By the River: Women's Voices in Jewish Stories
Jewels, pomegranate seeds and tambourines... girls speak what they know, women gather by the river, a princess appears in the moonlight and wise women lead us to freedom. In these new twists on traditional Jewish stories, Cindy Rivka Marshall tells stories from the Torah, the Midrash, the Talmud, Hasidic tales and Jewish folklore, retold with women or girls as main characters. Instrumental music is performed by Susan Robbins, Artistic Director of Libana, a women's world music ensemble. Her wide ranging musical styles are expressed on psaltery, percussion, oud, hammered dulcimer, and accordion. "This new CD is a landmark in women's stories. I especially love her brilliant version of 'A Garment for the Moon.' Cindy Rivka Marshall must be reckoned as one of the finest storytellers around.' -Howard Schwartz, author of Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism "Each of the six stories on this CD can influence listeners to rethink their strategies for problem solving. 'The Magic Pomegranate Seed' carries a powerful message for those who judge others or who determine punishments for specific crimes." - Dr. Flora Joy for Parents' Choice 'There's more to the events leading up to the Exodus from Egypt than what we read in the Hagaddah. On her recent CD, By the River: Women's Voices in Jewish Stories, gifted storyteller Cindy Rivka Marshall offers a beautiful rendition of the story of Miriam, inspired by midrashim, that explores the pivotal role her prophesy plays in the birth of her brother, Moses... a meaningful gift for daughters, their mothers and the rest of the family.' -Jewish Woman Magazine, Spring 2008 'Cindy Marshall's telling style is clean, eloquent, and intimate. Susan Robbins' lovely music played on frame drum, accordion, hammered dulcimer, and several other instruments, seasons the stories perfectly. Like salt used sparingly, the music enhances the stories without overwhelming them. As I listened to Marshall and Robbins weave tales and music together, I felt as though I were privy to a special concert that had been created just for me. On this CD, using the tradition of midrash Marshall shares stories that honor the wisdom of women. Prominently featured is Serah bat Asher, mentioned only twice in the Torah; once leaving Canaan to go to Egypt with Joseph, and again 200 years later in the census of Israelites living in the desert. Considered a female counterpart of Elijah, the hero in hundreds of Jewish tales, Serah bat Asher urges Miriam, in the story The Voice in Her Heart, to sing her visions of new birth to her parents. They listen, and Moses is born. Serah bat Asher appears again in The River, a story of a mother and a daughter, and the lessons they learn. Serah bat Asher appears at the river and counsels them to have faith: every year as they tell the story of leaving Egypt, they are transported from slavery to freedom. The Magic Pomegranate Seed is the story of a desperate but wise young mother who steals a loaf of bread to feed her hungry children. When caught and sentenced to death, she quickly and cleverly devises a plan to save herself. In The Jewel, young Freyda learns, along with a rich landowner, what true treasure is. Onions features yet another treasure, more valuable than diamonds to some. Unfortunately, an over-abundance of anything causes it's value to plummet, as the Freyda's parents soon discover. The song and lyrics Marshall created for this story yield quite a catchy tune. I could not help but sing along. My favorite story on this CD is A Garment for the Moon, in which a seamstress, asked by the sun to make clothing for the shivering moon, convinces others of her trade to help her fulfill this request. A search ensues for a fabric that can grow to fit any size, for, as we all know, the moon's size changes throughout each month. The source of this newly discovered fabric sheds light that is unexpected but delightful. How lovely it is to listen to stories that honor the wisdom of all women, not just older women! Marshall makes us realize that wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, just like the moon's new garment.' -Reviewed by Linda Goodman Why women's stories? Says Marshall, "I wanted to tell stories from the Jewish tradition, but so many of the stories are about men. I kept wondering: what about the women? I set about imagining the women characters that might have been present in the stories and what they would have said and felt." This process of inventing stories in order to explain a text is an old Jewish tradition, dating back to the first century, when Rabbis wrote classical midrashim, or stories. This practice is continued by many contemporary writers and artists. About the stories In "The Voice in Her Heart," Cindy Rivka Marshall envisions a meeting of Miriam, sister of Moses, and the less well-known figure, Serah bat Asher. "Because Serah purportedly lived through the time of slavery in Egypt, I realized that she very well could have met Miriam. I imagined that Serah was a wise woman mentor for young Miriam, and this story emerged," Marshall explains. In "The Jewel," a Talmudic story also known as "Joseph Who Honored the Sabbath," Marshall has added the character Freyda, Joseph's daughter. She brings to the story a child's wonder and newfound understanding of the beauty and preciousness of the Sabbath. In the folktales "The Magic Pomegranate Seed" and "Onions," substituting a female for a male protagonist gives the stories new dimensions. "By the River" is derived from a folktale told by and about women, but Marshall changed the appearance of Elijah in the story to the appearance of Serah bat Asher, echoing the opening story on the CD. "A Garment for the Moon" originated as a fragment of an 18th century Hasidic story by Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav which folklorist Howard Schwartz made whole. Cindy Rivka Marshall's rendition departs significantly. As she writes, "I changed the protagonist from a tailor to a seamstress, and stitched into the tale the women's participation in the new moon ritual of Rosh Hodesh." By the River is recommended for ages 10 through adult and will be especially enjoyed by girls of Bat Mitzvah age and older, and women looking for new ways to connect with Jewish tradition. About the storyteller Cindy Rivka Marshall is an award-winning professional storyteller whose dynamic theatrical style weaves words with movement and music. She creates vivid characters and images with evocative gestures and catchy refrains that encourage audience participation. She performs Jewish and multicultural stories for children and adults that resonate with her sense of wonder and her value of respect for all. Ms. Marshall's background includes not only theater, dance and voice; she has also studied Jewish stories extensively, and her repertoire includes a range of Jewish stories, including Biblical midrashim, legends, Talmudic stories, Hasidic stories, and folktales from the diaspora. Currently co-chair of the Jewish Storytelling Coalition of New England, Cindy Rivka Marshall has performed at festivals, synagogues, schools, libraries and senior residences since 1989. Her recording "Challah and Latkes: Stories for Shabbat and Hanukkah" won a National Parenting Publications Gold Award and a Storytelling World Honor Award. Her latest recording "By the River: Women's Voices in Jewish Stories" won a Parent's Choice Recommended Award and a Storytelling World Winner Award. In addition to performing, Cindy teaches workshops in storytelling skills and oral history techniques. A former filmmaker, some of her documentaries are still in distribution nationally, including "A Life of Song" a portrait of Yiddish folksinger Ruth Rubin, and "Key Changes: A portrait of jazz singer Lisa Thorson."