Jewish Storytelling Coalition

Friday, January 5, 2018

JSC Member Susan Stone shares her recent experience in Lublin, Poland. Thanks, Susan!

Justice Speaks:  Bringing Jewish Stories Back to Poland
By Susan Stone
 I felt no peace really.   How could there be a feeling of peace?  On that soil?
 The joy I felt being asked to participate in the storytelling festival in Poland was constantly interrupted by murmurings in the cobblestones; by vibrations in the old facades:  "We were here…we lived",  the old stones said.  “Say Kaddish for us.  There is no one else left to say it.”
  was invited to perform at a storytelling festival in Lublin, Poland, June, 2017,  at an amazing theatre/museum called TeatreNN  Grodzka Gate  .My program, "Bringing the Stories Home:  Jewish Tales From Poland" was translated from English into Polish  on a screen.  This is  a whole museum/theatre dedicated to stories. The entrance to the TeatreNN is at the Grodzka Gate, the Jewish gate.  On the other side,  the Jewish quarter (now parking lots ) of Lublin, over 30,000 Jews before WWII; a famous Yeshiva.
 There were storytellers from Italy, France, Poland and Spain...and me.  We shared stories in the theatre for four nights.   My stories, literary and from the Chasidic, and folkloric tradition, also included  stories about my experiences traveling around three years prior with a driver, visiting  the towns mentioned in  the stories.  It was important to me to make these Jewish-empty places vital—living, if only for a moment. I would say,  “Here is a story of the Seer of Lublin, buried just a mile from here”.  Or, “In Chelm, about 90 minutes from here, there lived…..”.
 What stories would resonate with a Polish audience. Would my choices (for over an hour’s worth of tales) be too esoteric? Too spiritual?  Too political?  Would  the audience respond to a Holocaust story with feelings of guilt, and stop listening with open hearts? 
 Almost every story I told was from a town close to Lublin.  When I said the Yiddish name of a town I always told  the  modern Polish equivalent  so my audience would feel the proximity of the perished world. It was important to me to say, through my tales, “Jews lived here.  Here are stories of wise rabbis; of compassion, generosity, and mysticism. This is what Yiddish sounds like.   Look what Poland lost; look what the world lost.  Remember…but open your hearts to the messages, sent through time and space from a forgotten world..

.I wanted my stories to be filled with ways in which we have to make the world a better place through tales of  lovingkindness, and self reflection; This plan, I hoped, would not only entertain (for of course without this  who will even listen?) but inspire listeners to go out and practice tikkun olam (repair of the world).
 All of you reading this are activists in some way…through  community work or just by bringing joy, laughter,  and understanding into the world through performance. But in the end each of us can bring about repair in the world while still  looking towards repair of our own brokenness too.  

The people who started this museum and  those who work there,  are not Jewish.I know this work brings them peace.  Because they collect stories, because of their quest for justice, to me they are holy people.  At the front of the museum they have this sign:  
 Decades have passed since the time of the Holocaust.  As after every apocalypse, a few things left: souvenirs, photos, documents.  The only thing we can do, is to look into the vastness of cold history for individual fates and events, and tell their story.