the end, I found solace in the story of Jacob, who, once ashamed of his past, was able to make the changes he wanted to see for himself, and cultivate his new identity as a wrestler of God.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Judah the Maccabee’s Menorah
“Three Times the Judy”

By Isadore “Alex/Judy the Maccabee” Wolfson

“Light the Night Tonight!” This is the sound that echoed through the halls of the JCC Manhattan, the 14th Street Y, and the Bergen County Solomon Schecter over the weekend. Naamah Harris and I decided that the best way to relay our message to the children of the tri-state area was to do three back-to-back shows, complete with Judy the Maccabee’s big blue head at the helm. The theme of our show was light vs. dark, with a lovely “working together” bullseye.

We downplayed the part of the Channukah story that included war and conflict to make room for a healthy dose of “lighting the night tonight.” Judy the Maccabee, Judah’s sister helped to teach around 400 parents and kids this weekend embrace the idea of fighting the darkness with light. A big part of the story we told involved a brother and a sister fighting and separating themselves from one another, and thus, separating the candles from the menorah. Through the story, we helped the kids embrace the idea of working together both because a brother and a sister SHOULD but also because the menorah and the candles “work together.” In order to find the light and fight the dark, we need to put the candles INSIDE the menorah.

The thing that I love most about these StorahSteps shows is that we really have fun while (usually) very cleverly inserting lessons about Torah, Judaism, and most importantly, LIFE. The kids at all three shows really seemed to connect to the story and to Judy. We really have such an opportunity with this age group to incorporate Jewish ideals into their everyday lives.
All in all, Naamah and I had a great time with the show and with all three audiences. And remember, when you’re lighting your menorahs for these last days of Channukah, let the light shine brightly. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Missed your chance to see Judy at the crew this past weekend? Light up the night post-Chanukah at 11AM at the Kings Bay Y, 3495 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11229. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010



Got a Light?- Winter Wish from Storahtelling from storahtelling on Vimeo.

StorahSteps Chanukah Kid Vid

Meet Judy the Maccabee to find out the reason for the Chanukah Season.

Enjoy Storahtelling's new KID VID for the preschooler in all of us.

Light Up the Night and Go Chanukah!

StorahSteps Chanukah Video 2010 from storahtelling on Vimeo.

"My Brother's Keeper"
Vayeshev in Minneapolis
by Naomi Less

This past Friday night, during a most warm, inviting Kabbalat Shabbat Service at Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis, I was invited to present "My Brother's Keeper" - a mini-Maven program exploring just three verses of the famous Joseph chronicles. Rabbi Michael Latz and his community were true to their tagline on their website, " A congregation welcoming all, embracing diversity, and seeking to make the world more whole," as evidenced by the deep, thoughtful and heart-opening responses and reactions to the infamous narrative of mob-mentality, murder plots and devaluing human life.

We explored together the long lineage this Genesis family has with sibling conflict - seems to be in the DNA. But that generation of siblings really took the cake, or shall we say, took the pita. Verse 20 says: "Now, come, let us slay him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say: An evil beast hath devoured him; and we shall see what will become of his dreams."

The brothers speak in one voice - no one brother is designated as the leader of this charge - it smells like "mob-mentality" and it's something that is clearly relevant today. When we lose individual voices, when we lose the sense of responsibility to speak up with dissent against what clearly is an injustice, we are accountable and we are accomplices. Especially in today's "bullying" climate - who will step up and say "Shed no blood" like Reuben finally did?

My Brother's Keeper created by Naomi Less with Jon Adam Ross and Amichai Lau-Lavie

Rebecca's Well at the Marks JCH in Bensonhurst
by Michael Bradley Cohen

On a bright, cold Sunday out in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn a little magic was happening early in the morning. Michael Bradley Cohen and Jessica Bay Blyweiss (with a little help from a very special StorahPuppet) brought to life the story of Rebecca's Well; a journey that brings Eliezer, Abraham's servant, to the outskirts of Nahor in search of a perfect match, a best friend for Abraham's one and only son, Isaac.

