Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Light Publications is pleased to announce the release of Mark Binder latest book, THE MISADVENTURES OF RABBI KIBBITZ AND MRS. CHAIPUL.
It is a brief novel for adults, with no politics, and a lot of smiles*. She owns the restaurant. He’s the wise old rabbi. At their age what could possibly go wrong?
*It’s like rye bread… you don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy it.
As you may know, Mark is a well known and prolific Jewish author and storyteller.
Mark’s audiobook, LOKI RAGNAROK was nominated for an Audie Award for Original Work. In 2016, he won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award for Audio Storytelling. His collection, A CHANUKAH PRESENT was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Family Literature.
THE MISADVENTURES is already receiving wonderful notices:
“Village stories that deftly lift a curtain on a world of friendly humor and touching details of Jewish life.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“The Lethal Latkes is not a murder mystery. It concerns some awful-tasting latkes (potato pancakes) and what you might call another Hanukkah miracle: love.”
– The New York Times
“The Wise Men of Chelm reimagined… Mark Binder’s ‘The Misadventures of Rabbi Kibbitz and Mrs. Chaipul’ will almost certainly make you laugh and might even cause you to shed a tear.”
– Jewish Rhode Island
THE MISADVENTURES… is available in print, ebook and audiobook anywhere these are sold, and of course on Amazon at https://geni.us/Widm
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Howard Schwartz to receive literary award on October 26, 2019!
Howard Schwartz, the noted poet, essayist, novelist, editor, and expert on Jewish folklore and mythology, has been chosen as the recipient of the 2019 Tradition of Literary Excellence Award. The award, which was created in 2014 and is funded by the Municipal Commission on Arts & Letters of University City, is given “to honor the work of a living local author whose literary achievement has won national and international acclaim.”
Schwartz will receive the award at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Tradition of Literary Excellence Award ceremony, held on the fifth floor of University City’s city hall, 6801 Delmar Blvd.
Previous recipients of the award have included William Gass, Jane O. Wayne, Patricia McKissack, Michael Castro and Gerald Early.
Schwartz, who was born and raised in University City, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He is a three-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award and the editor of four collections of Jewish folklore. He is also the author of “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism” (Oxford University Press, 2004), which won the National Jewish Book Award in 2005. He is also the editor of 10 acclaimed children’s books, including “Next Year in Jerusalem” and “The Day the Rabbi Disappeared,” both of which won the National Jewish Book Award and the Aesop Prize in 1994 and 2000, respectively.
His most recent book is “A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav” (Oxford University Press, 2018).
Tickets to the Oct. 26 event are $20/person; $35/couple, which covers light refreshments and live music. To reserve tickets, visit: http://bit.ly/Schwartz-Award. For more details about the event, contact Winnie Sullivan at email@example.com or 314-447-3888.
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
The Beginning of the Jewish Storytelling Coalition and Its Importance
by Hanna Bandes Geshelin, (c) 2019
How was the Jewish Storytelling Coalition started, and why is it important? As I sit at my desk pondering this question, I look out my front window at the hills of the northern Galilee. In the distance I see New Pekiin, the modern section of a village that has had a continuous Jewish presence since the time of the Second Temple. Nearer are wooded hills, a creek and a nature preserve where jackals, wild boars, and other creatures live. On some hilltops nearby are Druze, Christian Arab, and Muslim Arab villages as well as tiny Jewish communities. I am just a few kilometers from the Lebanese border in the friendly mountain city of Ma'alot, population around 20,000, where I have a full and rich religious and social life.
It was my desire to live a Jewish life in a small town that led, oddly enough, to the founding of the Jewish Storytelling Coalition in 1989. I had been living in Brookline, Massachusetts for ten years, and while I had a satisfactory spiritual life I was unhappy living in the city. Living as a Jew in a small community was difficult; I knew this from the seven years I had lived in Idaho and Utah. My isolation in those places drew me back to the Boston area where I had lived twice before. While I had a rich Jewish life in Brookline, I struggled socially. Neither a city sophisticate, urban rebel, nor suburbanite, I had no natural cohort even in the Jewish community. I was discouraged from making aliyah by the Jewish Agency, whose representatives told me that without a degree in social work or nursing I would not find work outside of a big city. Israel was just beginning to emerge from Third World status, and there was no other work for college-educated people in development towns. I was too old and too single to be accepted into a kibbutz or moshav, where membership had strict requirements that I did not meet.
