Practicing Our Storytelling Skills

Preparing for the Educational Program on the Exhibition “The Creation of the World”

A depiction of a bird holding a wine goblet

Detail from a Megilla (Esther scroll), 1750-1800, Alsace
© Braginsky Collection, Zurich, photo: Ardon Bar-Hama

As a part of the educational program accompanying the exhibition “The Creation of the World: Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” we’re offering the workshop “But the Snake was Craftier…” about telling and passing down stories from generation to generation. Since very few of the schoolchildren who will participate in the workshop can read Hebrew, we’ll be looking closely at the illustrations. In addition to portrayals of David with the harp and Adam and Eve in the manuscripts, our program looks at the megillot, or Esther scrolls, with their illustrations. Six scrolls have been unrolled to their full length for the exhibition.

Before we take participants in to see the exhibition, a guide will tell the story of Esther. During this conscious act of listening, each person generates pictures in his or her own mind’s eye. Afterwards, the group visits the exhibition and looks at the Esther scrolls with a magnifying glass to re-discover the scenes they’ve heard about.

To prepare for this workshop, we consulted a storytelling expert. Ten museum employees met with Prof. Dr. Kristin Wardetzky to practice storytelling under her tutelage. The first chairwoman of the Society for the Art of Storytelling, Prof. Wardetzky also founded the storytelling department at the Berlin University of the Arts’ theater education department.

Our two-day workshop with Prof. Wardetzky enthralled us all.  continue reading


From the Theory to the Practice of Writing the Torah

An Interview with Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov

Miriam Goldmann: How do you train a Torah scribe, a sofer?

Reuven Yaacobov: A sofer must first spend a few years studying at an Orthodox school, a yeshiva, where it is established whether or not he is devout enough for this role. Then he learns how to write a Torah. First, he studies the theory. There are rules ordaining who is allowed to write the five books of Moses, the Sefer Torah. For example, only men, not women, are permitted to write the Torah. Furthermore, the person in question must be an Orthodox Jew and lead an Orthodox life. Then there are rules determining which support a Sefer Torah should be written on, and precisely how it should be written.


You can watch a short video with Torah scribe Reuven Yaacobov here.

Once the sofer knows the theory, he begins to learn the letters that are used to write the Torah. A certain sequence of strokes must be followed to write each letter correctly. After learning this calligraphy the sofer starts on a Megillat Esther (Hebrew: Scroll of Esther) because this is the easiest of all the holy texts to write. After completing the Megillat he writes the texts of mezuzah and tefillin. If by then his calligraphy has become highly accomplished, he begins to write a Sefer Torah. According to Jewish tradition, a Sefer Torah must be written in the most beautiful calligraphy possible and in the best and most aesthetic way.  continue reading


In World War I

The Festival of Liberation at the Front

Yesterday evening, Monday, 14 April 2014, was the start of the eight-day Passover festivities. These kick off each year with the first Seder, the name of which derives from the Hebrew word seder, meaning order, because a particular ritual sequence is observed the entire evening.

The ritual Seder program is laid down in the Haggadah, an often beautifully illustrated book. (Incidentally, some especially precious Haggadot are currently on display in our special exhibition “The Creation of the World” and our director of archives recently described in his blog why even a nondescript Haggadah might be of great value to a museum.) Traditional texts and songs are recited from the Haggadah. Symbolic dishes and drinks deck the tables, ready to be consumed at specific moments during the evening.

Men in uniform occupy seats in a theater auditorium.

German soldiers celebrate Passover in the occupied town of Jelgava (near Riga). © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: anonymous. Donated by Lore Emanuel

But why is this night different from all other nights? This is a question that Jews all over the world ask themselves year after year at the Seder dinner. The answer is: it is the festival of liberation, for it commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt. Everyone is supposed to feel, each year, as if she or he personally is about to leave Egypt. As a token of tribute to this new-won freedom, people comfortably recline while eating and drinking—for to take this position was the prerogative solely of free individuals in antiquity, not of slaves.  continue reading