Last Sunday afternoon at the Owings Mills JCC, about 15 participants of all ages and Jewish affiliations gathered for the Limmud Baltimore Jewish Journey Storytelling Workshop facilitated by local Jewish storyteller Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff. The event featured storytelling by Baltimore Jewish Times editor-in-chief Joshua Runyan as well as Gail Lipsitz, Noah Aronin and Hannah Heller, but all participants had opportunities to tell their own stories.
Limmud chair Cheryl Taragin explained that the workshop was an example of the organization’s Taste of Limmud initiative. Since Limmud Baltimore began three years ago, said Taragin, the volunteers who run the program have sought to create events that connect Jews across the denominational and organizational spectrum in celebration of Jewish culture, study and identity. Limmud Baltimore holds an annual daylong festival and two smaller programs during the year.
“Jews of all walks of life come together at these gatherings,” said Taragin. “We try not to label and really want people to feel that we are all Jews — because we are. We want to break down barriers.”
Nan Tuckett said she had attended a Limmud event previously and “thoroughly enjoyed it.” She was esp-ecially excited about the storytelling workshop.
“Storytelling is in my blood,” she said. “I come from Appalachia. I haven’t been a storyteller myself, but my uncle and my grandmother were. Tall tales, exaggerated accents … I love them!”
Zunikoff opened the program by telling a folk tale. The story’s moral was the importance of remembering the past. Storytelling, she noted, is the way people do this.
Lipsitz presented her story next, which was about her desire to have a bat mitzvah at a time when few girls had them. After the story, Zunikoff taught the rest of the group how to give a storyteller “appreciations.” Appreciations, she explained, make storytellers feel that their stories are important and encourage them to tell them again. Agronin’s story was about the centrality of Judaism in his life and how his father served as his role model.
Then it was time for the other participants to practice their storytelling. Zunikoff asked each person to pair off with someone he or she didn’t know. One person in each pair had time to tell a brief story without any interruptions. After that, each participant changed partners and repeated the exercise.
Afterward, participants shared their experiences. Alan Cohen said that he found the experience very interesting.
“I felt connected to someone without knowing them before,” he said. “There is no small talk. You jump right into your essence this way. She created a space where we felt safe and comfortable.”
Mel Winer didn’t know what to expect when his wife and a friend encouraged him to take part in the workshop. Paired with a much younger person, Winer found they made each other laugh.
“Sometimes we don’t think of our own stories as stories,” he said.
“We only think that stories come from the Torah or the Midrashim,” she said. “But why are our stories any less [important]? These are stories that have happened to Jewish people.”
Participants appreciated the opportunity to speak without being interrupted, something that, most agreed, happens rarely.
The group also discussed the way that the telling of one story leads to the telling of other stories.
Carol Winer said that she enjoyed the opportunity to tell stories to a new audience: “Your family will say, ‘Oh, not that story again. I’ve heard it a thousand times!’”
Blanche Sachs was moved by the power of stories to bring back memories.
The program concluded with stories from Heller and Runyan. Both told very personal and heartfelt stories about their Jewish journeys and received many appreciative comments from others.
Bonnie Block has seen Zunikoff teach storytelling before.
“I’m in awe of her,” she said. “What Jennifer needs to do is to go to the synagogues and find the seniors. Help them to tell their stories, and maybe they can present them to the b’nai mitzvah class. Maybe seniors can be paired with one of the students.
“They can get to know each other throughout the year, and then the senior could be honored at the student’s bar or bat mitzvah,” she suggested. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”