A night of revelations

SermonSlam DC winner Eliana Fishman performs her piece as a survey. Photo by David Zvi Kalma
SermonSlam DC winner Eliana Fishman performs her piece as a survey.
Photo by David Zvi Kalma

“Revelation is when a person reveals themselves to you,” said Akiva Landsman, as he began his spoken-word piece to a full house at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center last week. It was a simple statement reflecting the night’s theme — “revelation.”

But as fleshed out by Landsman and 11 other performers at the District’s first SermonSlam, “revelation” proved to have multiple personal meanings.

The performers presented their thoughts through poems, short stories, songs, Torah references and, of course, sermons. The key was that they had only five minutes to do so.

The first SermonSlam, a Jewish spoken word event promoted by Open Quorum, took place in Philadelphia last year and has since spread to other cities in America and Israel. Similar to Moth stories and poetry slam events, performances focus on a particular theme, with performers – of all ages and Jewish backgrounds – showing off their spoken-word talents.


The DCJCC event was co-sponsored by organizations including DC Minyan and Tikkun Leil Shabbat.

For those who had no idea what to expect, Arlington resident Lisa Kaneff, the first speaker of the night, got the audience into the swing of things by revealing that she decided at her bat mitzvah reception that she wanted to become a vegetarian.

That idea “ended after 45 minutes into the reception,” when waiters brought out those mini hot dogs she couldn’t resist. But the revelation came full circle as an adult for Kaneff, who said she recently dated a hunter, which caused her to once again rethink her meat-eating habits.

While Kaneff told a straightforward story, other performers, like Renana Fox, Jessica Genia Simon and Virginia Spatz, incorporated their knowledge of the Torah and its cast of characters into their five-minute poetic sermons. Spatz told a story from the perspective of Moses’ wife, Tziporah, and Fox’s monologue, “Are you there God? It’s Me. Complaining?” was a take on the title Judy Blume’s young adult novel.

“How do we keep it real like Moses and Elijah?” Fox asked God. “[I’ve had] questions and frustrations. Where is my modern revelation?”

Other performers, including life coach Andy Kirschner, chose to highlight specific challenges they’ve faced in life. Kirschner’s “Will Elijah be at My Son’s Bris?” chronicled how, because his wife wasn’t Jewish, a rabbi told him his newborn, son, Elijah could have a bris on Shabbat, since the boy wasn’t Jewish either, despite Kirschner having a proud Jewish identity.

Possibly the most striking performance came from the poetic tour de force team of Leana Jelen and JB Begue, who perform regularly at venues around D.C. Begue, who is deaf, signed his monologue, titled “Feeding the Cloud,” while Jelen narrated. Begue recalled the time in elementary school when he first realized he was gay, and how his parents had told him gay people go to hell. He compared his depression and eventual embracing of his gay identity to a cloud, absorbing all of the negativity in his life.

But the performance that had the audience roaring with laughter was that of polling analyst Eliana Fishman, whose “Year 2 Giveaway Research Project,” had her donning a headset microphone, while she rapidly spewed out her knowledge of the Torah as if she were conducting a survey. After all 12 performers had finished, audience members submitted their ballots and Fishman was crowned the winner. Check out her winning performance below.

For more information about SermonSlam, go to openquorum.org.

izelaya@washingtonjewishweek.com, @IanDavidZelaya

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