Tale-ing in Hawaii

Well, here’s the story:  It’s all about the story.  From the time I was child, stories have been my driving force.  I listened to my father tell “tall tales,” jokes, puns and groaners.  The first time I told stories “professionally” so-to-speak, was when I was a camp counselor in Morgantown, West Virginia.  I remembered the stories my counselors had told me, and I told them to the children in my cabin.  Later, influenced in part by studying drama and creative writing at the University of Michigan, I began to dramatize the stories.

My professional career has taken on many flavors.  I’ve worked for Jewish Community Centers in Pittsburgh and Houston as a camp director and supervisor of youth programming.  I was also director of a Fresh Air Camp in Pittsburgh serving economically disadvantaged children.  In between these jobs serving the Jewish and general populations, I spent two years managing an auto parts warehouse.  Now THAT experience produced some fascinating stories!

In 1993, I decided to blend my theatrical background with educational and spiritual pursuits, and re-created the persona “Dante, a teller of tales.”  Dante had been my nickname as drama director of the camp where I had grown up.  I free-lanced as performer and workshop leader in public schools, while teaching Hebrew school, serving as principal for a synagogue high school and coordinating and leading a teen trip to Israel.  As the storytelling and educational work blended more, I realized that it wasn’t just about performing and educating – it was also about spiritual inspiration.  This led to doing more presentations in houses of worship, mostly synagogues, but also some churches.  I had gained a reputation as a maggid (one who shares sacred stories).  This led to my 1998 appointment to the rabbinic post at Temple Beth Torah (TBT) in Humble, Texas.  While serving TBT as a spiritual leader for over ten years, I continued my studies through various graduate level courses, seminars and private study to enhance my personal learning and my ability to serve the congregation and the community. The culmination of this learning included a journey of studies with the Mesifta Rabbinical Academy that led to my ordination as a rabbi in 2009; 11 years after starting my “on the job” training! Temple Beth Torah has grown in numbers and spirit, and I continue to enjoy growing together.

Perhaps the most essential thing I’ve learned about stories is the importance of listening.  Everyone has a story, and when we take the time to listen, our hearts are open enough to learn about the real soul underneath.

Now, as a rabbi, I’m continually reminded that listening to the story that needs to be heard is just as important as telling the story that needs to told.  When we listen well, we begin to understand the person behind the story, and it can become the essence of a strong relationship.

The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked how he became so wise.  He responded that he had studied with a great rabbi.  “He told what he knew, and I heard what I needed to hear.”

rabbidangordon@gmail.com