Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Miriam's Drum

Alex Wolfson, Storahtelling Company Member
Passover StorahSteps Show
King's Bay Y, JCC Manhattan, 14th Street Y

What’s most important to you? What possession would you have the most trouble living without? What if you had to live without possessions? Who would be the people you’d want to surround yourself with to replace that important thing? These and some other juicy questions were part of the show “Miriam’s Drum” that I performed with new Storahtelling artist Michael Goldlist at the King’s Bay Y, the JCC Manhattan, and the 14th Street Y for our Storahtelling’s Passover StorahSteps show. 

We framed the show by having Michael play a child named Sam whose family was moving into a smaller home so he was going to have to put a lot of his possessions in storage. He had to figure out what things he wanted to bring with him to the new house as well as what needed to go into storage. And he had to do all of this packing while setting up the Seder plate for the Seder! We then introduced our puppet, Miriam, to walk Sam through setting up the Seder plate, tell him the Passover story, and help him realize that his situation wasn’t that unlike the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites had to bring with them only their most important things as they rushed to freedom. 

Sam eventually realized that possessions weren’t important. He realized that the Israelites were happy to just be free and be with their families. He realized that HE just wanted to be with his family and deciding which toy was his favorite wasn’t as important as surrounding himself with the people he loved. The kids learned a valuable lesson about the importance of family as well as getting a refresher course on the important words, symbols, and Seder plate items that are used on Passover. 

The kids at all four performances loved the show, were very enthusiastic about the puppet (as always), and we had a great time doing it! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Purim at the 14th Street Y

Click here to read more about the Purim program at the 14th Street Y, planned by 14th Street Y staff and Storahtelling, in conjunction with BBYO and the Educational Alliance.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Esther, The Expose

Deanna Neil, Storahtelling Maven and Company Member
Milgrom Family Bat Mitzvah Celebration
Raising the Bar Program

"And it struck me: it was up to me. Me. I'm not a politician, I'm not a diplomat, I have never had to do anything like this before in my life.  I had this pit in my stomach. I had no choice but to reveal who I really am, and maybe die for it. But what did I have to hide?"

I posed this question to the audience at the Milgrom Family Bat Mitzvah celebration in Irvine California in March, as the character of Esther from the beloved Purim story. In our premise, Esther was on a talk show with "Wolf Blitzes" describing her latest book, an expose of the Achashverosh administration. 

Showing the the different sides of ourselves can be difficult, whether a politician or a school girl. When looking at the Purim story, one has to wonder why Esther--aka Hadassah--didn't reveal her Jewish identity from the get-go. Fear? Blending in? A great prescient plot from her cousin Mordechai? Whatever the reason, mum was the word. 

We all have moments in our lives when we chose not to reveal parts of ourselves. Maybe as a Christian among a group of Jews, maybe as  Muslim in America, maybe a tech nerd hanging out with the football team. It can be a delicate moment to share what you really think, when people's reactions are uncertain. But finally, Esther was forced into a situation where she had to find the strength to show who she was and stand up for what she believed in. 

There is a lot in in the story of Purim that is hidden…and revealed. The name of God is hidden in the story. The word Megillah (literally "scroll") is related to the word "galuy," which means "revealed." The name, Esther, is related to the word "hester," which means "hidden." So the title---a true expose—is revealing of the hidden. 

Becoming at Bat Mitzvah is all about publicly declaring identity, just as Esther had to reveal her identity to the king. The Milgrom family had four, inter-generational bat-mitzvahs as a part of their celebration. It was an epic evening, but also one where each woman took to the bimah in front of her community and declared: I am a Jew. This is who I am. This was a bold declaration for the teenage girls, Elianna and Chyelle, and equally so for their mother, Alice, who was originally from China and found herself on a surprising religious journey. It was no less intimidating that the matriarchal bat-mitzvah was Jo Milgrom, a bible scholar and Jewish artist, who was married to the late Jacob Milgrom, a renowned Rabbi and biblical scholar! 

It was exciting to tell the purim story in such a detailed, descriptive way using translation and wacky characters (and a full size horse) for a mixed crowd, where many had never heard the purim story before. Indeed, the crowd embraced the honored Bat-Mitzvah ladies and their identities, as warmly as the king embraced Esther.  

