Friday, March 25, 2011

A St. Patrick's Day Purim Party!

Jon Adam Ross, Founding Company Member
University of Pittsburgh Hillel

I got off the bus from the Pittsburgh airport about 3 blocks from my hotel on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. I knew I wasn't wearing green and though I doubted random strangers would pinch me, I didn't think it'd be the worst idea to find something green to wear. It just so happened that there was a merchant selling St Patrick's day themed clothing on the street outside my hotel and would you believe it, he was selling a three cornered hat! A green three cornered hat! 2 days before Purim! Did he know I was coming? Probably not. But there was only one 3 cornered hat, and I have no doubt there was only one Jewish actor coming to the Pitt campus to play Haman in a Purimshpiel on St. Patrick's Day. It was meant to be.

That evening I had a great pizza dinner with the student Hillel board (all of whom read megillah and played parts in the show later that night) and I had such a great time getting to know the Pitt gang. It might be the friendliest group of people I've ever had pizza with. Honest. Then we walked over to the student center, did a photo shoot with a panther (see photo above) and made our way inside to set up the space for our show. It was a grand ballroom, and we spiced it up with groggers and mardi gras necklaces and random Purim extravagance. I went upstairs to don my 3 piece suit (and vashti wig - which i wore, of course, under my new Haman hat) and when I came back downstairs, the students had arrived! LOTS of them! Jewish students, members of the Catholic group on campus, people of all different faiths and colors. It was awesome. A vision of Shushan for the modern times.

And boy did we have fun. A dude won the beauty pageant to become the new Queen Esther. That was fun. I lost my wig and my hat at one point causing one of the students to gasp in surprise at my baldness (i guess she thought the wig was real?). That was fun. And in the end, we had a conversation/debrief about the story itself that got into some hairy, but quite interesting theological conversation about the end of the Megillah and the uncomfortable, violent conclusion. Violent conclusions are always fun! And after the show, a buddy of mine who works at Pitt took me out for green beer. A perfect end to a perfect night. Go Panthers!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Esther's Crown Rocked the Town

Naamah Harris, Storahtelling Company Member
Purim StorahSteps Show
Marks JCH, Kings Bay Y, 14th Street Y, Bergen County Solomon Schechter. 

They say that "me'sheneechnas adar marbim b'simcha," those who enter the month of Adar will be filled with happiness, and that is certainly how I feel after a wonderful run of Esther's Crown for Storahsteps' Purim show!

Not only did I get to work with Alex Wolfson for our sophomore collaboration but we both had the privilege of being able to share this show with so many different Jewish communities.   Our journey began at the Marks JCH and then at the Kings Bay Y, where many our of audience members are from the Russian Jewish community in Brooklyn, and there was a wonderful mix of English, Hebrew and Russian going around! One of the themes of our show dealt with our responsibility as Jews and as human beings to take care of each other using the Jewish principle, Tikkun Olam, healing the world.  Esther, with help from Mordechai and King Achashverosh, (and in our show, Dr. Trudy, the puppet) did just this for the Jews in Shushan thousands of years ago.  It is exciting to know that we can still come together to celebrate this principle with our fellow Jews from all different parts of the world, right here in New York City!

And for some more exciting news: our third performance, at the 14th Street Y, was Storahsteps' FIRST EVER SOLD OUT show!! What an exciting day!! We had so many kids dressed up in awesome costumes: princesses, queens, and SUPERHEROS!! With a sea of Spidermen, Batmen, Supermen and many others looking out at us, we discussed the idea of having courage even when its hard or scary, just like Queen Esther did when talking to King Achashverosh about saving her people.  (That would be us!) We focused on the idea that it was not enough for Esther to just wear her crown to feel like a Queen, but she needed to ACT on behalf of her people to really BE one.   And finally we wrapped it up at the Solomon Schechter of Bergen County, where not only did we get a chance to perform our show geared to early education, we had the opportunity to revamp the show for an older crowd of kids from grades 2nd through 5th.  In this adapted show, we had the chance to delve into some deeper issues, including extending the idea of Tikkun Olam not just to our fellow Jews but to communities all over the world that need our help, such as Japan, Libya, Egypt, New Zealand and, unfortunately, many more.  It was touching to hear how much courage and sense of Tikkun Olam these kids had by wanting to send tzedaka, mishloach manot, baskets of food and gifts, and physical aid to all these places that need it.