Through StorahSteps, child and adult participants alike get to illustrate and color the StorahSteps Torah! After drawing the many things we find in the desert, the Torah came on stage, and Eliezer dragged his ten camels of different colors through the desert of everyone's imagination to the well...the possibly magical wishing well. At the well, the children in the audience helped Eliezer figure out what makes a good friend so that he could more easily find the right best friend for Isaac. Rebecca finally arrived to let them know that all of their ideas of a good friend could be summed up in one Hebrew word, "Chesed," which means kindness. Together, audience and actors all found out what it meant to wish for what they want as well as to wish with "Chesed" for someone else.

The journery of wishing continued until Eliezer realized that all he was wishing for was right under his nose. Rebecca's chesed toward Eliezer and his ten camels of different colors was exactly what he was looking for. He had found the perfect match for Isaac. All the kids that spent this hour with StorahSteps showed great chesed by participating throughout the show with singing, dancing and watering of camels. They also opened their hearts to the idea of chesed and becoming a good friend.

As an actor and a StorahSteps Maven, it is always the greatest reward to bring these shows to children. To see them participate, to engage with them playfully and meaningfully is always the greatest reward of being on stage. It was especially rewarding this last performance because of the unique community and context we were performing in. In a primarily Russian speaking community, we performers were curious what language barriers might impede the Storahtelling experience. However, we found that the more we played with them, the more the audience (kids and adults) joined with us bridging any language gaps. At one moment in the show when we introduce the Hedrew word "Chesed" for "kindness", we taught the audience the word and then reminded them that every language has a word for "kindness" because it is universal. I think that best sums up the universality of what we do with StorahSteps.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Man in the Mirror Wrestles with Cleveland
By Judith Schiller

Parshat Vayishlach got folks talking about Jacob’s wrestling match at Congregation Bethaynu in Cleveland OH two weeks ago. On Shabbat morning, students of varying ages and their parents participated in a family education program that included creating context and engaging text exploration through tableau work of the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, followed by a Storahtelling-style service.

The Storahtelling was based on a script that Jesse Freedman and I developed two years ago. Translation and drash was done through the characters of a very anxious Jacob struggling with inner turmoil and his BFF- (Best Friend Forever) aka the angel, trying to persuade Jacob to talk out his issues, and actively wrestle with his guilt over his relationship with his brother Esau. In addition, a narrator-storyteller helped anchor the flow of the story. Friends from the synagogue joined me in performing the Storah-service. We incorporated a Capoira-like movement piece to show the “wrestling.”

After the second aliyah, we opened up discussion focusing on the question: “What do you do when you mess up and can’t change what happened?” We invited the congregation to explore how each of us handles guilt over things we’ve done to others, and how we can repair relationships that have been damaged from those regrettable actions. The congregation was given some time to talk among themselves about the issue of repairing hurts and ill feelings we may have caused or experienced, and then were asked to share with Jacob how he could do teshuva (repentence) with his brother Esau. While there are many ways to open up a congregation to contemporary conversation, this particular technique (bet midrash) was very fruitful in getting families to “talk Torah” with each other and their fellow congregants. After allowing them about 5 minutes of discussion warm-up, they were prepared to share their advice with Jacob: “Admit you were wrong… apologize… give back his blessing… give him gifts… acknowledge what he did for the family…”

One thoughtful response was that Jacob could make amends with Esau, but his aching hip would always remind him his wrongful behavior .

A few more lives were changed in Cleveland Ohio.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

REBECCA'S WELL at the 14th Street Y

This Sunday was well...well...weeeellllll...well, a lot of fun to say the least. During StorahSteps at the 14th st Y, Michael Bradley Cohen and Jessica Bay Blyweiss, with a little help from the StorahPuppet, brought to life the story of Rebecca's Well, a journey that brings Eliezer, Abraham's servant, to the outskirts of Nahor in search of a wife, a perfect match, a best friend for Abraham's only son, Isaac.

