many faces of storyteller Vered Hankin, seen here
performing at a Jewish Federation of Women's Division
by KEVIN BLAYNEY
Job - Former area resident wins acclaim as Jewish storyteller
CITY JEWISH CHRONICLE
by Ben Shockey - May 11, 2001
remembers loving stories since she was very young.
in kindergarten someone would come around and tell us stories,"
Hankin said. "I still remember some of the lessons from those
stories. I don't remember anything else I was taught in my childhood,
but those stories have stayed with me."
if you had told Hankin six years ago that, at the age of 27, she
would be a professional storyteller, heralded as "the leading
storyteller of her generation" by New York's Jewish Week,
she would never have believed it.
who spent her adolescence in Overland Park, Kansas, attending
the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and Kehilath Israel synagogue,
now lives in New York and travels up and down the East Coast and
all around the country telling Jewish folktales before audiences
of all ages. Last year she released a CD of her stories, "The
Day the Rabbi Disappeared: Jewish Holiday Tales of Magic."
as a storyteller began one night as she was sleeping. The answer
to her vocational woes came to her in a dream.
But the story
begins earlier than that. As a student at the University of Kansas,
Hankin majored in women's studies and religious studies, with
an emphasis in Judaic studies. After writing an honors thesis
at the University of California-Berkeley, she picked up her things
and moved to New York.
I wanted to find Jewish communal work and, to me, New York seemed
like the center of the Jewish world," Hankin said.
part-time work at a Jewish women's foundation, but finances were
tight, and she found herself unsatisfied. She sought out secondary
jobs at area synagogues.
At one of
the synagogues "the cantor took me to the head of the Hebrew
school, and I was thinking, "I don't want to do this. I've
done this before," said Hankin. "But then they said
they were looking for someone to come in to tell Bible stories
to the kids and I thought: 'Now that sounds like fun.'"
the job, and word spread quickly about her talents. Before she
knew it, she was getting calls to tell stories at other synagogues.
foundation job had turned out to be not really what I had wanted,
but I was loving storytelling," Hankin said. "I started
thinking 'Maybe this could happen - maybe I could become a sort
of traveling storyteller.' Once I had the vision, then all kinds
of miracles began to occur."
came in the form of a dream that convinced her to leave her job
at the foundation and pursue storytelling as a full-time career.
a dream one night and in it I was at the top of this very tall
slide and I was terrified to go down, and all the kids at the
bottom were screaming 'Why are you afraid? Haven't you read Proverbs
Two?' And I had never read Proverbs Two. Ever. So when I woke
up I decided I'd better look it up. And it was incredible. It
talks about different kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of your head
and the wisdom of your heart. And if you follow the wisdom of
your heart, that is the best."
into her storytelling full time, funded by a grant for artist-educators
from the Jewish Nation Fund. She worked with JNF for two years
before they lost their funding for the project, which Hankin said
turned out to be one more serendipitous incident in her career.
sort of like it happened at just the right time. I was ready to
be out on my own. People were calling me to do performances,"
performing for more than five years, Hankin is beginning to understand
something new about the stories.
I began, I loved the idea of performing and entertaining and getting
people to laugh and have a great time," she said. "I
still love that. But now what I'm constantly fascinated by is
that I can tell the same story hundreds, thousands of times, and
each time I am transformed by it. Something happens. It takes
me to a different place."
said it's not only her that the stories change, it's the audience.
I tell a story, there is this sort of exchange of energy that
goes on between the audience and the storyteller," Hankin
said. "I think it's the story that creates the energy. What
makes a person a good storyteller is to be a blank slate and to
let the story live through them
Then the audience will live
in the story too.
It's like a journey we all go through
together, and at the end there's this sort of catharsis
it's like a group healing. It's a dynamic process, a group process."
the power to teach and to heal lies not in her, but in the stories
these stories are magical. Something about the fact that they're
folktales, that they've been told and retold over and over again,
and then they're told at that moment with all that history behind
them, which is sort of linking it and continuing that chain
something magical happens at that moment," Hankin said.
has achieved a level of success in her field at a young age, Hankin
said she is not content to rest on her laurels.
so grateful that I've been able to get to this place so that I
can see that this isn't quite enough," she said.
So what is
next for Hankin? She's currently pursuing a doctoral degree in
psychology. Her area of interest: the intersection of psychology
reason I want to pursue psychology is because of this healing
aspect of the stories, and because they've proven to be such incredible
I think that we forget about the importance
of emotion in education. I personally believe that unless you're
emotionally connected to the material you're learning, you won't
It's an old
idea, she said, one that has its roots in many cultures, not least
of all Judaism.
know, when Jewish people used to have problems, they would go
to the rabbi. And what did the rabbi do? He told them a story,
and that's how they'd work through their problems. I think stories
were meant to be healing, meant to educate people on how to morally
live their lives and how to extract joy from them," she said.