Jewish Storytelling Coalition

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Wonderful article about Peninnah! ENJOY!! Kol HaKavod!!

Sightline Volume 19—Adar I 22 5779

The Covenant Classroom:
Educating for the Heart

“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
This month in Sight Line, we explore what it means to educate for the heart via the teachings of several notable educators.

A Listening Heart: Lessons from a Jewish Storyteller

“Ribono shel olam, God of the Universe, listen to my heart and my voice as I stand before You, wanting to tell our story. Help me to understand and find the right feelings and words with which to transmit the tale. Make my voice expressive and clear so that the collective wisdom of our people can reach the hearts of those who listen…”
—Peninnah Schram, “My Storyteller’s Prayer,” Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another, (Jason Aronson, an Imprint of Rowman and Littlefield, 1987), p. xxxv.
For Peninnah Schram, 1995 Covenant Award recipient and internationally renowned storyteller, the power of the spoken word was woven into the fabric of her childhood in New London, Connecticut, growing up with her father, Hazzan Samuel E. Manchester, and her mother, Dora Markman Manchester.
“I was blessed with parents who told me stories and the love of story was planted in my imagination,” Peninnah said. “My parents were given a legacy of the oral tradition from their parents which they handed down to me.”
Particularly vivid for Peninnah is the memory of her father chanting the Hineniprayer on the High Holidays. 
“He began to walk slowly from the back of the synagogue to the bimah, haltingly, dramatically, chanting by heart, and pleading with his whole heart on behalf of the congregation, his voice coming from deep within him – at times both arms outstretched to the heavens,” she shared.
It was this High Holiday experience that introduced Peninnah to the art of storytelling. “I began to know the power of having words clearly articulated, musical rhythm and timing, pause and silence, readiness to begin as well as bringing the audience along with you in the story journey, and feeling the images communicated expressively through the body and voice holistically,” she said. Peninnah’s mother also had an influence on her storytelling by telling her secular teaching tales. Inspired by her parents, as well as Elie Wiesel and Ruth Rubin – a Yiddish folksinger and ethnomusicologist – the roots of Peninnah’s future profession were planted early on.
For decades, Peninnah has shared her stories and wisdom with the world, beginning in 1969 at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, where she taught Speech and Drama. At the time, Peninnah was also volunteering to record books for the blind at The Jewish Braille Institute. She loved a book of folktales she had recorded. After discovering her students at Stern College didn’t know much about Jewish folktales, she realized she had work to do—namely, to begin sharing sacred and secular Jewish folktales of all genres with children, in person, so that these jewels of Jewish culture wouldn’t be lost on another generation. Together with storyteller Laura Simms, Peninnah created a weekly program at the 92nd Street Y called “Fire, Water, Stone & Air” in which they would perform dramatic, participatory tellings of stories from around the world. Later she created another storytelling workshop, along with her Stern College students. This one focused on Jewish tales and was titled “Kernels of a Pomegranate.”
Though the term “experiential education” was not yet popular, the program was an experience—and included creative dramatics, movement, music, and art. Through this work, Peninnah developed and refined an entire repertoire of Jewish stories and folktales, later becoming the resident storyteller at The Jewish Museum.
It wasn’t long before Peninnah’s reputation for the art of storytelling became widely known. She became a Professor of Speech and Drama at Yeshiva University’s Stern College and the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. Then, in 1974, she was offered the opportunity to create a Storytelling course as part of the Speech and Drama curriculum. Peninnah ultimately taught at YU until her retirement as Professor Emerita in 2015.
These days, Peninnah continues to share her storytelling wisdom with the field of Jewish Education. In addition to teaching at a number of conferences, including NewCAJE and Limmud, she presents storytelling programs and workshops at synagogues, universities, and festivals across the US, Canada, and Israel.
Peninnah has always believed in the power of storytelling to pave the way for a brighter future and, given the divisive political climate of today, she finds storytelling as relevant as ever for educators looking for tools with which to teach the next generation values like kindness and empathy.