At StorahSteps, participants get to illustrate the StorahSteps Torah! After drawing the many things we find in the desert, the Torah came on stage, and Eliezer dragged on his ten camels of different colors through the desert of everyone's imagination to the well...the possibly magical wishing well. At the well, the children in the audience helped Eliezer figure out what makes a good friend so that he may more easily find the right best friend for Isaac. Rebecca finally arrived to let them know that all their ideas of a good friend could be summed up in one Hebrew word, "Chesed," which means loving kindness.

The journery of wishing continued until Eliezer realized that all he was wishing for was right under his nose. Rebecca's chesed toward Eliezer and his ten camels of different colors was exactly what he was looking for. He had found the perfect match for Isaac. All the kids that spent this hour with StorahSteps showed great chesed by participating throughout the show with singing, dancing and watering of camels. They also opened their hearts to the idea of chesed and becoming a good friend.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Oct 15-16
Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple - 5th Grade Shabbaton at Camp Wise, Chardon Ohio
Parshat Lech Lecha- Go Forth and Be a Blessing

Abraham has a big challenge on his hands. His new assignment to be the leader of a nation is stressing him- that along with a major pack-up as he prepares for his journey to a new place that God will show him. He turns to a group of 5th graders who are exploring what it means to be a Kehila Kedosha (holy community), for advice about being a leader.

This was the focus of a recent mini-maven for a Fairmount Temple 5th grade retreat. I wrote the script and directed the Maven, in the character of Abraham (played by a staff member who loves Storahtelling). He opened with his monologue about feeling a bit overwhelmed, followed by an abbreviated “Welcome to this Storahtelling-style service” intro; translation of 3 verses of one aliyah, and then an interactive piece. Audience interaction was done as a small group activity in which the participants sorted out words on cards relating to qualities of leadership ( e.g.-integrity, dedication, values others, humility, openness, etc.) and a set of cards related to Jewish values. Their task was to get consensus on the top 3 leadership qualities and top 2 values for Abraham to focus on, as he goes forth. They then reported back to Abraham.

The results were great. This process was in sync with their Kehila theme. The kids were all involved and had a chance to share their thoughts. It was a more productive way to handle a “stretch” that the popcorn-style audience response. This structure worked well for this age group, and still retained the magic of the maven experience.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Teen Workshop in Northern Westchester with Jon Adam Ross

There are two traditions I love about Shabbat. One is the reading of Torah, the other is the bagels and tuna salad served after we read from the Torah. Now you can imagine my excitement that I got to do both on a Wednesday night! Sara Beth Berman, Storahtelling's Associate Director, and I drove up to the JCC in Yorktown, New York for a Storah workshop with over 50 high school students from 4 different area synagogues. And it was so much fun! We began, of course, with a traditional Jewish dinner - Bagels, tuna salad, egg salad, and shmoozing. After we ate, we moved into the JCC nursery room where we moved the baby furniture out of the way and began our exploration of the Torah using the tools of the Storahtelling Maven method. The parsha this past week was Lech L'cha and with the help of Naomi Less, I was able to prepare a workshop for the teens that explored a part of the Torah that most kids do not know much about. Over the course of the workshop, the students - split into 6 groups - each took turns creating their own translations and stepping into the maven role to give a fresh perspective on Avram's journey from his family to the land of Canaan where he would begin to build a family and a nation. In Breishit chapter 12 verse 3, God tells Avram, "I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse." And I feel confident when I say the students camp up with the most creative blessings and curses imaginable. One student would come to Avram and curse him, and then God would come by and top that curse with an even more unimaginable fate such as: "You will have to eat sand and only sand for as long as you live - and you can never brush your teeth!" It was good stuff. It was also great to see our old Storahtelling friend (and former Development Director) Nicole Nevarez who is now the Director of Jewish Life at the JCC in Yorktown! When taking Storahtelling on the road, it's always nice to see a member of the storah family. All in all, a great night!

