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The Power of Good Storytelling

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When my wife and I were trying to think of a name for our son, we debated and quarreled over a few possibilities. We both loved the name Evan, but it was important to me to have a personal meaning for the name we gave our son, and nothing specific was coming to mind in terms of Evan. It can be seen as a celtic name meaning "Young Warrior," but as powerful as that sounds, I do not have much warrior aspirations for our New York Jewish son.

I grew up in Israel, and the word Evan in Hebrew means "stone." This also sounded a bit too tough for our demeanor as parents. Before we named him, we liked to call our unborn child "Rocky" in part due to his punching, and in part due to how nicely it rhymed with our last name -- Zablocki. It was just coincidence that Evan means rock in Hebrew.

The first association I have with the word "evan" in Hebrew is a monthly prayer that includes the line: "Evan maasu habonim, hayta l'rosh pina" which means, "A stone that was disregarded by the builders, became the cornerstone." I immediately associate this line with a memory from when I was around 10-years-old, and my father dragged me to a concert of one of his favorite performers -- the singing Rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach. His life story was recently portrayed on Broadway in the show: Soul Doctor. His concerts would start traditionally two hours late and he would get on stage and tell stories through song, sharing thoughts of Jewish wisdom. Not a fun night for a 10-year-old.

Nevertheless, this concert had a profound impact on me. Carlebach told the story of this stone, that was meant for building of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. He told how the temple was supposed to be perfect and the stones were not cut, but rather built to fit like in a perfect tetras game. The builders disregarded one stone that did not seem important. But when they finished the temple they were missing one key stone for the crown. They remembered the disregarded stone and it fit to complete, and even perfect the structure.

I do not know why I remember this specific story. But I repeated it to my wife, almost verbatim. Carlebach compared this disregarded stone to all the lost souls, children, "holy-beggars," who society disregards and feels they might not fit in. But even those left-out stones can ultimately be the cornerstone that holds the whole structure together.

When I think of the lesson of this story, I think of my work with ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival. This is the spirit that inspired me towards a festival that supports inclusion of those who are kept out of the spotlight, in a society that cannot find a place for everyone. The story of this stone reminds us that while some people are left out, all humans can play a crucial role in our community. Was it this story that so deeply instilled the value of inclusion in me?

The story is a true tribute to the power of art and good storytelling. Why did this story stay with me for 27 years, and impact me so deeply? I am not a hardcore fan of Shlomo Carlibach, but I will not deny that he was a master storyteller and knew very well that storytelling is a powerful tool to impact hearts and minds. It was through this story and others, that I was impacted with values that penetrated and sustained themselves. This is a true art form, and maybe it was the fact that he used music as well to heighten the emotional impact of a story, but there is no question that this is proof for the power of art as a tool for change.

I watch Hollywood year after year offend the artform of storytelling with a need to over stimulate a generation with short attention spans. Rarely do I see a movie that truly values the simple impact of a good story. Hollywood invests in keeping our attention with special effects. Take as an example the latest Superman flick -- Man of Steel. We have seen this story told well so many times, and whatever values this version tried to bring to the character of Superman, were lost in the over indulgence in big explosions. But these effects will not stay with us for years to come and profoundly change us. The long term investment should be in stories that impact for decades.

Some still try to use storytelling to impact change. If it is new independent film funds popping up such as Impact Partners, or organizations like The Moth that recognize the value of storytelling and its power to change. I am honored to be running the film program at the JCC in Manhattan where in our Cinematters series, we can celebrate good storytelling through films that create change. My goal is for my son to be impacted by stories at least in the way I was.