The Lost Art of Storytelling, Lost No More

by Kimberly Ann Orlandi - April 6, 2000


On March 29, storyteller and New York actress Vered Hankin came to Temple Emmanu-El to celebrate Jewish Women's History Month, with a smart, often funny interpretation of three women who not only inspired a generation of Jewish women to strive for what they believe in, but women everywhere, including myself, who wanted someone passionate about the cause in their corner. In particular, women's rights activist, congresswoman, political activist and founder of N.O.W., Bella Abzug; Canadian athlete and 1928 silver medal recipient in track-and-field Bobbie Rosenfeld; and anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff.

During her research, Israeli-born Hankin became enthralled with the life of Bella Abzug. Like myself, Hankin's interest in the woman who made the men of Capitol Hill cower whenever she opened her mouth, stemmed from the bold steps she dared to take to fulfill her destiny in becoming the American women's voice in Congress….

"I really loved her and was inspired by her through my research. She really lived in me," said Hankin, "so much so that at times she would speak to me in my dreams."

"Bella," said Hankin, speaking to her in her dream," what should I be sure to tell these women about you and your cause?" Immersed in the character of Abzug, Hankin said, "The equal rights amendment has not yet been passed. In 1994, women in this country made $.70 to a man's $1. Seventy-five of the homeless are women. The current welfare reform act cuts off benefits after 60 months and reproductive freedom is in constant jeopardy of being repealed under Roe vs. Wade."

The crowd of mostly women, although there were a handful of men in the audience, sat awe-inspired as Hankin took on many of Abzug's traits, causes and her many hats.

"Bella," Hankin said, continuing her dialogue, "maybe they would also like to hear some personal stories."

"O.K., fine, but none of those hoopla anecdotes. I want you to tell them something that means something." Bella proceeded to tell a time she was approached by a woman in an airport:

"You're Mrs. Abzug, aren't you?" said the woman.

"Yes," Bella replied.

"You're hailed as a big time liberal, aren't you?"

"Yes, some people say that."

"Well, Mrs. Abzug, I'll have you know that I don't want to be liberated. I like it just the way it is."

"Oh, you do, huh? Let me ask you something, do you work?"

"Yes," replied the woman.

"Did a man ever have your job?"


"How much money do you make in your job?"

"$75 bucks a week."

"And the man who was in your job, what did he make?"

The woman hesitated before answering. "Come to think of it, he made $10,000."

"Huh. Well, we believe in equal rights for equal pay. That's what we 'liberators' are all about. Let me ask you another question. Do you have any children?"

"Grandchildren, but I take care of them."

"So, when you go off to work do you leave them in a free day care center?"

The woman laughed: "Are you kidding? I pay someone to watch them."

"Well, you see, that's another thing we liberators are all about."

"Mrs. Abzug, can I have your telephone number?"

As Hankin retold this tale, faces in the audience stayed glued to her every move. Heads nodded in agreement with Abzug's causes and the young woman's plight. As the stories went on, it was difficult to tear myself away from Hankin - her performance was mesmerizing.

With each word the audience of nearly 70 sat glued to their seats, eyes affixed to Hankin and her spellbinding portrayal of these fascinating women.

Through the magical words and expressions of Vered Hankin, these three women were once again brought to life, their stories told and sometimes retold and their lives enlightened to inspire a future generation of Jewish women ready to take on the world.