fbpx

Storytelling

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

—Muriel Rukeyser

God made man because he loves stories.

—Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

From comics to movies to the daily sports narratives on ESPN, our culture is awash in stories.  Since the first campfire was built, men have used stories to entertain, bond, and articulate who we are, and who we strive to be (or not to be).

In Jewish tradition, stories convey the origins of our people, our rituals, our values. The rabbis were not just pious interpreters of text – they were masterful storytellers, who strove to unlock the mysteries of our most ancient texts through the power of character, dramatic tension and narrative. Likewise, our boys can use the stories they tell and hear to help unlock a deeper understanding of who they are, where they have been and where they are headed on their journeys towards manhood.

 

Goals

  • For guys to understand the function of stories for men in our culture
  • For guys to explore facets of storytelling in Jewish tradition
  • For guys to be inspired to see themselves as the hero of their own story

Physical Activities

#1 Overcoming Obstacles

Gather the group on one side of the room and ask for a volunteer. The volunteer then has to lead the group across the room – going around, over, under or through all of the obstacles that they imagine in the way – the obstacles can be big or small, challenging or just a nuisance. The group has to follow the leader as accurately as possible – not just in how they move but where. For an extra challenge, ask the volunteer to incorporate motivation and emotion into the journey. When the group has reached the far side of the room, a new volunteer should lead them back – with a new set of obstacles to navigate.

#2 Duck, duck, character

Just like the original game, except instead of saying “goose,” the person traveling around the circle saying “duck” chooses someone to chase them by saying a character name, type of trait. For example:

  • Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, an old person
  • Duck, duck, duck, duck, Darth Vader
  • Duck, duck, duck, someone stuck in a traffic jam
  • Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, secret service agent
  • Duck, duck, duck, duck, a zombie

The chooser and the chosen both have to go around the circle in character until the chooser reaches the spot vacated by the other person. They then sit down and the second person becomes “It”.

#3 Shut the Front Door!

Working in pairs consisting of a listener and a speaker, have each set of boys imagine that they are standing outside of the speaker’s front door. Have the speaker verbally give the attentive listener an imaginary errand to do. The speaker must carefully narrate to his or her partner how to go into the house, travel to the bedroom, and, once there, describe where to find a special treasure somewhere in the room. Have the speaker tell the partner a story about why the thing to be retrieved is special and then have speaker verbally explain how to travel back to the front door to bring the special thing out to where the speaker will be waiting.

 

Cognitive Activities

#1 What is the Hero’s Journey?

#2 Twisted Tales

Have the boys sit in a circle, and take turns adding a couple of sentences to an ongoing story. The twist: the story should be a combination of two classic tales that are “mashed up” by alternating boys’ additions!  Suggestions: Chanukkah/Thanksgiving, Star Wars/Purim, Harry Potter/Passover, etc.

#3 Here’s the story of…

Have boys choose an object out of a bag, such as:

•    Math test
•    Gym sock
•    Old cell phone
•    Match
•    Rubber ball
•    Paper Clip
•    Rock

Imagine the life story of each of those “things.” Personify the thing and tell its story like an autobiography. How was it made? Where did it come from? Who acquired it? How was it used? What was the most important moment in its “life?”

Jewish Texts

Text #1: Finding Our Way

When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw danger threatening the Jews in his community, he would hike to a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and a miracle would happen and the crisis averted.

Later, when his student, the famous Magid of Mezritch, needed to do the same thing, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again a miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be enough.”And still, a miracle happened.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his chair, his head in his hands, he cried out to God: “Oh, Holy One! I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I can’t even find the place in the forest! All I can do is tell the story, and this will have to be enough.” And it was.

– Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest

Questions for this text:

  • What, in one sentence is this story about?
  • What happens, exactly, what can you remember? 
  • What images come to mind? 
  • What was the strongest image that came to mind? 
  • What do you like about this story? What don’t you like?
  • In what ways have you experienced storytelling as a ritual? What are the stories that your friends and family revisit over and over? What makes these stories more important than other stories?
  • What is the deep truth that this story is trying to convey?

