just feels natural to go into these different characters,"
says Vered Hankin, here in mid-yarn this week at Temple
Shaaray Tefila on the Upper East Side.
by MICHAEL DATIKASH
Head Full of Stories
"the leading jewish storyteller of her generation,"
Vered Hankin makes a living weaving theatrical tales of clowns,
witches and demons.
WEEK (NEW YORK)
by Susan Josephs - January 8, 1999
a time, a young woman named Vered Hankin yearned to be a professional
storyteller but feared the impossibility of such a livelihood.
Then came one deceptively ordinary night, when Hankin had a most
mysterious dream. In this dream, she perched at the top of a large
playground slide, terrified to descend. A nearby family sensed
her fear and asked, "Why are you scared? Haven't you read
up, read Proverbs II and zeroed in on the verses regarding those
who seek something as if it were silver and proceed to search
for it like treasure. "If you seek, then you will find
these words gave me the strength to say I'm going to jump in and
be open to whatever comes my way," she recalls. "It
was a very weird, inspirational dream. I felt really led."
later, Hankin, who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan,
has made considerable strides towards living happily ever after.
Drawing from her background in theater and years of Jewish education,
she has developed an arsenal of more than 100 mostly Jewish tales
that she performs for audiences of all ages at schools, universities,
community centers, synagogues, conferences and festivals. She
recently performed at the 92nd Street Y with Steve Roiphe, a musician
who often collaborates with her; had a guest spot on WHUD, a Westchester-based
radio station; and last year, became one of 10 storytellers nationwide
to participate in the Jewish National Fund's Performing Artist
Educator Program. "I don't need a temp job," she says.
"I'm actually making a living."
At 25, Hankin
"is the leading [Jewish] storyteller of her generation,"
says Howard Schwartz, an eminent Jewish folklorist, author, storyteller
and professor of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
"She's extraordinarily talented and she's made her mark in
a very short time."
that "the secret of a good storyteller is not to tell the
story literally but to ingest it and present it by adding his
or her own human element. Vered is very good at this. She really
makes the stories her own." In telling stories about Isael
and the environment for the Jewish National Fund, Hankin's "performances
were always well received," observes Rabbi Arnold Samlan,
director of synagogue relations for the JNF. "Vered is someone
who possesses a tremendous Jewish background and brings an incredible
amount of energy and intensity to her performances."
tea in an Upper West Side café, Hankin initially appears
to be a typically vivacious twenty-something who recently hit
the Big Apple throbbing with theatrical ambitions. But then she
starts talking about the some 70 witches, wise men, demons, clowns
and treasure-seekers that live in her head. King Solomon lives
there too, I the midst of teaching his servant a lesson in humility,
and so does a man who thinks he's a rooster.
isn't crazy. "it just feels natural to go into these different
characters," she explains. "They're just there and I'm
aware of them, maybe more than most people. As a kid, I used to
fool my younger sister. I would tell her I was no longer me but
these different characters from fairy land."
read through hundreds of stories before adding one to her repertoire.
She also tends to eschew biblical stories and opts for more obscure
tales, be they from Schwartz's anthologies or the stories of Rabbi
Shlom Carlebach and Rebbe Nachman of Bretslav. "People don't
know that Jewish folklore has clowns witches and demons who can
be funny and sarcastic," she says.
from her chair to demonstrate. At first, she's simply herself,
talking about her childhood and the monsters that swarmed in the
darkness as she lay on the verge of sleep. Then, she suddenly
launches into a whimsical tale about a hidden fortune and proceeds
to mutate into a very stubborn man, his even more stubborn dead
mother, a calculating yet lovable witch and a not-too-swift demon.
Each character has its own set of accents, facial expressions
and movements and Hankin's audience of one feels transported back
to kindergarten, sitting mesmerized on the floor during story
becomes herself again, she senses there's no need to prove that
adults can love a told story as much as a child. "Stories
are powerful for everyone
as long as they're truthful,"
she observes. "I only pick stories that hit me in the heart.
If a story doesn't affect me that way, then I can't tell it. Only
when I'm affected by a story do I bring to it a level of truth."
Born in Israel,
Hankin moved with her family to Kansas City at the age of 10 and
grew up "always wanting to be an actress. I pursued theater
as a hobby and when I got to college, I thought, OK, it's time
to be practical," she recalls.
not bring herself to be too practical and settled on majoring
in religious and women's studies at the University of Kansas.
She also spent a year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem studying
midrash and wrote her thesis on Lilith, Adam's first wife according
to Jewish legend. Upon graduating from college and moving to New
York, she got a job working as the associate coordinator for the
Jewish Women's Foundation, a project of UJA-Federation. But when
she went to the theater, she would get depressed. "I kept
saying to myself I should be up there. But I would think, no,
I can't. It was a very powerful moment when I first though, maybe
I could do it," she says.
in acting classes and getting a job as a storyteller specialist
at the Upper East Side Reform Congregation Shaaray Tefila, Hankin
began to have a "vague vision" of turning storytelling
into a full-time career. Soon after, she had her mysterious dream.
"Part of how I got to where I am today is because even though
I was scared, I followed my heart," she says.
has spent the past several years juggling storytelling with more
conventional acting pursuits, she recently came to the conclusion
that "I really enjoy storytelling. It is very healing for
me and I want to expand what I've been doing," she says.
"I still have moments when I'm scared and I'll think I can
always go back to get another job, but so far, I haven't needed
to do that. Thank God, creative solutions keep popping my way."