A Story Well-Told; for the People of the Book

by Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Not many of us stop to think about the role of storytelling in our lives. Everything that happens to us is sifted through our own filters, our own history, our own set of circumstances, and settles in our hearts and our brains as a story – our story. If Torah or liturgy or Jewish tales speak to us, it is probably because we feel the truth in these Jewish sources as it intersects with our own experience. How many of us remember our desire to hear the same bedtime stories again and again and again, and how many of us tell those same stories to our own children? We can watch the same good movies over and over, marvel at our clergy’s ability to weave stories together into powerful divrei Torah, wonder at the capacity that music has to move and motivate us, and teach our children through imagination, metaphor and value-laden tales from the past. We hold our family history dear through documents and photos and folklore. These stories from the past tell us more about who we are in this present tense.

For all of these reasons and more, my friend Fran Moss and I began talking several years ago about what we affectionately called “Hava NaStory.” Based on the huge success of Hava Nashira, OSRUI’s songleading institute held each year in May in Wisconsin, we dreamed of a four- or five-day series of workshops for storytellers and those who love the world of Jewish stories. Something that would appeal (we hoped) to clergy, teachers, youth directors, parents, performers – all those who understand the power of a good story and long to be in community with others who feel the same way. A place for those who wish to sharpen their skills and use their gifts to help others do the same; a place for those who want to learn how to tell stories; a place for those who would simply like to listen and be touched and inspired.

Thanks to the wonderful director (Jerry Kaye) and staff (Barbara Gordon and Susan Alexander) of OSRUI, our dream is becoming a reality. The first Maggid Jewish Storytelling Workshop will take place February 28 – March 3, 2013 in Oconomowoc, WI. Co-organizer Fran Moss and I are extremely fortunate to work with a stellar faculty – Danny Maseng (chazzan, performer, maggid and musician), Marilyn Price (educator, entertainer, storyteller and puppeteer) and Jordan Hill (educator and maggid, known for weaving Jewish tales with energy, enchantment and a deep sense of the sacred). We are crafting programs, workshops, master classes, and sessions that will include “Best Practices for All Ages,” “Chassidic Stories,” “Stories in Worship,” “Props and Puppetry,” “Enlivening Torah,” “Children as Storytellers,” and more. The schedule will also include story-sharing and open mic sessions.

For all those who understand the importance of a good story well-told, who are in positions where the art of storytelling (be it Torah, Tefilah, school, or stage) is paramount, it is our hope that Maggid will open doors and celebrate this under-appreciated art that is so much a part of all of our lives.

Are you an educator? Send a teacher. Youth Director? Send an advisor. Clergy? Send anyone charged with enlivening worship or Torah study in your congregation. Simply a lover of stories? Treat yourself and register now. We look forward to seeing you there!

Cantor Ellen Dreskin is currently the Coordinator of the Cantorial Certification Program at HUC-JIR in New York. She also travels extensively as a Cantor/Scholar-in-Residence: leading worship; creating educational programs; and teaching music, liturgy, and torah to Jewish communities across the United States.