Jews are known as the people of the book. But we are also the people of the story.
“Our Bible is the written-down version of hundreds of thousands of stories,” said Noa Baum, an award-winning storyteller, noting the Jewish pairing of Torah Shebichtav (written law) with Torah Shebaal Peh (oral law).
“The Talmud is years of debates that are now written down,” she said. “The Haggadah [on Passover] is all about telling our Jewish story.”
Personal stories are the foundation of what over time became the Jewish narrative. Whether it was Moses or Joshua, Hillel or Shamai, the lives of our Jewish leaders (and lay people) help us understand our faith and from where we come.
Today, said Jewish Museum of Maryland curator Karen Falk, storytelling has become the language for what many people do professionally — journalists, museum curators, novelists, marketers — they are all telling stories.
“Stories are powerful. Stories change the way we think about the world,” said Falk.
Telling our personal stories offers validation and catharsis, said Baum. Stories encourage people to communicate, and they have the power to heal.
“There is a huge hunger and need for us, as humans, to be heard and validated. Storytelling is one way of doing it,” she said.
“Everyone has stories,” said Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff, a local storyteller, teacher and coach. She said that we have to see our own stories as having enough value to tell them.
Born A Storyteller
Audrey Polt is a storyteller.
“My mission is to get people to tell their own stories,” she said.
Polt, a senior consultant for Creative Memories, has a basement full of stories, bound in hundreds of beautiful albums, full of historic photos, keepsakes … and stories. (Polt has made more than 250 albums in the last 16 years.)
Son Rich Polt said his mother comes from a long line of storytellers.
“On the Abramowitz side [Aud-rey’s mother’s side], these were storytellers. … They were always getting together –22 first cousins. Uncle Max [Abramowitz] would be sitting with the kids, all gathered around him, telling stories,” Rich Polt said.
Uncle Max was the oldest of his eight siblings; Polt’s mother, Sadye was the youngest. She recalled how at Chanukah time, he would come into the home, Chanukah gelt in hand, and lift the children up and flip them over. Then he would tell his stories.
“He told stories with morals,” Polt recalled.
On the other side, the Goldseker side [Audrey’s father], was a line of Russian immigrants.
“There was a richness to their past. Their lives were somehow profound and tragic and inspirational,” said Rich Polt. “From the Goldseker side, my mother got this sense of curiosity about her past.”
Sixteen years ago, Polt harnessed that curiosity and love of lore into her career with Creative Memories. While Rich Polt said his mother recognizes that for many “storytelling is a dying art form,” as families move farther apart from one another and connect less over their shared past, his mother is doing her part to keep Baltimore’s Jewish collective memory alive.