All in all, it was a fun, rewarding, and meaningful experience that we hope was just as much fun to watch as it was for us to perform! Chag Sameach!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Purim Came A Little Early This Year

Shawn Shafner, Storahtelling Company Member
Emily Warshaw, Storahtelling Company Member
Purim Kid's Program
Barnert Temple, Franklin Lakes, NJ

Hi, I’m Shawn.
And I’m Emily.
We presented a mini-Maven on Sunday, March 6 for Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ for 3rd through 6th graders in the religious school. While the megilla presents an epic tale of betrayal, transformation, and vicious plots—we only had half an hour to cover the plot. While looking closely at the scene where Mordechai begs Esther to go to King Achashverosh and plead for the Jewish people, we noticed that someone else was working behind the scenes: the messenger, Hatach.
Emily played Hatach, relaying Mordechai’s message to Esther—up seventeen flights of stairs to her bedroom, and then passing Esther’s words back to Mordechai—down seventeen flights of stairs to the palace gates, where Mordy lies in mourning. But as the clock ticks and the plot thickens, how will Hatach convince the new, indecisive Queen Esther to take strong action on behalf of her people?
We put this exact question to the students at Barnert. “What could Hatach say or do to give Esther confidence?” And a new Purim midrash was born!  You may not have known, but Hatach the messenger intervened to make sure Esther would hear Mordechai’s message loud and clear, and take ownership of her own power.  Hatach, at the students’ suggestion, told Esther: “You are strong enough! Don’t be afraid of the King; he respects you.  So do the people of Shushan. You’re smart, Esther, and you know what’s the right thing to do.” 
As we left the temple, we realized that Hatach might also figure in the genesis of Nike shoes, when she visited Esther and became the first person to coin the phrase: Just do it!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

“Going to the Mishkan (in Hoboken) and We’re Gonna Get Married”

Jon Adam Ross, Founding Company Member
Storahtelling Maven Torah Reading Ritual
United Synagogue of Hoboken, Hoboken, New Jersey

I have spent many a Shabbat in synagogues around the country as a member of Storahtelling.  But never have I had the privilege of ‘mavening’ in such a special space as the newly restored sanctuary of the United Synagogue of Hoboken.  Just recently, USH restored its sanctuary to its original early 20th century grandeur, and it truly is a grand, holy space – much of it corresponding to the specifications laid out in the Torah’s instructions for the building of the mishkan – our traveling sanctuary in the desert.  Last Shabbat, Annie Lewis and I did a maven weekend at the United Synagogue of Hoboken for Parshat Vayakhel.  Annie, Alex Wolfson, and I created a brand new maven script for USH, in part to make the most of the resonance of the congregation’s recent experience in creating sacred space, and in part to highlight Annie’s special relationship with the congregation.  Annie, in addition to being a world-class Maven is also a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and serves as the rabbinic intern at USH!

Friday night the stage was set with a really lovely and uniquely intimate Kabbalat Shabbat followed by a boisterous and delicious Shabbat dinner at the home of Rabbi Robert Scheinberg which included his generous family and 30 congregants who take part in a weekly “Intro to Judaism” class.  Shabbat morning we were lucky to have the skilled Torah reading skills of both Rabbi Scheinberg and Andrew Merwin – an enthusiastic congregant who was joined by nearly two dozen congregants who remained in the afternoon for a “Meet the Maven” text study and conversation which only ended because it was time for Mincha!  As for the Maven itself, we explored the role of Betzalel, the chief designer, pairing his character with an Israelite bride, played by Annie, who was hoping to use the Mishkan for the location for her wedding.  Annie’s character got wrapped up in God’s ‘registry’ of gold and fabrics and fancy gifts for the mishkan, forgetting the other important things that fill a space and a wedding with holiness.  In addition to the beautiful space that USH has created for itself, the congregation boasts an undeniable spirit of ruach, generosity and kavannah that fill the holy space with true sanctity.  Betzalel was overwhelmed by all the gifts brought by the Israelites to build the mishkan.  And we were overjoyed at the gift of getting to spend Shabbat in a modern day Mishkan – full of holiness – the United Synagogue of Hoboken.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Batya's Bath: Soothing a Crying Baby

Emily Walsh, Storahtelling Maven Trainee

Assistant Director of Education, Youth and Family
B'nai Jeshurun

What happens when a princess is minding her own business, taking a bath in the Nile, and comes across a mysterious basket filled with a big surprise?  We found out when Princess Batya, daughter of King Pharoah, played by Shawn Shafner, discovered the basket in "Batya's Bath," a StorahSteps Production.  Shawn also starred as the lovable puppet, Yocheved, who the kids just adored!  She asked her daughter, Miriam, played by me, to take the basket to the Nile.  With the help of an audience filled with kids, teachers, and parents acting as the water, the basket was caried down the Nile.  Princess Batya discovered that in the basket was a baby!  She wanted it all for helself, and denied any help from her servant, also played by me.  However, she quickly discovered she needed help with this crying baby!  Enter Miriam, who offers the help of her mom, Yocheved, and well, you know how the rest of the story goes.

Shawn and I had a fantastic time peformring for the kids, and I'm pretty sure they had a good time too!  We performed twice, once at the JCC in Manhattan and another at the 14th Street Y.  The kids had a great time participating, serving as the water, naming the baby, and helping Batya decide what to do with the baby.  In the end, Batya learned she could help the world with her own two hands, and the kids did too!