with Vered Hankin - Certainly Not Nap Time
by Michael Braus
celebration of Israel's 50th birthday featured a week filled with
educational programs and well known speakers, including leaders
involved in the peace process, the Ambassador of Israel, and the
unforgettable David Broza. But the week's highlight was on the
eve of Shabbat - in a night of storytelling with Vered Hankin.
a recent graduate of the University of Kansas and now a nationally
renowned performer in the Jewish community, drew a packed audience
of over 100 Columbia University students into the largest student
lounge on campus. Storytelling??? This might initially spark childhood
memories of milk and cookies. Yet, the oneg Shabbat was certainly
not naptime; rather, Hankin's intriguing presence and inviting
voice ignited all to enjoy and appreciate the richness of Jewish
history and culture.
presentation focused on Jewish stories from around the world,
illustrated by three stories. Each story represented a specific
cultural and historical era, yet Hankin's engaging and dramatic
style truly brought ancient Jewish past to life. Hankin beganthe
evening with an original story based upon a Moroccan Jewish folk
story. The story told of the great Rabbi Chaninah Yokel and his
undying quest to visit Jerusalem. Without fancy costumes and stage
props, Hankin utilized only her voice and body movements to skillfully
illuminate the plot. Her intricate use of diversified voices for
her characters was all it took to invite the listeners to partake
in the Rabbi's world. The result was a success: the audience was
story of the famous Hasidic leader, the Kotzker Rebbe, was a highlight
of the performance. Hankin told of the great Rebbe's mystical
powers to travel on a spiritual accession to the palaces of the
Sages, in search of his close friend. As Hankin described the
Rebbe's journey, her body reached for the ceiling, creating the
illusion that we were all accompanying the Kotzker Rebbe on his
perilous path. Finally after meeting the Great figures from Rashi
to Moses, all of whom Hankin described and performed with vivid
detail, the Kotzker Rebbe found his friend at the edge of the
universe, praying by the "Ocean of Tears," the center
of all the Jewish pain in the world. Looking around the room at
the captivated audience, I noted that there were few dry eyes
in here, too.
Yes, The Ocean
of Tears had somehow made it to Columbia's John Jay Lounge on
a Friday. And with her hilarious third story, Hankin was going
to wipe it dry. Telling a "story within a story," Hankin
spoke of the "very Israeli" jeweler who told her the
story - a la Israeli mud coffee and a giant slice of watermelon.
The jeweler told of King Solomon's servant's wild search for a
special ring that would "make a happy person sad - and a
sad person happy." With the audience nearly on the floor
with laughter, Hankin magically became character after character,
featuring King Solomon's servant, Binyahu, whose mannerisms resembled
a Jewish version of Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.
was exciting, education, touching, funny, mystical, and memorable.
As Hankin took her bow, the thunderous applause gave it all away
- there was not a person in the audience who left without a rekindled
love for stories and a renewed appreciation for the Jewish past.
that over milk and cookies anytime.