Leap of faith: it’s important to share our stories

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Leap of faith: it’s important to share our stories

The Merchant of Venice and Cable Street are both on the stage perpetuating the story of our people

Tracy-Ann Oberman in The Merchant of Venice 1936
Tracy-Ann Oberman in The Merchant of Venice 1936

Humanity has been telling stories for a very long time. Some of the earliest evidence can be found in the cave paintings of Lascaux and Chavaux in France, some of which date back 30,000 years. As a Jewish community we have our own particular storytelling traditions, from ancient midrash to fictional stories of Chelm, or retelling the stories of Jewish ancestors who come from all parts of the world.

And of course we have a unique British Jewish story to tell too. My own family arrived in England from Holland with names from the Iberian peninsula in the 1670s. Stories of my Grandpa in his early teens joining the crowds at Cable Street and throwing marbles down the road to prevent police horses from protecting Moseley’s Black shirts are now part of the family story.

From sermons to shows, we are pretty adept at telling our stories. And with The Merchant of Venice 1936 starring Tracy-Ann Oberman, and Cable Street both running in London at the moment, it seems there are plenty of people who want to hear these tales of nostalgia and recent history.

The first thing I went to see at the theatre after lockdown was Leopoldstadt, a fascinating journey through fictionalised Austrian Jewish history, exploring assimilation, Jewish rituals, antisemitism and of course the Shoah.

As characters re-enacted the debates of the day, discussions around the validity of the Zionist movement, or of rites such as circumcision, there was a creeping sense of discomfort that my Jewish friend and I were surrounded by a largely non-Jewish audience. Could they understand the complexity of the debates playing out on stage? How those conversations have shifted and changed through history? And the differences between debating these issues within the community, versus defending oneself in debate with those outside. In telling our stories to one another, communally, we thrive on debate and disagreement. We aren’t always so ready to engage in that debate with those who may want to undermine the continuation of our story.

Theatre and stories so often come with morals, teachings and messages we want to pass on. And we will continue to tell our stories in a variety of ways, both within and outside the community. Ultimately, though, these stories give the listener a chance to step into the experience of another human, whatever their tradition, and as long as people are still open- hearted in wanting to hear and immerse themselves in the stories of others, I hope we will keep sharing them, debating them and telling them.

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