An All-of-a Kind Seminar on Jewish Story
In a four-part series, Sheila Lewis reports on her experiences at the recent Seminar on Jewish Story, sponsored by The Whole Megillah LLC, together with the Association of Jewish Libraries.
From the moment Barbara Krasner, founder of the Whole Megillah and creator of the May 18 first-of-its-kind Seminar on Jewish Story, introduced the day’s schedule, I knew we were in capable hands. Barbara, with the organizing team of Liza Stabler, Temple Emanu-El librarian, and Heidi Estrin, Association of Jewish Libraries president, pulled off more than capable. The day unfolded like a magical feast.
Legendary legend-teller Peninnah Schram, first keynote speaker, cast a spell with stories and advice, reminding us why we love to share stories. Her descriptions of Jewish story categories and their importance are worth pondering:
- Healing stories—to restore energy for life.
- Wisdom stories—real counsel woven into the fabric of life. The mind is messenger and the voice is the message of the heart.
- Stories for wonder and curiosity inspire awe.
- Stories to create meaning in life help make sense of the world.
- Stories that enhance the senses and give voice to imagination.
- Stories can express a group identity and elicit a response.
“Our earliest stories shape and influence us,” she intoned, before leaving us with “Apples with Stars,” a poetic, midrashic tale that inspired all of the above.
I was primed for the children’s book panel of three authors and an editor. April Halprin Wayland’s picture book, New Year at the Pier, offered a fresh and charming look at tashlich, through the eyes of a child. Susan Lynn Meyer’s riveting Black Radishes, was based on her father’s years growing up in German-occupied France during WW2 and his hair-raising escape. Gustave’s story sticks to a child’s point of view, making it an excellent read for all ages—I read it straight through. In stories that recall history, the past is never dead, or over. This point was made by Susan and echoed by Susan’s editor, Rebecca Short of Delacorte Press (Random House). Rebecca articulated her conviction that the appeal of Jewish children’s books should start with a well-written story about characters who are well-drawn, never stereotypical or clichéd. The Jewish character or essence of the story will come out, whether implied or more overt, but first and foremost, the writing must be good. Deborah Heiligman, versatile children’s author for all age levels, spoke about her recent Young Adult (YA/Teens) book, Intentions. “Intentions” refer to the Hebrew word Kavannot. Intentions, and its close relative, atonement, central to Judaism, are themes Deborah weaves throughout a controversial and complex story about a teen’s grappling with the flawed and disappointing adults in her life. Over the many years it took Deborah to complete this novel, she learned more deeply about Judaism, which ultimately enriched her writing.
Next in the series: Reportage on Forward publisher Sam Norich’s Keynote and the poetry panel.