“Sharing stories creates a bond between people,” Peninnah said. “Once we know someone’s story, we can no longer be enemies because we develop empathy that, in turn, leads to relationships. That’s why stories still work – why they still have power and importance in our world.”
A shared storytelling experience enables listeners to “walk in the shoes” of the storyteller and the characters in the story and also to understand peers on a deeper level, Peninnah explained. That emotional exchange emerges from the deeply human endeavor in which one imagines oneself as the storyteller and the sadness, joy, or other emotions one would feel having been through the same experience.
The powerful human-to-human exchange between storyteller and listeners needs to happen face-to-face for the development of empathy, compassion, and community, Peninnah emphasized. 
“There’s just no substitute for the human voice telling a story directly – with people looking at each other – listening to each other,” she said. “It is through the senses that one recalls emotions. It is the emotions that cause one to act in concert with one’s own group and to integrate the aspirations of the individuals with the ideals of their community.”
In addition to promoting empathy, storytelling is a powerful educational method because it “sets the story in the heart,” she noted. As the storyteller speaks, the essence of the story and its lessons are reinforced in the storyteller’s memory and the listener’s memory, and as the story reaches deep into the audience, they are changed and moved at the same time. “The voice is the messenger of the heart. We tell stories with the voice from the heart to reach the hearts of others,” she said.
Storytelling is vital to answering what Peninnah refers to as “heart questions,” the ultimate questions we are all trying to answer throughout our lives. Who are my people? How did they live? How should I live? What are my values? What is the legacy I want to leave for my children and the world?
Judaism is rich with sacred literature – Torah, Talmud, Midrashim, and a secular oral tradition that includes folktales, fairytales, fables, parables, tall tales, mystical tales and supernatural tales – which all set out to answer these questions.
“Shared stories become guides for desirable conduct and values,” Peninnah said. “Passed down from generation to generation, these communal stories educate and develop group identity in a creative and inspiring way. While stories delight, they also teach, and the images of the story remain in the imagination forever. These images then serve as a trigger to recall the lesson itself and contribute to moral development and Jewish identity.”
For educators hoping to incorporate storytelling into their classrooms and lessons, Peninnah offers practical advice that begins with a simple and singular suggestion: practice just listening. A class can walk outside and listen to the sounds around them and their nuances, listen to music and identify the instruments, or practice awareness of the stillness when in a quiet room. She also suggests becoming aware of body language and vocal tone when people are speaking by watching TV or a film with the sound turned down. Teachers and students can also search for a story they love and then share it with the whole class. The more students and teachers practice telling stories, the better. Educators who need a story for teaching a particular topic or theme can search in the Jewish Storytelling Coalition Directory and then contact a professional Jewish storyteller who can provide specialized coaching and guidance.
One of Peninnah’s favorite Jewish teachings comes from the book of Kings I, in which God asks King Solomon what he wishes for. Solomon responds not by asking God for long life, or for riches, or for the destruction of his enemies. Rather, Peninnah cites, Solomon asks for a lev shomea, a “listening heart,” for he understood that it is through listening and gaining a deep understanding of the experience of others that we can acquire true wisdom and only then can we make informed and compassionate choices of how to act in our world.
Although we may not be able to receive wisdom directly from God in the way that Solomon did, we can all begin the journey to acquiring a lev shomea through storytelling.
“We, as storytellers, should listen to the kinds of stories we need to tell,” Peninnah said. “We must listen to the message of the story and feel its importance to our lives. We must listen to the rhythm of the story, as to a musical composition. We must listen to the silences within the story. We must listen to what the listeners of the story need to hear.”
By Yonah Kirschner, for The Covenant Foundation. Photo by Zion Ozeri.
More to Consider:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav by Howard Schwartz!