Text #2: Humor and Death

Rava said: a man is obligated to get so drunk on Purim that he does not know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’

Here’s how Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira celebrated Purim: they got drunk, Rabba rose up and killed Rabbi Zeira. The next day, Rabbah prayed to God for mercy, and Rabbi Zeira came back to life. The next year, Rabbah asked Rabbi Zeira if he wanted to come over to celebrate Purim together again. Rabbi Zeira responded, “You can’t always rely on miracles.”    

-B. Talmud Megillah 7b

Questions for this text:

  • What, in one sentence is this story about?
  • What happens, exactly, what can you remember? 
  • What images come to mind? What was the strongest image that came to mind? 
  • What do you like about this story? What don’t you like?
  • What about the story is funny?
  • Why do you think Rabbi Zeira responds, “You can’t always rely on miracles?”
  • What is the deep truth that this story is trying to convey?

Text #3: Irony

One time, a man was coming to Israel from Babylonia. When he sat down to rest, he saw two birds fighting with each other in the road. One of the birds killed the other, then flew away. It brought back a certain herb, which it placed on the dead bird, and revived it. The man said, “It would be wonderful if I could get some of that herb! I could take it with me and bring the dead of the Land of Israel back to life!” He found some of the herb, and continued on his way. Then he saw a dead fox lying by the roadside. The man said, “It would be good to test this on the dead fox,” and touching the fox with the herb, he revived it.

Continuing further on his way, the man finally reached the border of Israel. At that place he saw on the road a lion that had been killed. The man said, “It would be good to try this on the lion.” He touched the lion with the herb, and it was brought back to life. The lion then got up and ate him.

-Midrash Leviticus Rabbah

Questions for this text:

  • What, in one sentence is this story about?
  • What happens, exactly, what can you remember? 
  • What images come to mind? What was the strongest image that came to mind? 
  • What do you like about this story? What don’t you like?
  • What is funny in this story?
  • What do you think the story means?
  • Is it an important story? Why/why not?
  • What is the deep truth that this story is trying to convey?

Emotive Activities

#1 Why Stories?

Ask the following questions and use the following responses as prompts if needed:

  • Where do guys tell stories? At a party, locker room, a friend’s house, cafeteria, any place there’s a willing audience
  • What makes a good story? Surprise, adventure, humor, suspense, action, danger, character development, interesting plot, etc.
  • Why do guys tell stories? To bond, communicate a fear, a longing, to convey information about the values of themselves or the group

#2 Danger and Safety

The role of violence in fairytales, when told to children, is to help them process fear. While we’d like our children to never be afraid or to experience violence, this is simply not a reality. With each hearing of some violence in a fairytale, the child’s unconscious controls the response as “I have had this fear before. I am safe here in this moment. I can survive this.” Each time, the child learns a bit more about how to grow up and how to deal with complex emotions.   

– Sean Buvala, daddyteller.com

#3 Listen and discuss “The Nail” from The Moth storytelling series:

Click Here to listen 

#4 Our own Hero’s Journey

Take a look at television writer Dan Harmon’s version of the Hero’s Journey below. Ask the boys:

  • How they fit in to this circle?
  • Where are they on their journey?
  • Have they ever felt like they’ve encountered one of the steps, even out of order?
  • How did it feel?

dan-harmon-story-circle

Closing Ritual

A Traveler’s Prayer, by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

A prayer for the journey
We could say it every day
When we first leave the soft warmth of our beds
And don’t know for sure if we’ll return at night
When we get in the trains, planes and automobiles
And put our lives in the hands of many strangers.
Or when we leave our homes for a day, a week, a month or more –
Will we return to a peaceful home? Untouched by fire, flood or crime?
How will our travels change us?
What gives us the courage to go through that door?

A prayer for the journey.
For the journey we take in this fragile vessel of flesh.
A finite number of years and we will reach
The unknown, where it all began.
Every life, every day, every hour is a journey.
In the travel is the discovery,
the wisdom, the joy.
Every life, every day, every hour is a journey.
In the travel is the reward, the peace, the blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email