January 18, 2020

Temple Beth Am’s ‘Hanukkah Monologues’ Set the Mood for the Festival of Lights

The storytellers and crew of Temple Beth Am's live storytelling show, "The Hanukkah Monologues." Photo courtesy of Lia Mandelbaum

“A trigger warning,” Bryan Carmel said, stepping to the microphone at Temple Beth Am. “The following story contains treif.” 

On Dec. 15, Carmel was one of eight speakers — one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah — who participated in the third edition of Temple Beth Am’s “The Hanukkah Monologues.” 

Featuring personal stories around the theme of “Heroes, Miracles and Lights in the Dark,” the live storytelling show was inspired by National Public Radio’s popular program, “The Moth.”

Carmel recalled the evening he introduced his parents to his more observant, soon-to-be-in-laws. Over Shabbat dinner, Carmel’s mother was gesticulating with bacon in her hand as she spoke to his future father-in-law.

Annie Spar shared how she met her future husband for the first time at her sister’s house, where a group of their friends were gathered to watch a football game. Spar was less than impressed with a man her sister had invited in the hopes of making a shidduch. His loudmouth, Wall Street vibe, she said, wasn’t what she was looking for.

Many evenings later, including one spent salsa dancing, and Spar came to see the man in a different light. “His wrapping was a little rough but he turned out to have the sweetest sufganiyot core,” she quipped.

Sheryl Zohn, an Emmy-nominated television writer and contributor to the anthology, “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt,” shared a piece about approaching the most popular guy in the room, both in the elementary school cafeteria and at the Emmy Awards. At the latter, Zohn approached Hugh Laurie and asked the TV actor if he would greet her mother-in-law, a super-fan.

Before a crowd that included her husband, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, Sari Abrams shared a story about kayaking with her mother, who taught her how to conquer her fears. 

Most of the storytellers spoke about family, with some opting for laughs and others taking more sober approaches to the always-complicated subject matter.  

Discussing her relationship with her developmentally disabled sister, Julie Shuer said that growing up there were few resources to support families with a special needs child. Additionally, language used to describe those like her sister today is considered offensive, Shuer said.

Mike Cohn recounted taking care of his sick mother and getting her a chocolate shake in a snowstorm while she was in a hospital bed.

The event was held the day after the attack on Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and less than a week after the deadly shooting at a kosher market in New Jersey. At the conclusion of the evening, Temple Beth Am Rabbi Matt Shapiro acknowledged the juxtaposition between those events and the storytelling, noting how on Hanukkah the menorah’s candles play no other role than to emit light, bringing additional brightness into the world. 

“Each one of you,” he said, “tonight shared your light with us.”