Bible, Interrupted
Amichai's NY Lecture @ Faith House

Can the oldest tool for transmission of sacred scriptures serve as a bridge between religions?

Faith House Manhattan - Living Room Gatherings
Twice a month, Faith House hosts LIVING ROOM gatherings where we share holy days, learn new spiritual practices, and address current cultural and social issues. Amichai Lau-Lavie is our guest teacher in October.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
6 pm Doors, 7 pm Program

Intersections, 274 5th Ave
Btwn 29th and 30th Sts

2,500 years ago, in front of Jerusalem's Water Gate, the Bible was first presented as a publicly performed sacred narrative. Amichai Lau-Lavie, Judaic scholar, performance artist and the founder and director of the NY based Storahtelling Company, leads an exploration of this historic moment through text study and conversation, examining the radical implications of this ancient ritual for today's global search for meaningful ways of making our sacred legacies relevant, accessible, engaging and transformational.

RSVPs welcome, but not required, on Facebook and MeetUp.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An Apple a Day
Kesher Israel with Mavens Daliya Karnofsky and Shawn Shafner

During the first weekend in October, Shawn Shafner and I went to West Chester, Pennsylvania to perform Parshat Bereishit: An Apple A Day. We played Adam and the Serpent and investigated that crucial moment when Eve bites the apple and Adam goes with her. Kesher Israel was a fascinating place to have this discussion. As someone from a small Midwestern town with an almost non-existent Jewish population, I wasn't expecting the impassioned, active, articulate congregation we found in this obscure location. Their Jewish community was small, but thriving. All of the congregation joined us for our Maven, and all seemed to enjoy it. There were two rows in the sanctuary reserved for the Junior Congregation, and I was a expecting two rows of bored, irritated, apathetic teens. This was not the case at all. First of all, the Junior Congregation was much younger than anticipated. This made me extremely nervous. I wasn't sure our Maven was appropriate, not just content-wise but idea-wise. What would happen when we tried to have a discussion about Good vs. Evil, and just who was responsible for this crucial moment in our history? Would we be able to capture and keep their attention? I'd say the age range was from six years old up to twelve. Add to that a handful of teenagers and a lot of discussion-hungry adults, and we had quite the audience to please.

Fortunately, everything went swimmingly. Everyone was captivated immediately. I credit us, the performers, somewhat, but also just the genuine thirst for knowledge so felt in this community. Six year olds and adults participated alike in our discussion, and all provided thoughtful, insightful comments. Afterwards, the teens were saying how much they wished Storahtelling could come every week, and the adults were wondering how they could learn to do it for themselves. This is exactly the response we hope for at Storahtelling, as educators and performers. It's the old "teach a man to fish" adage, and it feels so good when that is exactly the effect we have. Sure, the teens would just love a "less boring" service every week and so they love the idea of bringing in real live New York actors for their entertainment, but this community was left wanting more than just that. Across the board, they wanted to do it for themselves. So captivated were they, not just with what they had learned but how they had witnessed while we learned with them in the performing and discussing of it. There is no higher form of flattery than imitation. And we could all learn something from imitatiing the Kesher Israel population as well.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Scapegoat: Leaving Blame Behind
by Charna Rosenholtz

Congregation Nevei Kodesh, a renewal shul in Boulder Colorado, is under the leadership of senior Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, and assistant Rabbi Aviva Bass. Teen programming was held this year and taught by Maggid Charna Rosenholtz, where she led them in a Storahtelling program for post bar and bat mitzvah kids. In our exploration of the first Yom Kippur we explored sacrifice as a purification ritual and what the modern ways to fulfill this ancient practice are.

Our Storahtelling questions, designed to help the teens relate to the story, also explored the different perspectives of the High Priest, person leading the goat to the wilderness, and the goat himself! As the kids expanded their points of view, they gleaned that there was more to the story than first met the eye. There were many inventive goat stories, of how it felt to carry the burden of a larger community. One girl was angry, another felt the honor yet was sad to be dying. The morning culminated with one boy realizing that prayer may be the best way to exchange giving something up, without sacrificing a goat, or any other animal. The teens were all fully engaged and enthusiastic in their exploration of the first Yom Kippur.

