“My So-Called Jewish Life” was at 8 PM, Saturday, December 15th at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.
The story of the Maccabees is one often told during Hanukkah, but that was not the story those at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue heard on Saturday night. The stories told on that last night of Hanukkah were similar to the theme of the Maccabee tale as they all featured the presence of perseverance and meaning. Stories were told courtesy of SpeakeasyDC, a non-profit whose mission is “to give voice to people’s life experiences, support artistic expression, build community, and contribute to DC’s cultural capital and creative economy by promoting and teaching the art of autobiographical storytelling.”
The Saturday evening event, titled “My So-Called Jewish Life”, was the fourth annual event of its kind. The speakers were invited by founder and Director, Amy Saidman. Their stories, tones, and styles varied, but a pride in their heritage (whether born into or adopted later in life) was there. The snarky, self-defeating style typical of Jewish humor also rang true and loud, giving the event an authentic Jewish feel (though the synagogue setting also helped.)
Bonnie Benwick, interim Food Editor of The Washington Post, used audience participation to tell an age old tale, all too common to Jewish hardship: how to make the perfect brisket. Andy Pollin, co-host of The Sports Reporters on ESPN980, led the audience to gasp as he told the tale of receiving a phone call from Sandy Koufax. Sara Polon, aka Soupergirl of the (delicious!) DC soup delivery service, recounted a camping trip gone awry with Jordanian Bedouins. Meleia Egger, returned Peace Corps volunteer liaison, spoke of a dear friend who showed her comfort in Judaism and later inspired her to find prayer. Hillah Culman is a Program Manager for Pro-Active Performance who met the perfect “NJB” only to realize he wasn’t a Jewish boy at all – leading them to search for an interfaith solution to their relationship. The story told by Eliot Stein, Managing Editor of Living Social, had the room in hysteria. He told the story of lying to impress his teacher, writing to her that he became a man when he had a Bar Mitzvah. Here lays the catch: Stein (despite the suggestion of his name) is not Jewish and never had a Bar Mitzvah. He tugged on heart strings as he explained how the confusion his name often causes has brought him experiences to be gained from. John Donvan, an ABC News correspondent, closed the night. Mr. Donvan, a three-time Emmy winner, told of finding himself at his daughters’ Bat Mitzvah wondering just far he’d go “with this Jewish thing.” Mr. Donvan was not born Jewish, but always held a deep curiosity for Judaism. Married to an Israeli, he found he was clinging on to his own heritage as his family around him delved deeper and deeper into Judaism. He realized, though, that this was the “Jewish thing to do,” holding onto his own heritage. Also, noted from his storytelling, he speaks excellent Hebrew for a goy.
The storytellers closed the night by lighting a menorah together on stage with Stein controlling the shamash in good humor. After the show, Stein credited Saidman with being a “tremendous force” in the success of the night. “The night was great. There was a variety and a good message. It was a well-rounded event, very telling of the Jewish community.” His father, who was by his side afterwards, also noted that he “experienced the same name confusion Eliot has his whole life. It was like hearing my own story, but dramatized.”
Those statements envelope the theme of the night, and a theme of Judaism: we are all in this together, all sharing and living similar stories. It is up to us to listen and learn from each other. Everyone who attended the fourth annual “My So-Called Jewish Life” did just that.