David Wolpe on the Importance of Stories

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From his weekly mini-sermon whatchamacallit:

In The Arabian Nights, Scheherazade keeps herself alive by weaving a narrative spell: her story is so thrilling that the Sultan keeps her around to hear the next night's continuation.

Staying alive through stories: this is part of the secret of the Jewish people. We tell our tales, day by day, night after night. On Tisha B'av we recount the story of destruction and loss. On Passover, of liberation and triumph. On Rosh Hashana of creation, on Shabbat of rest. Scholars, sages, fiddlers, fools—each magic link in the chain pulls us to the next.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav said that most people tell stories to put others to sleep, but his stories were to wake people up. The Jewish people tell stories to rouse our souls to wonder, to devotion and to goodness. In every land, through countless languages, we carried our chronicles and fables.

The stories grew more elaborate with each retelling. Generations added each its tears and triumphs—and of course its laughter—and handed on to the future. Here is the bright wonder: We do not only tell the story. We also become part of the story that will be told.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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