High Holidays 5771 in Sonoma, CA
by Rabbi Irwin Keller

Congregation Ner Shalom in the heart of Sonoma County held Northern California's first Storahtelling over the holy days, led by Reb Irwin Keller, the congregation's spiritual leader. On Rosh Hashanah, Hagar came to life and the congregation explored what it feels like to be made nameless, and what happens when individuals or groups in our culture are rendered invisible or anonymous. This Storahtelling featured Ner Shalom's chantleader, Ellen Atzilah Solot.

On Yom Kippur, we had a most unusual maven - a goat, one awaiting determination of whether he'd be offered up in the Temple or sent into exile to the Wilderness of Azazel. The goat-maven, complete with a rather unsettling set of horns, led discussion on the two components of atonement that Torah seems to suggest: offering up and letting go. Even in our post-goat era, there is magic in pairing these two kinds of practices - the letting go (meditation, prayer, song, exercise?) and the offering up (community service, acts of kindness, a sense of surrender).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sara S. Lee Seminar Provokes Thought about Tradition and Innovation
by News at HUC-JIR
HUCNews, September 16, 2010

On September 12-13, 2010, over 30 students, faculty, and alumni of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education (RHSOE) gathered at the Steve Breuer Conference Center in Malibu for the Sara S. Lee Seminar. This bi-annual event was developed and funded by the RHSOE Alumni Association in honor of Professor Sara S. Lee, the long-time Director of the school. In addition to the spiritual and intellectual stimulation, the gathering afforded the participants the opportunity to deepen the sense of community among the various constituencies of the RHSOE.

This year renowned Jewish educator Amichai Lau-Lavie, creator of Storahtelling, engaged the participants in a thought provoking exploration about how to re-envision the traditional Torah Service and by extension Torah study.

According to Lau- Lavie, “Storahtelling makes story matter again. Using an innovative fusion of scholarship, storytelling, performing arts and new media, our programs reclaim the narratives and traditions that define Jewish life yet have failed to adapt to modern times.”

Lau-Lavie facilitated a variety of sessions that come from his Storahtelling Program. The group participated in a “Biblical Cocktail Hour,” text study about the history and tradition of Torah translation and interpretation, and a Storahtelling-style Torah Service. Lau-Lavie challenged the group to consider innovative and creative methods to engage adults and children in Torah study that will result in greater interest in and connection to Torah which he strongly believes will ultimately strengthen Jewish Identity.

Comments from participants ranged from how much they enjoyed the creative methods and discussions facilitated by Lau-Lavie to how much they appreciated the time they spent bonding as a community in the beautiful Malibu setting.

click here to view the article

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Check out Amichai's interview with Paul VanDeCarr on his blog and podcast about the many forms of storytelling.

click here to see the video and read the blog

Monday, September 20, 2010

A High Holidays experience with Mavens Annie Levy and Melissa Zimmerman

This past Yom Kippur, Melissa Zimmerman and I returned to Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ, to wrestle with the challenge of bringing an authentic Maven ritual to a multi-generational audience that explored the meaning of Yom Kippur, not exactly the most family friendly of Jewish Holidays.

Traveling with Shawn Shafner and Emily Warshaw, who had facilitated a Maven ritual for the family services at Emanu-El on Rosh Hashana, while Melissa and I led workshops for the Temple’s religious school, Melissa and I went over our lines and expressed our anxieties about the impending performance: Had we found the right tone to explore the meaning of the day that would still be engaging for families? Would hearing the details of how Yom Kippur used to be practiced be scary for young children? Is Yom Kippur the one day of the year where people prefer to not know exactly what’s being said in the Hebrew?

