By Eszter Margit
Storahtelling, recognized nationally as a leader in transforming the contemporary Jewish experience, is turning 13 this summer and reinventing the B Mitzvah Celebration in honor of this milestone. This evening, hundreds will gather in Tribeca’s City Winery and raise a glass to 13 years of pioneering innovation and success. The gala, Storahtelling’s first, will honor Marina Pinto Kaufman, Storahtelling’s founding Board Chair, and salute Amichai Lau-Lavie, the organization’s visionary founder, who is stepping down this summer.
The Storah13 Gala features a demonstration of Storahtelling’s unique approach to the B Mitzvah experience, starring actress and comic Jackie Hoffman, direct from Broadway’s “Addams Family”. Jackie has been trained through Storahtelling’s Raising the Bar program and will share her personal and poignant retelling of her B Mitzvah portion, the tale of Dina. Raising the Bar, an innovative and transformational approach to reclaiming the B Mitzvah, is Storahtelling’s fastest growing program, and is a finalist in the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ search for the Next Big Jewish Idea. Like much of Storahtelling’s work, Raising the Bar is changing the conversation around this rite of passage for Jews worldwide.
The Storah13 Gala marks the coming of age of Storahtelling, the first organization to graduate the Bikkurim Incubator for New Jewish Ideas and the Joshua Venture Fellowship and to successfully mature as a key player in the Jewish educational and cultural arenas. “We are grateful to many communal leaders and pioneers for investing in us and helping us grow from a startup into the successful, impactful, and sustainable organization we are today,” said Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling. “Being part of the innovation ecosystem has helped us stay on the cutting edge.” Since its establishment in 1999 Storahtelling has become an international network of educators and artists, invigorating Jewish identity through leadership training, dynamic educational programs and performances for multigenerational audiences worldwide. Now, Lau-Lavie is stepping down from the Executive Director position, and Isaac Shalev, who came on in February, will take over as the new Executive Director. Lau-Lavie will stay on as Founding Director, and will focus on Storahtellling’s educational work while pursuing rabbinical ordination at JTS.
Shalev is the former COO of Birthright Israel NEXT, the sister organization of Taglit- Birthright Israel. As Chief Operating Officer, he was responsible for overseeing engagement, education and community-building activities for Jewish young adults ages 21-32 throughout the USA, with a focus on the 200,000+ alumni of the Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. Shalev is widely known as a thought-leader, a builder of organizations, an educator and technology specialist. “The Storah13 Gala represents our first major special-event fundraising effort. Taken together with the diversification of our earned revenue streams and an upgrade of our foundation and individual fundraising capacities, the Gala reflects the maturation of Storahtelling’s FRD strategy, as well as our programmatic vision,” Shalev says.
The transition in leadership accompanies a strategic shift from a performance-based model to that of a training institute. Shalev explains, “Storahtelling has spent over a decade perfecting the Maven Method (TM), the conceptual toolkit at the heart of all of Storahtelling’s initiatives. To maximize our impact, we are inviting educators and institutions to come backstage with us, and through intensive training, learn to access and interpret ancient Jewish texts and rituals and translate them into vital, contemporary conversations with their congregations and constituents.”
The Maven Method (TM), Storahtelling’s signature pedagogy, integrates Judaism’s oldest teaching tools with modern stagecraft and educational techniques. There are over 200 trained Storahtelling Mavens who operate all over the US as well as in Israel and the UK, and over 750,000 estimated participants in Storahtelling programs since the organization’s founding, Storahtelling’s impact continues to grow. “We’ve been building slow and steady,” says Lau-Lavie. “It’s humbling and thrilling to know that Storahtelling is becoming a significant international player.” In August, Storahtelling will train a cohort of twenty-five Maven candidates in synagogues and community institutions in the New York area, through Big Apple Mavens, a program made possible by funding from UJA-Federation of NY’s Synergy group and Gen-I Task Force.
The Storah13 Gala, which has already raised over $150,000, features several significant participants from the Jewish funding community, including Martin Kaminer (founder of Bikkurim), Jeffrey Solomon (President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies), Felicia Herman (Executive Director of the Natan Fund), Robin Bernstein (CEO & Founder of the Educational Alliance) and all the organization’s board members, past and present. Marina Pinto Kaufman, Storahtelling’s founding Board Chair is also taking a step back from leadership and welcomes Ora Ramat, the organization’s co-chair as the new chair, and current board member Sarah Sokolic as the new vice chair. “We have come so far already, worked so hard, and impacted the lives of so many people through our work over the years” Sokolic said. “We are now poised for even greater successes and I’m honored and excited to be part of this new chapter in Storahtelling’s life.”