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The Stories Jews Tell

A multicultural ‘Moth’ at the New York Public Library

Dan Klein
October 29, 2010
Peter Hyman.(
Peter Hyman.(

If you were an alien visiting the human race last week and wanted to get a general idea of the concerns of American monotheists in the year 2010, you could have done worse than attended OMG: Stories of the Sacred, a reading put on by the storytelling series The Moth and the New York Public Library. The event (which you can watch here) featured six performers from the three great monotheistic faiths telling personal stories: Tablet Magazine contributor Peter Hyman, Rev. Wayne Reece, Andrew Solomon, Imam Khalid Latif, Judy Gold, and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Of course it would be a bit dangerous for alien researchers to make broad assumptions from hearing two stories per faith, but you might make some claims nonetheless. Imam Latif, a chaplain for NYU and the NYPD, and the New York Times‘s Andrew Solomon each told secular stories about Muslims dealing with the repercussions of 9/11. Latif spoke about the pressures and resistance to pass after the attacks; Solomon bore witness to the resurrection of art, poetry, and music in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban—but concluded with a cautionary note about how fragile that moment of hope has become.

The two stories by the Revs. Reese and Sharpton displayed more confidence, and basically involved ministering to unlikely flocks: Rev. Reese and a motorcycle gang, Rev. Sharpton (who, by the way, looks really fit) and the man who stabbed him in 1991.

So what, then, of the Jews? Peter Hyman’s story was a modified version of the story he first told in Tablet Magazine, about burying his son’s foreskin. This time, he added a new angle—talking about his father’s secular Judaism. “I was burying Nathaniel’s foreskin precisely because my father hadn’t done it with mine,” he explained. “Maybe the kids who grow up with these sorts of traditions rebel against it all, while those of us whose parents never had time or never made the effort grow up desperate for it, clutching at hollow symbolism to make up for the loss of real acts.”

Comedian Judy Gold told a completely different yet strikingly similar story about rebelling against her mother’s very observant Judaism only to return to it after her father died and after she started a family. “What would I have done those last two weeks if I didn’t have Judaism?” she asked. “How would I know how to mourn?”

So our alien friends would have learned that, in 2010, Jews are telling stories about rebelling against their parents while remaining concerned with their cultural continuity. So basically the same stories they’ve been telling for the last 6,000 years.

Related: Stumped [Tablet Magazine]

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