Beth Emet - The Free Synagogue

Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

If you clicked on this link and you've chosen to read this little blurb, then chances are good that you're pretty invested in Beth Emet and that you're familiar with the stories of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. But you've probably never encountered them in the way that Beth Emet congregants had the opportunity to do last week.

Sitting in the pews at Second Baptist Church, Beth Emet congregants gathered with our partners and friends from Second Baptist to witness this story as interpreted by a small group of congregants from the two houses of worship. This small group of congregants have been engaging in Bibliodrama together for the past eight months: they've gathered twice a month to study sacred text by dramatizing it together. And on Sunday, June 23, the group shared some of its work more publicly.

"Abraham, we need to talk," Eliana Chavkin began, kicking off the performance. In role as Sarah, Eliana confronted Abraham (played by Joe Waters, a deacon at Second Baptist); she acknowledged their infertility and advised him to consort with her maidservant. She came to him with a confident, self-congratulatory tone, a tone that showcased Sarah as a practical problem-solver. She almost seemed like an historical forerunner of a 20th or 21st-century business exec – a woman in command, armed with her no-nonsense pragmatism and high-energy confidence.

"Are you sure you're cool with that?" Joe asked her, in role as Abraham, shooting her a look of disbelief.

She insisted she was, but over the next few scenes, we saw her confidence unravel as her circumstances changed. Hagar, once she conceived, seemed to almost float with newfound sense of self-worth. "I once was a slave, but now I'm someone new," Lisa D'Innocenzo said as Hagar, "I'm the mother of a great nation. God has smiled upon me."

"You need to put her in her place," Eliana (as Sarah) commanded Joe (as Abraham), her voice now tense with insecurity. We watched from the pews as stress in the family mounted, and Abraham finally sent Hagar and her son Ishmael away. In a climactic moment of the presentation, Leslie Yamshon took over the role of Hagar and confronted Joe (as Abraham), defiantly accusing him of acting unjustly and begging him to take Ishmael back. It's an encounter that's not mentioned in the Biblical text, but that was envisioned by Bibliodrama participants several months ago, as we studied this story together.

In the final moments of the presentation, we watched as Isaac (played by Beth Emet's Leor Miller) and Ishmael (played by Second Baptist's William Washington) reunited, years later, over Abraham's grave. These two brothers approached each other slowly from opposite sides of Second Baptist's sanctuary, with a mix of distrust and longing surging within them. They hesitated, then embraced, then pulled back. And then they went their own ways, without looking back. It captured a sense of the mixed emotions that are perhaps present whenever estranged people come together, particularly when personal estrangement is exacerbated by an imbalance of power.

The Bibliodrama program was co-facilitated  by Elliot Leffler (on behalf of Beth Emet) and Minister Brian Smith (on behalf of Second Baptist). We are currently working to re-envision the program for next year, when we hope that more members from both institutions will want to get involved.

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Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

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