Friday, August 07, 2020

Riverdale community members and friends recently gathered at the Riverdale Y to attend an exciting program, ELI Talks—a story slam-style event produced by the Riverdale Y through the Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership (RJCP).

Rabbi Joseph Robinson, director, community engagement at the Riverdale Y, suggested ELI Talks as a way of showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of the Jewish population of Riverdale. 

As Rabbi Robinson explained, “The Riverdale Y connects not only the Jewish community, but the Riverdale community at large. One of our central roles is to facilitate and coordinate the RJCP, consisting of 18 Jewish institutions in the area. RJCP was looking for innovative ways to encourage the spectrum of Jewish observances and experiences.” 

The word went out within the Riverdale community asking for people to submit interesting stories of “Jewish journeys across the landscape of Jewish life.” Many entries were submitted and, ultimately, seven storytellers were selected to present their stories at the ELI Talks story slam event in September. 


The featured storytellers were:

Albert Levi, telling “The Shell That Has No Shape.” Levi, an attorney, faced a dark night of the soul and was led to a place in the sun. His story was a tale of family, faith and fortitude.

Ann Lapin, reading “(Not) Alone.” Lapin, a local mom, felt love and support from the community following the turmoil of pregnancy and loss.

Aviva Braun, sharing “emBODYment.” A psychotherapist specializing in body image problems turned to her photography lens to create a project to help Jewish women feel at home in their bodies.

Yali Szulanski, reading “Small Acts.” Act one was learning compassion and forgiveness, leading to healing and recovery. Act two was teaching compassion and empathy, leading to chesed and tzedaka.

Heidi Weissman, telling “Everything Happens for a Reason.” “I found God in Judaism through adversity and struggles in life. I believe everything happens for a reason,” said Weissman.

Bernard Goldstein, sharing “246-Mile Leg of My Jewish Journey.” Sometimes the journey towards inclusion can feel like you’re lost and wandering in the desert. Yet at the same time it might be a journey through the desert, which can actually help you find your way.

Sheila Hicks-Rotella, reading “Targets and Nets.” This was a look at Judaism in a world colored by race and sexuality.

The seven stories selected were thought provoking, heartwarming and tragic and demonstrated bold journeys through life experiences. Expressing openness and vulnerability, the stories called out to the community for passion and inclusivity.

The selection committee was composed of individuals representing a broad cross section of the Riverdale Jewish community. The committee was asked to consider whether the story resonated with them and their peer group, whether the message was clear and whether the story connected in some way to the overarching goal/theme, which was “Riverdale is an ecosystem that nurtures intentional meaning, belonging and relationships.”

Rabbi Bradley Hercman, an active review-team member, was the emcee of the evening, which attracted more than 130 participants.

Rabbi Robinson is proud of the success of the program. “The story slam offered a window into the lives of our storytellers. They practiced vulnerability that allowed others to see themselves in the stories presented. More than the entertainment factor, this event spurred conversation and offered a forum to engage the other.”

The ELI Talks story slam received positive feedback, providing the incentive for the Riverdale Y to continue to offer similar programming in the future.

By Yvette Finkelstein



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