Friday, May 28, 2010

June 5-20, 2010

Second Annual World-Wide-Storah Event celebrating the global reach of Storahtelling's groundbreaking work in the Jewish community and beyond, lifting Bible "off the page and onto the world-wide stage."

During the week of June 12th, Storah-trained Mavens will present Storahtelling programs and events across the world - from Australia to North America, inviting hundreds of all-ages audiences to engage with Storahtelling's innovative model of sacred storytelling for the 21st century. The Mavens, utilizing tools they have acquired from Storahtelling's training programs, will be presenting their own unique versions of one Biblical story from the Book of Numbers: The tale of Korach's rebellion against Moses. This is perhaps one of the most challenging narratives that resonate with very contemporary issues like democracy, protest, and capital punishment. These contexts are ancient and modern; global and deeply personal.

To find a World-Wide-Storah Event near you, click here or visit

  1. Amichai Lau-Lavie, Storahtelling Founder, and Shira Kline, Founding Company Member, performing "Rock & Rod" June 12th at Limmud Australia, Melbourne, Australia.

  2. Shawn Shafner and Emily Warshaw, Storahtelling Mavens, performing "Rock & Rod" on June 12th at the 14th Street Y, New York, NY.

  3. Marge Eiseman, Storahtelling Mobile Maven, performing "How Far is Too Far??" on June 7th at Milwaukee Jewish Day School, Whitefish Bay, WI.

  4. Jon Adam Ross, Founding Company Member, performing "The First Rosh Eidah" on June 5th at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, Conover, WI.

  5. Josh Breitzer, Student Cantor and Maven-in-the-Making, performing at the Annapolis Temple on June 11th in Arnold, MD

Shavuot in Cleveland
By Judy Schiller
May 23rd, 2010

What’s a nervous bride to do when she’s got commitment issues and is getting cold feet on her wedding day? She turns to the Israelites standing at Sinai for advice, as they are about to make a commitment to last from generation to generation. And so our story began, erev Shavuot, at Temple Emanu El, in Cleveland Ohio. Cantor Laurel Barr, as the Wedding Officiant and I, as the nervous bride, wove our tale around Exodus 19:1-8, where God proposes to B’nai Yisrael at Mt. Sinai and they all respond in one voice, “We Do!”

We told our story in 2 aliyot, standing under the wedding chuppah, the Wedding Officiant narrating and translating, and the bride sharing her angst. In the stretch the bride asked the big question on her mind- How do you make such a big commitment, and really stick with it? What do you need to do? The Wedding Officiant invited the audience to share their thoughts about what it means to make a commitment to God, Torah and their fellow Jews, and if they all felt ready to take on this commitment (or forever hold their peace). This group was ready, and offered helpful advice to the bride, about making a lasting commitment- patience, forgiveness, communication, gratitude, acting on that promise every day. When the bride heard that everyone gathered accepted God’s offer of a very special relationship, she realized that she could do it too.

Candy was tossed, a hora was danced, and everyone rejoiced with mazal tov!

Some backstage maven notes- I am always amazed at how creating a maven script and performance is such a highly emergent process. Our initial text immersion brought us to many different places and we ended up in a very different place that where we first started. After raising our own questions about the text, we found commentary that spoke to many of our wonderings and curiosities, and paved the way for our own midrash. In my search for drash, I found inspiration in a 2008 blog post by Amichai Lau Lavie (thanks Amichai, it was beautiful). In this process, the chicken-egg question- of what comes first in the maven process- translation- character- or Bullseye- was ultimately led by the bullseye- what is our story about? We were drawn to verse 19:8, where all the people answered in one voice, accepting all that God had spoken. We questioned this unanimous commitment (really, now there are Jewish people) and used the vehicle of the bride character to push the question of commitment.

A special shout out to my maven in the wings, Jesse Freedman, for his mentoring on this script behind the scenes.

Amichai @ DAWN 2010 Shavuot in California
Article from Tablet Magazine
By Marissa Brostoff
May 18, 2010

Moses among the penguins, rabbis beside the swamp! DAWN 2010, the late-night Shavuot arts festival that Tablet Magazine cosponsored (along with Reboot) Saturday night at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, was full of surprising juxtapositions of Jews and fauna. (For all photos, check our our Facebook album .)