Our Maven ritual dealt with the preparations that the High Priest had to go through in order to safety and successfully enter the Holy of Holies and pray for a good year on behalf of all entire community. Asking the congregation to time travel with us back thousands of years to the days of the temple in Jerusalem, the congregation found themselves as High Priest studies Majors at “Kedoshim University,”classmates of Tzair, a young “HP” in training (played by Melissa) on the first day of class with Professor Zaken (played by yours truly). This teacher/student character dynamic in our Maven ritual we hoped would set us up for many opportunities for “teachable moments” as, we explored what it logistically meant to enter Holy Of Holies -- the rules, the costume, the scapegoat ritual and the many many many animal sacrifices -- all of which are absent in the way that Yom Kippur is practiced today. We don’t even have a High Priest!

After the first two aliyot, during the stretch, I pointed out the distance between the ways that Yom Kippur had been laid out for the High Priest and our practices now and asked the congregation how they bridged the gap. One of the youngest participants pointed out that all of the tasks the High Priest was charged with back in the days of the Temple are now our responsibilities, that we are now the High Priests. It was one of those perfect moments of “Ah-ha! Yes they are with us,” as this was where we were hopping the conversation would go, allowing us to organically take the Maven ritual to a place were we could point out that there is a High Priest within each of us and the Holy of Holies is no longer an actual location only to be entered by the Highest of the community, but a place within each of us that we access when we allow ourselves to do the work.

At the end of the ritual, the women whose daughter had pointed out that we are all our own HPs came up to us to share her own “Ah-ha!” moment where she saw the connection between past practices and present day rituals because of what her daughter had said about each of us being a High Priest. Now that’s a teachable moment.

Telling the ‘Storah,’ starting anew at the water
by Tequila Minsky

A Rosh Hashana worship by the group Storahtelling offered a Torah interpretation with a theatrical twist at City Winery in Hudson Square. Founded by Amichai Lau-Lavie, at far right in photo at right, who led the event at the Varick St. wine mecca, Storahtelling mixes Judaism with the arts and new media. The ark holding the Torah at the service was made from a wine barrel by Michael Dorf, the winery’s owner.

The story was told of Abraham, the first Jew, and his wife Sarah, and the dilemma of the expulsion of the Egyptian handmaiden Hagar, who bore Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, “the father of Islam.”

There was prayer, lots of music and calling groups up to the Torah — including those with new beginnings, those who have ended something and those who could face truth in storytelling. There was commentary about the world and people’s connection to the Jewish new year. The traditional shofar was blown, marking the new year, at right.

The house was packed. There were kids from infants to teens; the older ones had the option of joining children’s activities during the three-hour event, returning to join the main crowd at the end.

It was perhaps not a “service” for everyone craving traditional methods. The words of prayers and songs were projected on screens, in Hebrew, transliteration and translation.

Afterward, the ritual of tashlich was observed, where last year’s sins are symbolically cast off by throwing bits of bread into the water — as the woman below at right did on the Greenwich Village waterfront.

click here to view the original article!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

PREPENT5771 Day 41 9.19 AFTER

High Holy Days Journey with Amichai Lau-Lavie: 40 ways in 40 days to find your focus

Did I find my focus?

The 40th day was an exercise in focus, in really being present. Barefoot, in white clothes, wrapped in a large talit, surrounded by friends old and new, lifted by the music, by our singing, by memories, by intention, by the responsibility of being fully in the moment, for making the ritual alive.

During the afternoon break we head down to the Hudson River, strolling in the sun. On the pier a discarded single page torn from a paperback. I pick it up:

“You ARE there.

He scanned the lobby with its thousands of hurrying commuters and summer vacation travelers. Not one of them had a clue about his or her mortal condition at that moment. People never seemed to believe that something horrible could actually happen to them.”

That seemed auspicious. I too the page along and included it in my afternoon study which I had previously titled ‘you are t/here’.

We opened the books of legends and peeked into the original, lesser known, of this day – the 40th day of waiting, upon which Moses finally came down from Sinai, for the second time post golden calf - with the second set of ten commandments. “Moses wept an the people wept, with regret and with joy,” writes the Midrash – “and for that weeping, this day will be a day of weeping and joy for all generations.” This legend makes Yom Kippur to be the primal day of second chances, of possible re-commitment to a life lived more cleanly, more focused, more whole.

