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,