One of the first of the evening’s dozens of events was the world’s second performance of Everything’s Coming Up Moses [3], which tells the story of the Exodus in under an hour—with inspiration from the music of Gypsy. The musical, premiered by Tablet Magazine in New York this Passover and written by contributing editor Rachel Shukert, was, naturally, performed in the African Hall beneath a taxidermied leopard that was hanging out in a tree overhead. (The very-much-alive penguins strutted at the other end of the hall.)

Back in the main atrium (no animals immediately in sight), Gary Shteyngart chatted with editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse and shared excerpts from his forthcoming novel, Super Sad True Love Story. (See main picture.) He was followed by an interview (that quickly turned into a performance) with comedian Sandra Bernhard, who spoke with fellow outré Jewish performer Amichai Lau-Lavie about being both an earnest devotee of kaballah and a hilariously cynical sometime-member of Chabad and the Kabbalah Center. Bernhard, it turns out, is also a longtime Shavuot fan: She first celebrated the holiday Israeli-style on a kibbutz, then became interested in its kabbalistic interpretation, which holds that Shavuot—coming up this evening—offers access to the Ten Utterances, and potentially to immortality.

Another highlight was Tablet columnist Eddy Portnoy’s disquisition on the 19th-century pseudoscientific field of nasology, which held that a person’s character traits can be determined through the size and shape of his or her nose. (The Jewish nose, of course, was classified as the “commercial” nose, indicating, as Portnoy put it, “strong mercantile acumen.”)

No science museum, of course, is complete without its planetarium, which at DAWN became the screening room for video installations from Israel as well as Maurice at the World’s Fair, a Spike Jonze tribute to Maurice Sendak. But the planetarium was at its trippy best during one of the last events of the evening, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Rodger Kamenetz’s introduction to the cosmology of kabbalah—in the form of an astronomy show. Kabbalah, Kamenetz explained, is uniquely suited within religious mythology to helping us conceptualize the fact that we live in a constantly expanding universe—like the Big Bang theory, kabbalah holds that the universe began as a single point of energy (what physicists call “singularity”) and moves ever outward.

With stars still flashing before our eyes, we went to bed. Shavuot hasn’t even started yet, and there’s a lot more staying up to do.

click here to view the original article

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ruth’s Truth - May 15 at the 14th Street Y
By Becky Skoff, LABA Manager @ The 14th Street Y

Rise up this morning’

Smiled with the risin’ sun,

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singin’ sweet songs

Of melodies pure and true.

Saying’: This is my message to you-ou-ou

Storahtelling Mavens Mollie Andron and Megan Sass incorporated these Bob Marley lyrics into Ruth’s Truth, this month’s Storahtelling program at the 14th Street Y. Only at a Storahtelling show can you incorporate Bob Marley, Debbie Friedman, The Clash, and the Torah into one afternoon. These lyrics also describe the mood in the room that day perfectly—everyone was singing, laughing, and smiling the whole way through. Especially me.

I am the lucky Y staff member who has been privileged to join Storahtelling on their year-long journey developing a new kind of early childhood program, StorahSteps, for our community here at the Y. As the manager of the theater and LABA, The National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture here at the 14th Street Y, it was my job to provide support to the program each month. On this journey, we have had challenges finding the right space set-up, the perfect timing, the best marketing strategy, and of course, the best collection of bagels. We have had packed houses and small houses, but as I watched, I saw the program continue to grow and develop—and the shows themselves get better and better. After the show each month, I go home from a great day of work with a big smile, and usually a song or two stuck in my head.

This show, Ruth’s Truth, was a particularly perfect blend. We had members of our elderly community, elementary students from local schools, and new parents with babies in hand all gathering together in the community room. Mollie and Megan took the plain room and transformed it into a magical setting, where grown-ups could sing, kids could dance and do art projects, and everyone could learn a little together. They focused on an aspect of the story rarely told—the moment where Ruth and Orpah, and all of us in our own time, have to make tough choices. It made me think of all the choices we have made this year, and how each choice led us to where we are today, with an exciting, innovative theatrical program that all ages can appreciate and enjoy.

Sadly, this was my last program with Storahtelling for this year. I will be out of town next month when they finish their season on June 12th with Rock n’ Rod. I am extremely sad to miss it. We have already begun to plan next year, and I can’t wait to find out what songs I’ll be humming come the fall…

Performance at Solomon Schechter Day School on May 5th, 2010
By Daliya Karnofsky

I re-visited this play, Becoming Israel, after about two years away. It was amazing how far I've come.