We wept with the people and Moses as he walked down the mountain, and then the sun set on the 40th day of our yearnings, and gates opened and closed, and shofars were blown, and the journey was over.

Now what?

Now it’s the day after and the journey is over, and the book of life is sealed, and the New Year has begun, and there’s always a low after a high, and all that stuff that was postponed till after the holidays and post summer is really to be dealt with, --- but easy on the anxiety. Fresh down from the mountains of the sacred, still charged – with hope to keep up better focus, energy, good will, clarity all year round.

And now pause, sun setting again: Give thanks to the journey, to all of you who journey along, to the gifts and teachings and inner growth and hard questions and new friends and habits that these 40 days of awareness have given many of us in many different ways.

So how happy are you on the scale of 1-10? That was the question that triggered my process, started this journey.

But maybe the question next year will be – how focused are you on the scale of 1-10. And then again who knows what next year brings.

This journey was helpful to get me more focused on this process of return – and helpful to have more focused for the year ahead. I think I’ll do it again next year. What do you think? Any suggestions, ideas for improvements or changes?

And for that matter – dear reader, and with thanks to the few of you who already wrote heartwarming notes – I’d be very appreciative of any feedback at all. A cup of tea even. More precious conversation.

This email list will be now deactivated. If you'd like to keep getting emails from me and updates about my next blog series - please join Storahtelling's mailing list - right on our homepage

heres to a year of finding more focus.

Zoom out. Shana Tova.


Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas as we move forward and, as always, you may find more information about our High Holy Day services by visiting,


Friday, September 17, 2010

PREPENT5771 Day 39 9.17 OPEN WIDE

High Holy Days Journey with Amichai Lau-Lavie: 40 ways in 40 days to find your focus

I cleaned up my home last night and this morning took out a giant bag of trash. As I left the house I took a look at the big trash can in my kitchen, all empty now, new trash bag gleaming empty and waiting for business.

This, I thought, is what today feels like, and what, maybe, tomorrow night will really feel like it: Done my work, got rid of a lot of psychic personal trash – and now ready for more, and, maybe less.


Ready for WHAT?

For being more open, present, doing this work of reflection, and asking for help on this journey, with this sacred delicate personal work of return.

Ask for help from whom?

From friends who are willing to listen, or hold my hand, or stand my tears, or give me honest feedback and a hug when I need it during these next few days, and always, after.

Ask help from the great loving power we sometimes call life, or universe, or soul or god.

Today it’s about being open to this possibility of getting help, of aligning my will for improvement, for tikkun, with the cosmic powers that desire same – that push for change, for better, whatever better looks like – and we may never quite know.

This is not about an appeal to a god of mercy and compassion who takes away pain. No. I’m not sure about THAT version of the divine.

This is about appealing for help, guidance, and presence from the mystery of creation in whose image I am created, as is all of creation itself.

Open up for the possibility of something greater and grander than self.

And open up to the possibility of positive change, step by small step. Doable, simple, small steps for inner change, happiness, presence in the world, more better.

One of my favorite Biblical verses, from the Song of Songs, is a dialogue between lovers. Open to me, one says, let me in.

The sages made the Eros into spiritual metaphore:

“Open to me: The Holy One Blessed be said to Israel: My children, open to me an opening of return, as small as the eye of the needle, and I will open to you openings wide enough for carriages and wagons to drive through.”

Tonight, open up your heart, just a tiny bit to let love in, and gratitude, and honesty, and a plea for help in helping all of us make this thing called life so much better.

See what happens.

Gmar Chatima Tova.

We are t/here now.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas as we move forward and, as always, you may find more information about our High Holy Day services by visiting,


Thursday, September 16, 2010

PREPENT5771 Day 38 9.16 Focus

High Holy Days Journey with Amichai Lau-Lavie: 40 ways in 40 days to find your focus

What’s left to examine on this last night before arrival?

