A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

Tapestry Model Program: An Arab-Jewish Storytelling Dialogue

“Tapestry: An Arab-Jewish Storytelling Dialogue” and “The Tapestry Tellers” story partnership were born out a sense of hopelessness and helplessness over the violence in the Middle East, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that escalated in September 2000.

A few months later, in February 2001, storytellers B.J. Abraham and Audrey Galex attended an event in Atlanta billed as an “Arab-Jewish Musical Dialogue.” Although the music was moving and uplifting, none of the musicians talked about how they could sit together on one stage, while their people “back home” were attacking each other. Audrey, who is Jewish, and B.J. who is of Lebanese descent, realized that they had never shared their stories with each other, either, nor had they shared their feelings and opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A week later, the two women found themselves sitting at Audrey’s kitchen table. They not only shared stories about their childhood, family recipes, and loved ones, but they began to confront some of the more difficult stories: stories of traveling in the Middle East and seeing, first-hand, the violence and victims and survivors on their respective “sides” of the conflict. In subsequent meetings, they also shared poetry, folk tales, proverbs and music from the region.

As they told storytelling colleagues about their dialogue, they began to receive encouragement to “do something with it.” That’s when Audrey and B.J. approached the head of the Middle East Peace & Education program at the Atlanta chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, offering to present a benefit program for the group, a program they would design from their ongoing conversations.

They set a date for the Passover/Easter season of 2001, to present “Tapestry” as a work in progress. The program was scheduled for an evening at a local church, followed by a sharing of ethnic foods donated by a local Middle East grocery.

After the first performance in May 2001, word spread about “Tapestry.” They’ve since adapted and shared the program, tailoring it for preschool, teenage, adult, and intergenerational audiences. They’ve been featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta Magazine, as well as in Storytelling Magazine. They have received a county arts council grant to create an interactive intergenerational program and have videotaped portions of their program for the possible development of a study guide and companion video.

The “Tapestry” program continues to evolve, with the pair re-writing the script to reflect current events and a narrative flow that begins with their voicing the more difficult “assumptions,” “stereotypes,” and fears each culture holds about the other, then moving into elements that reflect cultural similarities and alternate visions for a peaceful future.

When the “Tapestry Tellers” showcased their performance at the National Storytelling Conference in Denver in 2002, they shared the following process notes:

  • Brainstorm, take notes
  • Peruse personal libraries and files, public libraries, the internet, family, to gather elements (stories, poetry, proverbs, song lyrics, music.)
  • Share material by email and phone, as well as regular (weekly) meetings
  • Draft script, divide “lines” between partners (i.e., who says what)
  • Incorporate music appropriate to the topic
  • Find and meet in space that provides no interruptions or distractions. Edit script for dress rehearsal
  • “organically” discover individual talents and strengths and “division of labor” for writing, editing, producing/blocking
  • Gather props (pillows, scarves, objects) and costumes to create the mood, environment reflecting the culture
  • Hold dress rehearsal among storytelling peers/friends. Determine desired feedback, i.e., appreciations, suggestions, questions, gaps
  • Consider a printed program for audience with brief program description, historical timeline, organizations/resources, song lyrics for participation, contact information
  • Arrange for ethnic food to be served
  • Visit venue to assess sound system, lighting, stage configuration, etc.
  • Record (video or audio) for self critique
  • Arrange for friends to arrive early to help decorate stage, set up music/sound, photograph event, distribute programs, in order to focus on performance
  • Consider Q & A following performance

Lessons Learned:

  • There’s no such thing as too much rehearsing
  • Prepare for success (B.J. and Audrey thought this would be a one-night only collaboration. It has lasted, at this writing, three years and continues.)
  • Prepare a media kit (news release, bios, photos, testimonials, etc.)
  • Set aside time to devote to your partnership/project
  • Make sure to provide audience with contact information and response/evaluation cards
  • Don’t hesitate to add, delete, shift, change, and edit the script as needed
  • Differences of opinion over program elements can be handled positively, modeling the very essence of peacemaking.

B.J. Abraham has been telling stories since 1983 and is a member of the National Storytelling Network and a charter member of the Southern Order of Storytellers. She grew up Lebanese in the Mississippi Delta and was fascinated with her grandparents from “the old country.”

She received her Masters Degree in Storytelling from Eastern Tennessee State University in 1998. She was a teller at the Regional Storytelling Concert at the 2000 National Storytelling Conference. In October 2001, she was featured in the Georgia Living Section of Southern Living Magazine. B.J. Abraham can be reached through bjstory@hotmail.com, 404-633-3277

Audrey Galex has spent as much time listening to and gathering stories as she has telling them. In 1992, she created Roots & Wings Life Stories to share, showcase and preserve the stories of individuals, families and communities. Through Roots & Wings, Audrey records video biographies, conducts reminiscence workshops, produces radio and television news features and tells stories, particularly stories celebrating her Jewish roots and stories that bridge cultures and generations.

Audrey is the co-founder of Atlanta’s Jewish-Muslim Women’s Baking Circle. She is a member of the Southern Order of Storytellers, National Storytelling Network, the Oral History Association and a founding member of the Association of Personal Historians. Contact Audrey through Audrey@RootsWings.com, 404-486-7377