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.