to Howard Schwartz from the JSC and all his admirers! 
We are thrilled and can't wait to read your new book!

With utmost reverence and unfettered delight, Schwartz has carefully curated A Palace of Pearls alongside masterful commentary that guides the reader through the Rabbi's spiritual mysticism and uniquely Kabbalistic approach, ultimately revealing Rabbi Nachman to be a literary heavyweight in the vein of Gogol and Kafka. (amazon)

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) is widely considered to be one of the foremost visionary storytellers of the Hasidic movement. The great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of the movement, Rabbi Nachman came to be regarded as a great figure and leader in his own right, guiding his followers on a spiritual path inspired by Kabbalah. In the last four years of his life he turned to storytelling, crafting highly imaginative, allegorical tales for his Hasidim. Three-time National Jewish Book Award winner Howard Schwartz has masterfully compiled the most extensive collection of Nachman's stories available in English. In addition to the well-known Thirteen Tales, including "The Lost Princess" and "The Seven Beggars," Schwartz has included over one hundred narratives in the various genres of fairy tales, fables, parables, dreams, and folktales, many of them previously unknown or believed lost. One such story is the carefully guarded "Tale of the Bread," which was never intended to be written down and was only to be shared with those Bratslavers who could be trusted not to reveal it. Eventually recorded by Rabbi Nachman's scribe, the tale has maintained its mythical status as a "hidden story." 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

News from our Judith Black !

Judith's taken on an additional role in her storied storytelling career. Congratulations, Judith!! Here's her message to all:

Would you like to learn and tell stories while deepening your spiritual practice?  MAGGID-EDUCATOR TRAINING is a unique, powerful, and eminently useful training for educators, rabbis, cantors, gabbais, and anyone in the community who wants to deepen their spiritual connection to mitzvot, text, curriculum, and tikun olam through story and storytelling. 

The Maggid-Educator Training Program of the Institute for Jewish Spiritual Education, reclaims the traditional role of maggid as a master educator who inspires and guides the Jewish journeys of students of all ages.  Trainees in a two or three year program become professional sacred storytellers who educate and guide.  Peninnah Schram, an original faculty member, has stepped into new roles and Judith Black, along with Cherie Karo Schwartz are now the storytelling faculty among a brilliant community of creative artists, religious educators, and spiritual practitioners.

For more information about this program:  914-500-5696

and that's not all....check out Judith's exceptional TED talk. She's invited us to view:

When you have 17 minutes to contemplate how storytelling and the fate of our planet as a host for our species are intertwined, go and view Judith Black’s TED Talk:  

Storytelling and Climate Disruption: An Antidote To Despair

Friday, January 5, 2018

JSC Member Susan Stone shares her recent experience in Lublin, Poland. Thanks, Susan!

Justice Speaks:  Bringing Jewish Stories Back to Poland
By Susan Stone
 I felt no peace really.   How could there be a feeling of peace?  On that soil?
 The joy I felt being asked to participate in the storytelling festival in Poland was constantly interrupted by murmurings in the cobblestones; by vibrations in the old facades:  "We were here…we lived",  the old stones said.  “Say Kaddish for us.  There is no one else left to say it.”
  was invited to perform at a storytelling festival in Lublin, Poland, June, 2017,  at an amazing theatre/museum called TeatreNN  Grodzka Gate  .My program, "Bringing the Stories Home:  Jewish Tales From Poland" was translated from English into Polish  on a screen.  This is  a whole museum/theatre dedicated to stories. The entrance to the TeatreNN is at the Grodzka Gate, the Jewish gate.  On the other side,  the Jewish quarter (now parking lots ) of Lublin, over 30,000 Jews before WWII; a famous Yeshiva.
 There were storytellers from Italy, France, Poland and Spain...and me.  We shared stories in the theatre for four nights.   My stories, literary and from the Chasidic, and folkloric tradition, also included  stories about my experiences traveling around three years prior with a driver, visiting  the towns mentioned in  the stories.  It was important to me to make these Jewish-empty places vital—living, if only for a moment. I would say,  “Here is a story of the Seer of Lublin, buried just a mile from here”.  Or, “In Chelm, about 90 minutes from here, there lived…..”.
 What stories would resonate with a Polish audience. Would my choices (for over an hour’s worth of tales) be too esoteric? Too spiritual?  Too political?  Would  the audience respond to a Holocaust story with feelings of guilt, and stop listening with open hearts? 
 Almost every story I told was from a town close to Lublin.  When I said the Yiddish name of a town I always told  the  modern Polish equivalent  so my audience would feel the proximity of the perished world. It was important to me to say, through my tales, “Jews lived here.  Here are stories of wise rabbis; of compassion, generosity, and mysticism. This is what Yiddish sounds like.   Look what Poland lost; look what the world lost.  Remember…but open your hearts to the messages, sent through time and space from a forgotten world..

