Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Personal Renewal in a Conservative Synagogue in the Midwest

Storahtelling at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, MI
by Jake Goodman

Emily Warshaw and I just got back from a mega-Storahtelling weekend at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  In just over 48 hours, we presented a whopping six Storahtelling programs:  Setting the Stage, Like a Prayer, a Maven Torah Reading Ritual about Parshat Lech L'cha called "Sister Act," a Havdallah ritual (in collaboration with their fab Hazzan Dan Gross and Rabbi Rachel Shere), a mini-Maven and an educators' workshop called Meet the Maven.  I suppose it was intense, but it was also reenergizing to me in that this hamish, passionate community near Detroit reminded me how important Storahtelling's work is, and how much it can touch people.

After performing "Sister Act" on Shabbat morning, congregants spoke to us about how meaningful and "utterly transformational" the Maven Torah Reading experience was for them.  Without any cues from us, one congregant spoke of how inspired he was, and how we provided "access" to Torah stories, for kids and adults, in ways that he had never seen.  (One aspect of Storahtelling's mission is to "make ancient stories and traditions accessible to new generations," so the fact that the first thing he mentioned was about experiencing "access" to the stories was...rewarding and fulfilling to me!).  Another man saw our Maven in one service and then went to a different service where the rabbi was giving a sermon on the whole of Lech L'cha (if you can believe it), and he reported back that, as he listened, he visualized our telling of the tale as the rabbi was speaking and it was infinitely richer.  A pre-Bat Mitzvah girl told her parents that she wanted Storahtelling to train her for her Bat Mitzvah.  Clergy, educators and congregants all spoke about wanting something this transformative in their community on a regular basis. 

There are so many individual stories to tell, but I'll just leave off by saying that it takes a lot of work to prepare a weekend like this.  I've been doing Storahtelling for awhile now.  While I always believe in the mission, sometimes it cannot help but feel like just another job.  This weekend reminded me that, no, our job is to try to change lives through this sacred technology of translation.  Our aims are very high and, while Emily and I were certainly not perfect this weekend, I do think we were successful.  And I do want to do it again.  I do want to continue being in the business of providing access to meaning - especially when I get to do it with such an extraordinary community.  

Speaking of which.... I am so grateful to Elissa Berg (Director of Education), Rabbi Bergman, Rabbi Shere, Hazzan Gross, Jodi Gross, all the educators - and the entire Adat Shalom community.  (Meeting Rabbi Jason & Elissa Miller was an added bonus.) They really do make up a special, warm, intelligent, dedicated community.  

Please read Rabbi Jason Miller's blog about Storahtelling's visit to Congregation Adat Shalom.