Peta Jones Pellach
Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

Storytelling for the New Year

When I was a child, my mother would often tell us stories at bed-time. They always began with “Once upon a time and ended with “and they all lived happily ever after.”

These stories were an escape from reality, to stir our imagination and transport us to realms of great beauty, heroism and danger overcome.

As I got older, I heard and read Hassidic stories, replete with mystical allusions and immense spiritual depth. I read stories from Peretz, the great Yiddish story-teller, who inspired me with his ideas as well as his images.

I recognised how stories, told right, are a powerful means to share a message. Stories counter ignorance better than text-books do.

As I began to engage in interfaith dialogue, I heard many different stories from others. Some were stories of pain and heroism; many were stories of the triumph of love and hope over hatred and fear.

When encouraged to share the story of my own journey of faith I felt inadequate. It is not a story of triumph over pain or fighting off oppressors. My life has been blessed. It is a story of love, hope and empathy for those less fortunate – and I was reluctant to tell it, often because the story of the other felt far more important. I thought I could be a story-teller on behalf of those who could not speak out and encourage others to do the same, to inspire empathy, dialogue and peace. But how to start? And where?

Sharing Stories of Faith (photo by Shoshi Jones-Resnik)

What I have learnt recently is that I, too, have a story that should be told. It is not a narrative, not a biography or CV, and not a journal or diary. In recent weeks, I have been privileged to participate in a course for “Mid East Story Tellers,” conducted by ALLMEP (the Alliance for Middle East Peace) as a representative of Women Wage Peace. I discovered my true story by answering the right questions.

When trying to express what drives me, I realised that a poem by Zelda, “Two Elements” (the flame and the cypress) captures the two sides to my activism: my passion is tempered by my sense of being rooted in my heritage. Zelda also provides a powerful validation of different ways of being Jewish and, therefore, a beautiful message for the new year.

Photo by Simonne Abadee.

There are those who are going to be trail-blazers and there are those who are going to follow the paths trodden by others. Some of us act creatively, fierily, impetuously. Sometimes mistakes are made but they only push us to try harder. That is the way we change the world. Others go slowly, measuring the steps and weighing the various factors until the right decision is made. Some of us do both, depending on the circumstances.

There are many challenges to be met in the year ahead. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we need to decide if we want to “live this awesome life” with a touch of “spirit,
of imagination, of freedom.” (Zelda). For each of us, there might be times when we do this like the flame or other times more like the cypress.  The real decision is just whether we choose life.

Here is my story. (And in preparing it, I discovered that my dancing is more than exercise and fun – it is a means of expressing who I truly am.)

Since my childhood, I have had faith. I believe that this world can be healed and that if I do my part, we will have human dignity and peace for all. That’s why I do what I do.

I was part of the movements to free Soviet Jewry, against Apartheid, to end the Vietnam War and for Aboriginal land rights. These campaigns reinforced my faith that justice will prevail if good people work together.

I am inspired by women past and present, who broke through limitations to find their voice. I learn and teach their stories. I have faith that I, too, was put on this earth for a purpose. Each of us is unique and we alone can accomplish the unique tasks for which we were created. My mission was to join my sisters in Women Wage Peace and to found Praying Together in Jerusalem.

Dancing with Sr Rita (photo by Shoshi Jones-Resnik)

I have faith that peace will come. We pray for it every day. What we pray for, we should work for.

My faith is like a fire inside me, driving me and inspiring me and pushing me to aim higher, the flame intense and knowing no limits. My faith also is like an oak or a cypress, firmly rooted in the ground but reaching heavenward. My flame gives me passion. My tree-of-faith gives me strength and confidence.

My prayers are the match to light the flame, or the seeds from which grows the tree.

Faith makes me do what I do.

So, I dance, in faith. And I hope you will join me in dancing into the new year.

Shana Tova.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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