Be cheerful. What an insane habit is this of groping always into the past months, and scraping together every little pitiful instance of awkwardness and misfortune, and keeping my nervous system ever on the rack. (Emerson)

I think Emerson’s right – this 40-day journey is somewhat insane, and now that it is almost over, that we’re almost there, I feel the weight of the travel, these past few weeks of daily probing the innards of who and what I am. Are we there yet?

Am I Here yet?

Is Here what happens all day on Yom Kippur or is that just another there?

It’s about being in focus. Like with a camera, being ready to be in the moment. Tonight is the focus prep final.

I know that this journey does not really end on Saturday night when the Shofar blows and the sun sets on these 40 days and the feast replaces the fast. The repenting/perfecting/reflecting of self has to go on if the changes I want and the more happiness I want are to ground and grow and become part of who I am. But in some ways, this is the artificial, ritualized way of marking progress. There is a deadline – a focal point. Tonight we prepare for trial, for full on focus - tomorrow night we rise to the occasion.

Tonight I pause to look back and reflect on the journey of finding my focus– the 38 days of thinking and thanking and lists and conversations and cleaning up and questions rising and a gradual ascent up the mountain of these high and holy hills. Day by day, what did I learn here? What is refined?

If you have been traveling with me, as so sweetly some of you share, I invite you to take this time tonight or tomorrow morning and look back at your journey as well.

There’s still time for phone calls and emails to deal with unfinished business of apologies and truth.

But mostly, if possible, find a minute to honor this journey and pause to reflect.

Have you found more of your focus? What more do you want to focus on?

Are you happier, from 1-10?

Are you more ready to be present, here, within, these coming days of atonement? This coming year?

We t/here yet?

Here is my list of 38 days:

High Holy Days Journey with Amichai Lau-Lavie: 40 ways in 40 days to find your focus

Day 1. Take a long look in mirror, full length: who I am now and who I want to become.

2. EAT better: look at my plate: pause to consider my eating habits

3. List #1: 3 things that I regularly or randomly do and regret?

4. Express Gratitude.

5. Make Your Own Sabbath. Slow down.

6. List #2: focus on ONE ITEM from your list of THREE things you want to change in your life. What are three steps you can take to help this ONE change happen?

7. FIX. Fix something today.

8. How can I make a difference in someone’s life today?

9. Fight your inner enemy: what stops you from change?

10. Start a daily 20 minutes physical work out routine. Report to somebody on it. Pass it on.

11. List #3: Blacklist: make a list of 5 people with whom some check in is required.

12. Deal with your blacklist. At least one name on the list – email, phone, resolution if possible.

13. Start going through address books for edits.

14. List #4: who’s spotting my back? Who’s there to help me with my blind spots when I need?

15. List #5: wish list: ten people you love in your life and wish to spend more time with this coming year:

16. Make wish list happen: concrete plans with a few from wish list – actual dates this fall. Carve time for play.

17. List#6: 5 things I am ashamed of in life.

18. Deal with debts

19. Consider your therapy – or any ongoing process of reflection you regularly engage in- what can be improved?

20. Play yard sale: get rid of stuff from closets and shelves. And hard-drive.

21. Review. Pause to look back. And plan ahead. What’s yet to be dealt with?

22 Lights out - sleep better

23 So sorry: Who do I need to apologize for?

And what do I need to apologize to myself fo

24 Send a Wish – shana tova cards to those you love

25 get something new for the new year (I got a tie)

26 pause – Sabbath time

27 listen - Take time to listen, quietly, for a few minutes, to silence.

28 find poetry

29 Clean Up (your act) house cleaning

30 Dip (something in honey)

31 Delete (bread and past into living water)

32 Tear Here – get a good cry going

33 Moment of Silence

34 volunteer

35 choose life

36 Deal with Steal – and respond better to crisis

37 Sing More

38 focus

Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas as we move forward and, as always, you may find more information about our High Holy Day services by visiting,