Mary Otts is the Project Coordinator at ELITalks. She is a
nonprofit organizer passionate about how individual identities and communal narratives intersect to create tension-filled stories that weave us all together.

I didn’t grow up with Jewish stories. I grew up gazing at the stories of people painted on colored glass while my knees ached and my fingers fidgeted with warm glass beads. That young girl in a plaid dress, born into a faith but dizzy from its incense, could never manage to identify with the haloed figures who walked on water, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

Maybe it’s why I was able to forget those stories—they weren’t mine; I was simply a spectator watching their performance.

I don’t want to be a spectator.

I took on a tradition that requires me to recite words, “she’asah nisim l’avoteinu”—who made miracles happen for our ancestors—while heat rises from the candles and coats my eyelids. I am obligated to chew on fresh parsley and tell the story of my father who was a wandering Aramaean. I get splinters stuck in my finger and pine tree sap all over my hands year after year while I fulfill a mitzvah to build a fort outside in the cold. I stumble over Rashi as my chevruta and I push and pull in
a room that holds two thousand years of rabbis and students.

This is the tale of story that chose me and became part of me. It’s not one of the perfection of saints, but of narrow places and the wilderness. Of dying before the Promised Land. But mostly it’s a story of weavers, people who in each and every generation weave the next generation into the fabric of our story. Teachers, yes, but also those who seated us at their seder tables, who fed us the memory of a people, and whose stories we remember as our own. People whose voices and hands join with ours day after day as we realize how our single thread ho
lds must do its part to keep our millennia-old fabric whole.

These weavers make us a part of a story we always knew was inside of us. And when I hear R’ Shira Koch Epstein speak, I know she is speaking about these weavers and how we can all become one of them.