I was fortunate to create the script and perform with Todd Shotz of Hebrew Helpers, who is also my co-worker with teaching B'nai Mitzvah kids in Los Angeles. As we continue to grow our Raising the Bar program in Southern California, this particular Maven--with a message about owning yourself during a coming-of-age moment--struck close to home. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

No Words

Jake Goodman, Storahtelling Company Member
Shira Kline, Storahtelling Company Member
Storahtelling Maven Torah Reading Ritual

A few weeks ago, Shira Kline and I went to the lovely, exquisitely hospitable, charming B'nai Abraham Synagogue in Easton, PA to do a Maven Torah Reading Ritual about the story of the death of Aaron's two sons, adapting a brilliant script by the one and only David Loewy.  Our premise was essentially that there is great risk in trying to achieve intimacy and, sometimes, when you get too close, you get burned.  

But since that gig, I have a new take on what the parsha means.  (To me.  Today.)

For almost everybody I know, March was a difficult month.  All of my friends seemed to be burned by life.  Some had deaths in the family; some ended relationships; some were insanely busy doing work they hated; some were facing health problems.  One of my friends said that she felt sunburned on the inside.  

In the Torah story, Nadav and Avihu (Aaron's two eldest sons and the next in line to become the high priest) offer up a sacrifice of strange/alien/unfamiliar fire on their own initiative and are literally eaten up by god.  Their father, Aaron, watches, presumably in horror, and is silent.

I've been thinking about what Aaron's silence implies.  There are many theories, but I have more of a thought than a theory.  It's simply that we all get burned sometimes by life and sometimes we watch people we love get burned, which can be equally painful.  It's been my experience that people want to understand why bad things happen, why life blows at the moment, what went wrong, what is wrong with us.  We tell ourselves stories to try to make sense of things.  We find some reason, something to blame, or something in which to find hope.

From Aaron, I learn that sometimes all of that work is foolish.  There may not be a good reason.  It may not be your fault.  It may just suck. Sometimes, there are no words.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Flash a Self-Portrait: Lady Gaga on Purim

Franny Silverman, Storahtelling Maven and Lady Gaga impersonator

"I want women -- and men -- to feel empowered by a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they're always trying desperately to hide. I want that to become something that they cherish." 
 Lady Gaga

I may not be Jewish, but I know what it means to flash a self-portrait, flip it to the negative and show it to the world.  Isn't that what Purim's all about?
That's what my dear friend and teacher Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross taught me.
When I met her she said, "You must me a Purim baby like me."  She taught me a niggun that followed me for days and I took it with me into the studio and that became the inspiration for the chanting in "Bad Romance": 

Rah Rah Ah Ah Ahh
Ramah Romemah
GaGa Oooh La La
Want your bad Romance

And then she invited me to her birthday and of course, when the Rebbetzin invites you to her birthday bash, you don't say no.  
You say, "Yes!"  You say, "I'd be honored!"  You say, "What shall I sing?"
And I did. 
And she told me the story of Purim and I felt for the hero, Esther.
This marriage was about survival, not about love and romance.
It's about how sometimes we want and need things that desperately serve one part of ourselves and leave another hurt or lacking.
And so, together, the Rebbetzin and I decide Bad Romance would be the song - complete with my version of her ancient niggun.
It was exciting to dive into a performance with a new band, on a complicated stage covered in holy contradiction and reminiscent of my own upbringing. 
My first performance on the altar since...the new pope. 
And as all performances are, this too was exhilerating and libertating.
Of course they told me not to climb on the altar vestments and of course I did and of course it was absolutely necessary.
The Rebbetzin also warned me of another high profile female guest that was joining us.  
And though normally I'm not a Tea Party kind of gal, I thought the best way to use my sway with Sarah Palin, was to simply and subtly seduce her with my performace.
She took the bait immediately and by the end of the night, I was helping her write her speech rescinding her former views on gay marriage and instead, coming out in favor of it. 
A very merry Purim indeed.
And now, I'm just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.