Friday, April 09, 2010

A Little Taste of Freedom: The Difference a Word Makes
By Shawn Shafner

Sunday, March 28th, fellow Storahtelling Maven Naomi Less and I brought in the Passover season and gave audiences at the 14th Street Y a Little Taste of Freedom. In this show, young Mo meets “Aunt” Miriam, a colorful visitor who helps him and the audience set the seder plate and tell the Passover story. I helped write the script and first played Mo last year when this show premiered at the JCC of Manhattan. When Naomi and I set about remounting the production, there wasn’t too much we needed to change. Mention of a hurting economy and a stimulus plan, pop culture references, and the Passover story itself all felt just as relevant as they had a year ago. But with a new year and new set of eyes (namely Naomi’s), new things are learned that inevitably find themselves into the script.

For example, when Mo is asking Miriam about the parsley on the seder plate, last year’s Miriam answered: “We call it by its Hebrew name: karpas.” Naomi explained, however, that the seder has roots in a Greek banquet, and the word ‘karpas’ most likely comes from the Greek ‘karpos,’ meaning “fruit of the soil.” I remember thinking that, while that’s all very interesting, it’s rather complicated to explain, and not something I’d like to delve into in the show. Naomi went on: “Maybe we don’t have to say all that, but there must be a middle ground. It’s one thing to speak broadly and then go back, re-examine, and delve further into something, it’s completely another to have to go back and re-teach misleading information.”

At our show at the Y, when asked about the parsley, Miriam responded thus: “We call it by its ancient name: karpas.” Though it’s a lesson I’ve learned myriad times in Storahtelling, I’m still amazed to see how the difference can hinge on one tiny word that opens up a world of meaning. The translation of a word or an idea can be the difference between a truth and a lie, between knowledge and ignorance, or between ‘us’ and ‘them’. This Passover, maybe the path to liberation will not be found in sweeping change or total personal overhaul. It may not be found in the halls of congress or on the front page of the Times. Perhaps instead it will be found by entering our own interior Egypt/mitzrayim/narrow space, shifting ever so slightly, and opening up a word that opens up a world. Chag sameach.

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