Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bible, Interrupted

By Jake Goodman, Storahtelling Maven
Storahtelling Maven Workshop
Temple Solel, Hollywood, FL

This last weekend, Storahtelling Maven Shira Kline and I traveled to sunny Hollywood, FL to perform a unique Storahtelling program for the Temple Solel community.  Our goal was to do a presentation focusing on our belief that story matters.  Looking back a few weeks prior to Parshat B'shallach, we highlighted the crossing of the sea and, most pertinently, the demise of Pharaoh and his entire army.  The Israelites crossed the sea, turned back to look and, ding-dong, the wicked witch (and all her little monkeys) were dead.

In the brainstorming of this, I referenced my educational training, which taught me that to stop the repetition of hateful rhetoric, you must interrupt it.   Quite simply, harmful stereotypes and concepts continue throughout history because, quite obviously, people repeat it:  often unconsciously, often with "benign" intentions, this rhetoric simply becomes part of common parlance.  (Example: the use of the word "Gyp," as in, "He Gyp'ed me," which is a slanderous reference to Gypsies/Roma.)  The way to stop this rhetoric is to interrupt it, as it happens, however often it happens.

Focusing on Shirat Ha-Yam, the Song of the Sea (which includes the famous Mi Chamocha text), we interrupted the Exodus narrative which we retell every year at Passover, and which is usually a source of great celebratory pride for us.  Just after the Hebrews successfully crossed the Sea of Reeds, God caused the waters to crash back down on the entire Egyptian army, killing everyone like ants.  As this happened, the Israelite people broke out in song.  The words of this song praised God's power and might.  They also reveled in the violent destruction of our enemies.

During the interactive part of our Storah presentation, we invited the congregation to put on their psychologist hats and look at the mentality of the people singing these words.  Congregants’ diagnoses included: angry, victims, post-traumatic stress disorder, exhausted, grateful, relieved.

We then asked, "Do you think this behavior has been repeating itself throughout our history, from ancient times to today?"   Are we still playing and replaying the victim roles that our mythic ancestors did, of vengeful celebrants?  Are we still living as though we are in a narrow place, as if it is us vs. them? 
People were eager to jump into this conversation with us.   Afterward, congregants approached both Shira and me, expressing gratitude for doing something so "different," "accessible" and mostly for "interrupting" their norm -- for making them see (and hopefully tell) this story in a different way.  Thanks to the Story, together we experienced a new consciousness.

*”Bible, Interrupted” was a phrase initially coined, to the best of our knowledge, by Amichai Lau-Lavie.


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