.I wanted my stories to be filled with ways in which we have to make the world a better place through tales of  lovingkindness, and self reflection; This plan, I hoped, would not only entertain (for of course without this  who will even listen?) but inspire listeners to go out and practice tikkun olam (repair of the world).
 All of you reading this are activists in some way…through  community work or just by bringing joy, laughter,  and understanding into the world through performance. But in the end each of us can bring about repair in the world while still  looking towards repair of our own brokenness too.  

The people who started this museum and  those who work there,  are not Jewish.I know this work brings them peace.  Because they collect stories, because of their quest for justice, to me they are holy people.  At the front of the museum they have this sign:  
 Decades have passed since the time of the Holocaust.  As after every apocalypse, a few things left: souvenirs, photos, documents.  The only thing we can do, is to look into the vastness of cold history for individual fates and events, and tell their story.

Monday, December 4, 2017


The Israel Folktale Archives (IFA) has just received a magnificent recognition to be included in the "Memory of the World" Register from UNESCO.

Folklorist/Author Yoel Perez writes:
The IFA was recognized by UNESCO as an international tradition site. It is a great honor and a good sign for the future. Here is the link so everyone can read about this well-deserved honor:

The IFA was founded by the distinguished folklorist Dov Noy in 1955 and now has collected over 21,000 folktales from the various ethnic communities in Israel. The IFA is housed at the Haifa University where the folktales are classified according to tale types and motifs. It was the work and passion of Dov Noy, through his creation of these Israel Folktale Archives, that successfully put Jewish folktales on the world folklore map!

 Dov Noy's name and legacy have been blessings for us all. We all wish that Dov could be with us to enjoy this world recognition.

Israel Folktale Archives

Documentary heritage submitted by Israel and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2017.
The Israel Folktale Archives (IFA), named in honor of its founder Prof. Dov Noy, is a unique, rich collection of more than 21,000 folk tales, based on Jewish oral tradition and Israeli folk narratives, and collected from more than 5,000 narrators from 70 ethnic groups in several languages, with documents dating from 1956 to 1999. The IFA folktale collection capture the essential features of various cultures: including the customs, beliefs, norms and values of Jewish immigrants from around the world, as they were shaped over the hundreds of years spent in the Diaspora, as well as the folk narratives of other ethnic groups currently living in Israel, including Bedouin, Christian, Muslim and Druze, in an attempt to encourage an open dialogue between the diverse cultures and ethnicities in Israel. The collection was completed after the large waves of immigration from Ethiopia and the USSR. Following this period, the digitization process of the collection began, Which includes typing, scanning, indexing the stories and rendering them accessible. In order to transform the collection into an international asset, an archive website was also created, to provide researchers and critics from all over the world with access to the collection. 

Folklorist and Author/Storyteller Barbara Rush writes:

Dov Noy loved people-and he truly believed that every person is his or her own story.  So he set out to collect and preserve them.Today the IFA is a unique and invaluable resource for people worldwide, layman and academic alike, to gain insight into the hearts and minds of the Jewish people,  Because of Prof. Noy's work, the value of story, as a reflection of the human condition, has been established---and will live on.

 Storyteller and Author Cherie Karo Schwartz writes:

The Israel Folktale Archives is the single most important index of stories in the world. The Jewish tales cross boundaries of religion, ethnicity, time and place to form an ageless, timeless treasure trove of tales. The stories are an invaluable resource for storytellers, educators, rabbis, and anyone working with the diverse Jewish worldwide cultures. By the careful cross-referencing of tale types and motifs, they form a unique and enriching bridge to all of the cultures and places in which the People of the Book (The People of the Story!) have lived and shared stories. I am blessed by and rely upon these stories for inspiration, source material, and tales to tell with audiences of all ages and backgrounds, as do storytellers worldwide.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Doug Lipman receives the 
NSN Lifetime Achievement Award!

Congratulations!! We share your nachus.  
May you go from strength to strength!

In case you missed the NSN Conference this summer, here's an opportunity to view the video and read the acceptance speech. We are so proud of our JSC members!!