by Marilyn Price
I’m not exactly sure when it first began. My guess is that I was 4 or younger, and my brother David was 6. We shared a bedroom, the only one, in an apartment with my folks on the north side of Chicago. They slept on the pull-out hideaway bed in the living room. No TV, no room to roam, just me and my big bro. We had books from the library, but I couldn’t read yet, so although David could have read me stories when we were supposed to be sleeping, he did not. We were compliant children, and lights were not an option, but talking? Talking was not forbidden.
So we told stories from our imaginations, and they were vivid recollections of our days interspersed with magical characters and heroes and fanciful foods. We were the stars in our bedtime dramas. When we moved to a larger apartment at the ages of 8 and 10, we still shared a room and, now that I could read, I suppose we could have gone beyond the imaginary tales – but we didn’t. The stories became more dramatic and included pillows for horses and other props. When my parents went out and left us under the unwatchful eye of a babysitter, we expanded our tales to include a swimming pool in the bathroom, where we used the toilet seat as our diving board. In truth, that only happened once, but my memories of it are very vivid. My personal storyteller, David, created a character that saved me from my little-girl troubles and, as time went on, that character remained in my head. It became my Golem. That icon, called the Ritzie Ritzie Cracker Man, never spoke but acted with such bravery that many of my stories today, especially my puppet characters, are based on him. His cleverness, his tenacity, his goofiness; he was my hero!
There were other storytellers in my family, as well. My Grandpa Alex told quite a tale and wrote a few of his own. My daddy loved to tell jokes, and my mom was the perfect audience. I’m sure that I never understood I was being mentored, apprenticed if you will, for my life’s work – but I became a storyteller, a puppeteer, a teacher who uses a visual aid, a writer of fact and fiction. And my personal storyteller, my brother David Samuel Lieb, became a Reform rabbi. His gift of telling and weaving his Jewish experience was magical, and from my days as the listener, I learned to aspire to be the same. My audience, my classroom, is extraordinarily varied, from venues such as Ellis Island to the Grove in Los Angeles, to synagogues and churches, to schools and libraries across the country, with ages as broad as there are ages – but my telling is always based on the life experience of my audience, my subject and me.
One can, of course, go to school to fine-tune the art of telling and even, in some minimal extent, puppetry. The techniques can be honed and polished, but it is our responsibility to breathe life into those stories with some magic, some insight of our own. It is the listening, combined with the skill, combined with the knowledge that will make it all work. It is a skill that can be used in the board room, the bimah, the bedroom, and wherever else people gather together.
From February 28th through March 3rd, the URJ is offering the Maggid Storytelling Workshop, an experience to anyone who would like to learn or just listen (or a combination of both) about how to hone and polish this amazing skill. One does not need to be a teller or even aspire to be one; just to spend time with people who love stories and music should be dayenu, enough. Jews are often called The People of the Book referring, of course, to our love of Torah. We are also The People of the Word; we talk, we study, we sing, we laugh – and at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, WI, we will live it. In this beautiful comfortable setting, anything is possible.
If I weren’t already going, I’d sign up! Want to join us? Learn more and register now.
Marilyn Price is a nationally acclaimed storyteller, author, educator, and puppeteer who inspires her audiences to open their minds and their hearts. Her specialty as a designer in the field of professional development includes the training of educators to design their own style of telling to reach all learners. SHer role as an interpreter of Torah helps people place themselves within the text for extended interactions with their faith. Visit marilynprice.com to learn more.