My desire to live both a Jewish and a small-town life drew me, around 1987, to a conference on rural Jewry held in northern Vermont. Maybe, I thought, I could find a way or a place where I would be more comfortable. I enjoyed the conference, although it offered no answers to my questions. I got a ride back to Brookline with Herman Brown, director of the Boston Workmen's Circle, a Yiddish workers' organization that was trying to find itself in the post-Yiddish labor movement world. In the course of our three-hour ride he learned that I was a Jewish storyteller. Always on the lookout for programming that would draw people to his organization's facility in Brookline, he started brainstorming with me. I was not interested in organizing anything, I just wanted to get out of the city. But Herman didn't give up. He called me every few weeks, asking how my plans for a Jewish storytelling "something" were coming. Finally I caved and agreed to run a conference.
We set a date in March and I got busy. I had studied storytelling with Doug Lipman in 1986 and attended monthly storytelling get-togethers where some of the other storytellers were also Jewish. I contacted people I knew and started planning. With press releases in the Jewish Advocate, Boston Globe and the Herald, as well as the local storytelling network and the Workmen's Circle mailings, the conference was advertised. I had no idea if anyone would turn up. To my surprise, we had about 40 people that first year. At Herman's urging I set out a sign-up list for people interested in a Jewish storytelling organization. Those people became the founding members of the Jewish Storytelling Coalition and helped me plan and run the conference for the next several years.
The conference continued to grow and draw interest. Opportunities for storytelling gigs increased; talented storytellers began to grow in the JSC's supportive atmosphere. I married in 1995 and moved away, losing touch with the organization. Because of trouble with my voice I stopped telling stories shortly thereafter. But the organization continued to flourish.
So why is the Jewish Storytelling Coalition important? It is important because it is a clearinghouse for Jewish storytelling. If you Google "Jewish storytelling," the Jewish Storytelling Coalition's website, www.jewishstorytellers.com, comes up on the first page. It has a national directory of Jewish storytellers and is a primary method of connecting places looking for storytellers with practitioners of the art. The telling of the stories of our people has an importance that we cannot fathom. People who would never sit down at a rabbi's class, people who have never sat in a Hebrew or Jewish Sunday School classroom, may be enthralled by the folktales of our people. And ours, both silly and serious, are teaching tales, not meandering anecdotes that go nowhere. For thousands of years our stories have been an important means of educating our people, of transmitting our history, culture, and values.
The event that crystallized the importance of Jewish storytelling for me happened later the same summer that I met Herman. I was hired by a Jewish summer camp to tell stories during the Three Weeks, the period between the 17th of Tammuz, when the Romans breached the wall of Jerusalem, and Tisha B'Av, the day of the destruction of the Second Temple and the taking of the Jewish people as slaves to Rome. Our tradition teaches that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among the Jewish people. Remember the uniquely Jewish punchline, "You're right, and he's also right?" Ours is the only religious tradition where ambiguity in belief is tolerated. On Tisha B'Av we are told to put hatred aside and get along even with those with whom we disagree, because baseless hatred--hatred caused by differences such as those of opinion, rather than by direct acts of violence or violation--is wrong and causes destruction.
The camp director asked me to come up on a Sunday afternoon to tell traditional stories, including about Tisha B'Av. I rented a car, loaded my sound system, costume and sack supper, and headed north. The drive to the camp took about two hours. When I arrived, I was told that the campers had had their annual tennis tournament that day, so they were tired and ready for a quiet activity. I changed into my costume, took my sound system, and headed with a counselor to the building where I would perform. But we discovered there was no power in the building. A dead squirrel on the ground beneath the chewed supply line told the story. Until an electrician could come there would be no power. It was a hot day; there was no other room big enough for all the campers. The counselor and maintenance man scurried around looking for lanterns and flashlights to illuminate the stage. I would have to project my voice.
