Religion & Beliefs

Fixing Broken Windows

Today, November 9th, is the commemoration of Kristallnacht –the night of broken glass. On this day, in 1938 the broken and vandalized windows of homes, shops, synagogues and schools throughout Germany became a terrible symbol of the great shattering that … Read More

By / November 9, 2007

Today, November 9th, is the commemoration of Kristallnacht –the night of broken glass. On this day, in 1938 the broken and vandalized windows of homes, shops, synagogues and schools throughout Germany became a terrible symbol of the great shattering that was to become the Holocaust. I woke up this morning with this image in my mind: a street strewn with heaps of broken shards of glass, empty except for one woman walking slowly, looking at the broken pieces reflecting a bright blue sky. She is pregnant. In some ways this image is related to the historical date, to this week’s Torah portion – and to what’s happening right now in the lives of the people who are a part of the Storahtelling community– so I wanted to share a brief thought that elucidates this haunting image and will hopefully be meaningful to all of you who are, in so many ways, part of my family.

Rebecca is the pregnant woman, and as this week’s portion, Toldot – Origins, begins, she is pregnant with twins. These are the first twins in history, and they are kicking in different directions, and Rebecca is confused and troubled – what is happening inside of her? She asks the first existential question in the Torah – ‘if this is so – who am I?’ And she is the first person in Jewish history to seek an answer, to investigate life’s challenges – so she goes to find God. The answer she receives is a complex blessing: she will become the mother of two boys, and they will become the fathers of two nations at war, two opposites who will fight for supremacy.

Jacob and Esau are born into struggle. The younger baby grabs the heel of the older one, already trying to grab the birthright, and so he is named ‘the heel grabber’ or Jacob. The older one, Esau, as told from the eyes of Jacob’s descendents, is marked as a hairy hunter that defies the gentle pastoral life of the Semitic household, he is ‘other’.

Fast forward to what Jacob and Esau will come to symbolize to future generations. In Judaic mythology, Jacob becomes Israel, and Esau becomes Edom, and then Amalek– later on identified as the Roman Empire, becomes Christianity, and Nazi Germany. Rebecca is walking down a street strewn with the fragments of war created by her children, then and now. What a haunting and hopeless image. So what of the fixing? How do we avoid this grim prophecy? Where is the hope of healing and rep
air?

Perhaps the hope for repair, like this story of despair, is inside each one of us. I am reminded to read this saga the way we have read so many other biblical tales at Storahtelling – as a mythic allegory that is meant to give us insight into our inner struggles and that enables us to contemplate the difficult but basic truths of our lives. Each of us is Rebecca, carrying conflict and twin desires that sometimes clash, hurt others and hurt ourselves. And we are each Jacob, and Esau, and the sum of their struggle. If we read this passage as an invitation for personal growth, not as a historical and political justification of struggle, perhaps we can heal the historical pain by remembering and honoring the past, and we can commit to reducing the hatred between us that impacts our future.

Nazi and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian, Democrat and Republican, militant Muslim or fundamentalist Christian– and many others that are against each other in the fight for survival and supremacy: can the story be told differently? Can we tell this inherited story differently to as many people as we can? Can I recognize this story inside of me? Who is my Jacob, grabbing the heel of my inner Esau, where is my disquiet, what is the seed of my struggle to survive – and how does this stop me from being at peace with myself and other people?

So, yes, this is beginning to sound like the D’var Torah… a reflection that ends with a call to action, a charge. Writing to you – friends and family members of my Storahtelling tribe- I am reminded that this is precisely the core of sacred work: our goal is not to simply clarify and dramatize obscure biblical images but to actually address the burning issues of the day, to ‘translate’ the deeper meaning of this, or any other biblical story, into the inner life of each of us.

This weekend I will be presenting Maven at a synagogue in Boulder, Colorado, telling the tale of Jacob and Esau’s birth (and I think I just got my opening story..), and tonight Brian Gelfand, Naomi Less, Jake Goodman and Emily Warshaw will lead a Ritualab for the Tribeca Hebrew community in downtown NYC– focusing on the story of Rebecca’s search for meaning. At the same time, a team of Storatellers will premier the newest version of our show ‘Becoming Israel” in Philadelphia— about Jacob wrestling to become Israel. This show, marking Israel’s 60th year of independence asks some hard questions – how does this legacy of wrestling effect our modern identity and affiliation with Israel? Under Annie Levy’s directorial hand, Franny Silverman, Shawn Shafner, Melissa Shaw and Katie Down will become Israel this weekend – and I hope you will all see this show as we will begin touring soon. And as soon as Shabbat ends, Naomi Less and Jake Goodman are heading down to Nashville to represent Storahtelling at the UJC General Assembly —a whole other kind of struggle… what a packed weekend—one of many— where we get to share this new vision of the power of story with a world thirsty for new visions.

So, on this very personal note –thank you all for joining me on the journey of fixing the broken glass of our heritage. I hope we all get to walk down the streets and see the reflected vision, in each shard, of a bright future, where Jacob and Esau, hand in hand, are walking down the same street, and behind them, a smiling Mother of All – ‘the mother of the sons is happy’ as it is written in the Psalms.