Interviewing: Chana Levine
Chana - known to Yated readers as Menucha - Levine's poetry and short stories appear regularly in Horizons and have been published in the Jewish Observer. She has adapted children's stories for Breslev Press and is currently working on a novel of her family history. She is an experienced English teacher.
Most of us prefer to read a book straight off the shelf and so does Chana, sometimes, either one of her own, or by another author. By the end of a busy day, that's all most of us can muster. "Sometimes I read back the novel I am writing from the computer to my daugher Shoshana. She is my biggest fan and I enjoy her encouraging feedback." Chana writes of life in the shtetl and of her family in South Africa and Canada.
Everyone has family stories and children love to listen to them. Tell them and write them down. She once told a bedtime story that she heard at a bris that made a tremendous impression on the audience, and later, upon her children.
This is how it was told in first person:
When my great-grandfather arrived in America in the early 1900's, it was unheard of to be able to hold a job for only six out of seven days a week. Shabbos being inviolate to him, each week as Friday rolled around, he'd lose his job and be forced to find a new one the following Sunday.
Finally, he decided to open up a bread stand, which he could operate or close at will and be his own boss. Life was very hard and always a struggle. They had ten children sleeping in one bed... When the children came of age, he wanted to stress the importance of Shabbos, so he brought them one Shabbos to his closed bakery and pointed out the other bakery across the street. It was full of customers. "You see all those people there?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye. "They buy by me all week long. If I were open on Shabbos, they'd buy my bread, too, rather than that of the competition. But Shabbos is too important to desecrate and I'd rather lose the money."
Until this day, concluded the first-person storyteller, all of his offspring, five generations later, are shomer Shabbos.
Chana points out that family histories are pure inspiration; they are filled with real heroes that our children can relate to. Children are drawn to historic events and to people who have come before them, especially from their own family, since this emphasizes their identity and supports who they are. The Torah stresses our connecting children to past generations, and true stories are the best vehicle, since this reinforces the chain of our tradition.
How to Tell the Story
Just start, says Chana. Be sequential but use whatever comes into your head. You can tell variations of the same story or let the children provide the ending or endings. Convert a non- Jewish story into a Jewish one by working out a Torah perspective together with the children. How should the character have reacted?
Even Goldilocks and the Three Bears can provide various lessons, but the teller must stress that these are not true and not Jewish. How about judging Goldilocks favorably in different ways?
Children should be encouraged to discuss their day's events in a loshon horo-free way, also of finding ways to judge people favorably in all kinds of situations.
It isn't the story that counts, but the togetherness, the verbal exchange and the relaxed atmosphere. If you don't finish the story, so what? This is quality time, no matter how you look at it.
Make sure it remains that - by trying your utmost to avoid interruptions or friction.
Bedtime can also be playtime of the quiet kind - word games, opposites, synomyms, English-Hebrew, how many words can be derived from a single root, Twenty Questions, easy parsha quizzes - personalities from the portion and so on, without a competitive aim. This can be achieved by not counting scores, providing plentiful hints and just using the games as a springboard for talking and listening.
Devora Piha, our Creativity expert, offers consultation, lectures, crafts groups and instruction for individuals and institutions on creativity and art. She can be reached at 02- 9931-592. Creativity, as you have seen, affects all areas of our lives, and should be used to enhance and heighten it.
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