On our January trip to Cincinnati we were really lucky to be able to get together with Interfaith clergy and scholars at Xavier University to engage in a conversation about the narrative of the city alongside the narrative of Exodus. We’re grateful that recent Cincinnati transplant, Rabbi Benjamin Chaidell could join us that afternoon and share more about his experience.
Imagine if you could understand the story of your city- not only your story, but the story of your neighbors from vastly different backgrounds.
That is the ambitious goal of the In[HEIR]itance Project- a national theater company that co-creates the story of a local community through the lens of ancient texts. In our case, it is the story of the city of Cincinnati, through the lens of the Book of Exodus.
I’ve lived in Cincinnati for the last year and a half, having moved here for a rabbinic position at Adath Israel Congregation. I had met the In[HEIR]itance team in Harlem while in school at JTS, so I jumped at the opportunity to join other faith leaders and community activists here in Cincinnati to craft a story of our city with the help of the In[HEIR]itance team. We first brainstormed words that sum up our experience of Cincinnati. Mine was “patchwork,” since Cincinnati features countless distinctive neighborhoods and cultures. My challenge in Cincinnati has been to break out of my neighborhood to understand the experience of another, in service of bettering each of our lives and the city.
The Book of Exodus was an amazing tool to better understand one another. Once we brainstormed words that sum up the Book of Exodus, we found that the ancient book offers offers us timeless themes that connected those of us from different backgrounds, such as liberation from unjust power, resilience in the face of suffering, and journeying into the wilderness. The brainstorm opened my eyes to the experience of people of color in our city, and how many feel that those in power do not take their needs into consideration. The Book of Exodus enabled me to connect the experience of my neighbors today to our Jewish experience.
Another connection we made between the Book of Exodus and our experience today was the power of a team to change the world. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam joined together to face Pharaoh, the most powerful tyrant in the world at the time. This inspires me that together, we in Cincinnati can begin to face the daunting challenges of our future with the same courage, faith, and tenacity to lead us to freedom.
Rabbi Benjamin Chaidell,
Assistant Rabbi at Adath Israel Congregation