When last I performed, I had been to Israel twice, both because of a relationship. As we performed Becoming Israel, that relationship was coming to an end, and so was my relationship to the country. I wanted to create as much distance as possible between myself and the memories I associated with that country. It was difficult to perform the show. Playing Rachel, a young Holocaust survivor on her way to what was then Palestine to start her life over again on her own, requires a huge emotional commitment.

Ironically, Rachel too ties her feelings towards Israel up in a romantic relationship for a long time. She is going in the hopes of finding the man she loved before the war broke out. She is convinced she will find him despite all evidence to the contrary, and this causes her to cross the ocean alone to go to a strange land full of strangers, rather than to America where her remaining family awaits. It is a difficult decision. The land of Israel has always had this power over me and many others, a heightened sense of romance, a natural pull. Rachel feels it, and I felt it. But this meant that playing her the first time was incredibly painful, and the only way I knew to deal with it was to cut myself off. I went through the motions, and only once during a reading allowed myself to feel what she was feeling. On top of her broken heart, she is escaping from the war and leaving behind all of her lost family members and former life.

I could hardly scratch the surface of the romantic feelings, let alone pretend to understand her devastating circumstances. I knew the show held a connection for me, but I wasn't willing or able to explore it.

Two and a half years later, I felt that change exponentially. I had gained some much needed distance from my failed relationship, and even more importantly, I had returned to Israel on my own. Free of romantic obligation. There only to see what I would see, explore my history, learn to love the land for itself. I felt it deeply this time around. And in performing the part of Rachel again, this time I allowed myself to feel the vulnerability. I didn't have the same anger or pain or self-created distance from performances past. Thanks to the guiding hand of the director, stage manager, and my fellow actors, I felt safe to explore Rachel's journey emotionally. When I resisted at first, concentrating only on recalling blocking and lines and recreating the steps of the first performance, the director sat us down and had us write out a step by step emotional journey of each of our characters. Rachel's journey was permeated by sadness, loss, anger, fear, and finally resolute bravery and strength. I had to find where each of these came in and wove together with one another. What a roller coaster ride such a journey would have been, and even now I am only scratching the surface. But this time I went at it on my own terms, with a renewed desire to do so.

I was nervous to perform at Solomon Schechter Day School. I wanted to do the play justice in a way I hadn't before. I wanted to do everything in my power to serve the story, and I knew I had to go there emotionally in order to do so.

The audience of adolescents and parents was incredibly receptive. In those first few moments, their energy fed us and it was clear they understood the gravity of what we were unraveling. We as a cast caught one another's energy and we were off and running telling the story with a passion and energy and real need I had never experienced performing this show before. I felt supported and safe, and this made it my duty to risk. I owed it to them, to the audience, to myself, and to the memories of all of these people in real life, who went through this and who are now a very small percentage of our population.

I felt good about the performance. I was proud of my castmates. We had a small talkback afterwards, and the audience was curious to how performing Becoming Israel had affected our relationship to the country. I was asked if I wanted to talk about my particular experience with my first few times over there, and I surprised myself by declining. Usually one to share everything, I had shared a lot that night, and there were some things I wanted to keep close. But I was grateful for the question because it allowed me to pose it to myself. I realized how far I'd come in making the country and the story my own. And how much further I have to go. I hope sincerely to have the opportunity to explore it once again. I can only imagine how much more it will change. As an actor and performer it is a real gift of an opportunity; as a storyteller it is essential to telling the story. To continue to grow, "to wrestle, to fight, you know, with G-d, with Israel", as one of the characters states in Becoming Israel.

I continue to hear the lines running through my head as the performance gets further behind me. The greater the distance, the closer I feel.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

High Holiday Services in NYC with Amichai Lau-Lavie & Guest Artists
Rosh Hashana Sept. 8-9, 2010
Yom Kippur Sept. 17-18, 2010

click image to view larger
High Holidays 5771 with Amichai Lau-Lavie & Guest Artists!

City Winery Presents alternative High Holiday Services: a remix of live music, traditional and modern liturgy, interactive learning, visual media, dramatized scripture, and age appropriate children's programs. The day services of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will include performances of Storahtelling's Maven Torah Reading Ritual. Mavens will the Torah to life through a fresh fusion of Hebrew chanting, dramatized English translation, music and interactive commentary.