The windowless room was pitch black except for the small lights across the front of the stage, which may have illuminated me but did nothing to dispel the blackness of the hall itself. I heard shuffling as the campers filed in, but it did not sound like the three hundred kids I had been told to expect. How many were in the hall I could not tell. The campers were absolutely silent. Perhaps they fell asleep, I thought. I segued from one story to the next without the applause that usually follows completion of a story, imagining I was speaking to an empty room. When I finished my program there was, again, no applause, just a small amount of rustling that sounded like three rats leaving the building, not a bunch of campers. I felt I had just concluded an exercise in total futility. Two hours up, two hours back, an hour setting up, and getting ready to return home. The expense of the rental car. Wasted. Back in the office, the counselor apologized for my difficulties and handed me payment. "Next year," he said, "after the tournament I think we should just have free time." Yes, I thought, good idea.
I started for my car. I was grumbling about being laden down with my unused equipment when a boy of perhaps eleven years stepped up. "Can I help you to your car?" he asked. I gladly relinquished my speaker and mic. As we walked, he said, "I really liked that story you told about how stupid hatred between two men caused the destruction of Jerusalem. It made me think. This is my third year at this camp, and there's a boy here I just don't like. I don't even remember why I don't like him, but we have never gotten along. I do stupid things to hurt him, and he does stupid things to hurt me. But it's wrong. I am going to speak to him today and apologize for the things I've done to him. Maybe we won't ever be friends, but it would be really good if we could stop being enemies. I'm going to try."
One story had hit its mark. The miles home flew by as I considered that one boy had just taken a huge step toward responsible adulthood because he had heard and understood a story from our past. The message of the tragic tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza was still resonating 1917 years after it occurred, still helping our young people grow into thoughtful and compassionate Jews. That is the importance of story: people listen for entertainment and, more often than we can know, absorb and grow from the lessons. This is the reason that Jewish tales are important. This is the reason that the Jewish Storytelling Coalition and its directory of Jewish storytellers matter.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
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:
- Tamar Alexander-Frizer, The Heart Is a Mirror: The Sephardic Folktale (Wayne State University Press, December 6, 2007)
- Molly Cone, Who Knows Ten: Children’s Tales of the Ten Commandments (Urj Press; Revised edition, June 1990)
- Sharon Barcan Elswit, The Jewish Story Finder: A Guide to 668 Tales Listing Subjects and Sources (McFarland & Company; 2nd edition, July 27, 2012)
- Barbara Diamond Goldin, A Child’s Book of Midrash: 52 Jewish Stories from the Sages (Jason Aronson, an Imprint of Rowman and Littlefield; First Edition, July 7, 1977)
- Goldie Milgram, Ellen Frankel, Peninnah Schram, Cherie Karo Schwartz, Arthur Strimling, eds., Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning(Reclaiming Judaism, November 23, 2011)
- Peninnah Schram, ed.,Chosen Tales: Stories Told by Jewish Storytellers (Jason Aronson, an Imprint of Rowman and Littlefield, July 1, 1995)
- Vanessa Boris, What Makes Storytelling So Effective For Learning? (Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, December 20, 2017)
- Matthew James Friday, Why Storytelling in the Classroom Matters (Edutopia, July 11, 2014)
- Annette Labovitz, The Effectiveness of Storytelling in Jewish Education (The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, January 15, 2000
- Timm Lott, Ditch the grammar and teach children storytelling instead (The Guardian, May 19, 2017)
- Clayton Schuster, How a Jewish Storytelling Tradition Is Reflected in Contemporary Art (Hyperallergic, December 11, 2017)
- Sierra Semmel, Learning more than Hebrew through storytelling (Maine Campus, February 4, 2019)
- Daniel J. Solomon, The Ancient Art of Jewish Storytelling Gets A Reboot, In Podcasts And Classes (Forward, May 28, 2017)