From the deeply personal to the downright silly, the tales — all true, the audience was assured — were told.
Nine storytellers spun them at Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville for its fifth annual True Stories event, all with skills honed on the emerging storytelling circuit, which features competitions across the country.
And the roughly 150 in attendance on Nov. 12, many of whom indicated they’d never been to a storytelling event before, seemed captivated.
Clarence Featherson, a lawyer and two-time finalist at the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, told a story about buying — and burying — a gerbil for his son, much to his wife’s dismay. Nupe Mehta, a doctor, told of the struggle to find a “guju” Indian woman to please his mother. His wife, Sarah, an economist (who turns out to be a “good Jew” rather than a “guju,” in Mehta’s words) then recounted the night they met playing charades.
There was also Jew-centric comedy. Yev Kirpichevsky, a weather analyst and part-time comedian, told the story of his Birthright trip and his terror that he’d be exposed for the bad Jew he was. When asked by Israeli security why Jews celebrate Chanukah, all he could do was quote the television show “Friends.”
“Meanwhile, the chick next to me is quoting from Deuteronomy,” he said.
But there were heartfelt stories as well. Addison Beaux, a transgender writer and communications employee at Stanford University, talked about recently transitioning.
“Basically, I’m going through puberty at age 41,” he said.
He told the story of meeting a bereaved mother at a New Jersey cemetery — he was there to see three generations of his family, and was video chatting with his mother for directions. After speaking with the woman in the cemetery, she turned to Beaux’s mother on the phone and said, “You have such a nice son.”
Beaux, choking up slightly, said it was the first time his mother used the male pronoun when describing him: “She said, ‘Yes, he is.’”
John Melmed, a doctor and a member at Tikvat Israel, has been organizing the True Stories event since 2013. A TV crew was filming and, with the help of a local television producer, Melmed is hoping to get the show aired on PBS.
“The one thing storytellers like is an audience,” Melmed said.
Anne Thomas taught at the University of New Mexico School of Law in her first career. She specialized in the Americans with Disabilities Act, a subject close to her as she was partially paralyzed in a car accident at 18. She now works as a guest speaker and storyteller full time.
At Tikvat Israel, she described searching for an accessible bathroom on a road trip in Espanola, N.M. A McDonald’s had all the right signage but no accessible bathroom. When the owner tried to explain that his franchise had been “grandfathered in,” Thomas assertively explained that, in fact, that wasn’t possible.
She left in a huff and “found a bathroom fit for royalty … at Burger King,” she said.
Soon after, Thomas learned that after she left the owner had made an insulting joke about people who are disabled. When she ran into the McDonald’s regional director at a conference, she shared some choice words.
Days later, the franchise owner came to her office, “cowboy hat literally in hand,” Thomas said.
“I’d like to think I’m a bigger man that,” he told her.
“Well,” Thomas replied, “now we both know that you aren’t.”