Wednesday, September 8th @ 7:00pm
Includes City Winery Kiddish

Thursday, September 9th @ 9am
+ coffee, juice and bagels

Friday, September 17th @ 7pm

Saturday, September 18th @ 9am
Includes breakfast & dinner

*Advanced tickets required
Adults: $75 per service
Children: $40 per service
Adult for all 4 services: $250
Family price for everything: $625

Wednesday, September 8th @ 10:00pm
Hidden Melodies Revealed with the Sway Machinery "Part Ritual, Part Rock Concert": $15

**Tickets will be available online soon - check back for updates

City Winery
155 Varick Street
(in SoHo, NYC @ Vandam Street)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shavuot in Israel
By Josh Weinberg

On Shavuot Night Storahtelling Israel Team (Sipurei Sta”M) performed at Jerusalem's Mercaz Tarbut Amim L’Noar (International Cultural and Youth Center) in the German Colony. The cast consisted of Storah mavens Eran Kraus and Josh Weinberg, with guest actors. Our focus was “Who are you to tell me what to do?” The age-old question of the sources of our authority in light of the giving of Torah. It was a full house. The audience was really the perfect audience for this type of event - mostly modern Orthodox between the ages of 18-60 who were well versed in text and appreciated the sarcasm and humor that other audiences might have missed. They were also very willing to discuss and engage with each other.

We opened with a “petichta” in which we all sang a different song giving the appearance that each cast member took it upon themselves to usurp authority. We transitioned by saying that since the giving of Torah Jews have had a multitude of opinions, and from there introduced STorahtelling. Our opening scene took us to a family of Beni Yisrael (Mishpachat Yisraeli) three days prior to the “big event” at Sinai. Through the verses of Exodus 19:1-8 we wrestled with the notions of Slavery to Freedom, who is our new authority? Whether we are ok with accepting a law without knowing what is written, and whether or not Mitzvot come with זכויות as well as responsibility and burdens.

We asked the audience - “Why did Israel agree to accept the Torah?”

We ended with two skits, one of a Bar Mitzvah boy getting dumped on by his whole family because he is ready to take on more responsibility, and then a skit between “God” and “Moshe Rabeinu” poking fun at the far reaching effects of interpreting law.

Overall I would say that was a very successful performance. Working with real actors and pre-written scripts was very important.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

by Naomi Less
May 5, 2010

How many ways can we translate the Hebrew word for ‘sacred’?

This past year, Storahtelling has been involved in a strategic partnership with the BJE-SAJES NY in a year-long program to work with congregational schools in the New York area. The program, titled LOMED, challenges educational teams (clergy, ed directors and teachers) to think about outcomes, evaluations and priority goals.

Storahtelling, as well as Hazon, Avoda Arts and Teva, have been working with approximately 7 congregations, teaching their teams our methodologies, aiming for them to build skills and be more intentional in lesson planning with design principles at the core of what they do.

My work with the congregations put the educators in the "translator" driver’s seat.

Cantor Eric Schulmiller of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Plandome, NY, learned our some of our Maven Method and utilized it with several different age groups in several different settings - and he said it was "great every time".

He decided to utilize the methodology to teach prayer. His 6th grade "Mavens" built their own translations for the Kedusha, the second section of the Amidah (the "standing prayer).

They broke down the Kedusha word by word and brainstormed how THEY would translate it - not just how their prayer book translated it.

Kadosh: Awesomely, really amazingly
Kadosh: extremely, specially
Kadosh: awesome, cool, amazing, super
Adoshem Tzeva'ot: Keeper of Everything, The Eternal One, Everything and Nothing, Meaning of Life, Ruler of Mystery,
M'lo: contains, pours, overflows, fulfills,
Chol Ha'aretz: everything in our knowledge, everything worth knowing, the whole universe, life
Kevodo: presence, Godliness, sovereignty, kingship, It, eternity, gold, hineni

Then, they each translated in their own soulful voices, how they would say the Kedusha:

Amazingly, specially awesome, Keeper of everything, whose eternity contains everything.

Amazingly awesomely cool, Meaning of Life, who contains everything - Hineni!

Really, awesomely, super, Ruler of Mystery, whose presence contains life.
Really, awesomely awesome, Everything & Nothing, whose presence contains everything.

Totally, completely awesome, The Eternal One's "hineni" pours the knowledge of life.

Way to go, Eric and the 6th grade Mavens!