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The Revelation Will Not Be Televised

Miriam BrosseauFilmed at Limmud Conference 2013

Every once in a while, everyone has their own revelation - that moment when everything clicks...and everything changes. What makes these moments happen? How can we recognize and capture them? Can we make them happen for others? Through personal stories, Torah insights, and some help from the Stereo Sinai song “The Revelation Will Not Be Televised,” Miriam Brosseau explores these questions and more in a talk that will help you bring a bit of the original Revelation into your own life.

Miriam Brosseau is a Jewish communal professional by day, “biblegum pop” star by night. Miriam holds a BA in Jewish Studies and Modern Hebrew from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in Jewish Professional Studies from the Spertus Institute in Chicago, where she focused on the intersection of new Jewish culture and the social web. She currently works in social media coaching and training, helping people and organizations connect and communicate more effectively through shiny, shiny technology. She is the co-author of the “Social Media Policy Workbook for Jewish Organizations” with Lisa Colton, and has been featured on outlets such as Beth Kanter’s blog,, and EJewishPhilanthropy. Miriam is a member of the ROI community of innovators, and was selected for New York’s “36 Under 36” list of young Jewish change-makers in 2012. She and her husband, producer Alan Jay Sufrin, make up Stereo Sinai, a band that has been hailed as “one of the most innovative new bands on Jewish music scene,” “ethereal,” “compelling,” and “relentlessly cute.” Miriam spends her free time reading, re-watching episodes of Star Trek (Next Generation, of course), and dangling things in front of her cats. Alan, Miriam, and their new son Leo live in Brooklyn.

So my revelation came when I was about 14 years old at the Rabbi of the Synagogue where my family had just started attending heard me sing and heard me read Hebrew and spoke to me a bit and he kind of took me under his wing and started teaching me all of the things that, honestly, I probably should have learned in Hebrew school. He taught me how to lead services, he taught me how to chant haftorah. But mostly, what I got most excited about he taught me ‘shoreshim’ mostly three but sometimes 2 or 4 letter roots of Hebrew words, and I got very, very excited because I am a big nerd like that, it was thrilling. But, the clincher was when I learnt this word, aleph, mem, nun, which we all know is ‘amen’. In prayer speak, amen is basically ‘ditto’ but it really refers to belief, and just like every other Hebrew shoresh, just like every other Hebrew root, amen can twist and bend and shape-shift itself into new and glorious things, amen becomes emunah which is usually translated as faith. In modern Hebrew amen becomes l’hitamen which means ‘to practice’, but because it is the reflexive form of the verb, it really means ‘to believe in yourself’, which I think is awesome. Amen also becomes omanut which is art, and so what’s the connection between faith and art and art as a kind of faith? I heard all of this and I just fell in love, I thought it was so amazing and so ten or twelve years later I became what many will describe as an ‘uber Jew’, I now work in the Jewish community, I play in the Jewish band, I married a nice Jewish boy, I gave birth to what I can only assume will become a nice Jewish boy (down ladies, he’s only six months…and he’s taken!) But whenever I tell my Jewish journey I start with this word, I start with this story, it all began with amen, and so 10 or 12 years later I had the opportunity to do some work in the Jewish community and teach a small group of teens who were learning about the connection between Judaism and social justice and I thought “Yes! This is my moment, this is when I can take my revelatory moment and pass it on to this next generation so they will feel what I felt and they will know what I knew”. And so, I came across this group of 4 or 5 teenagers in the suburbs of Chicago and I stood beside them and I said “Neshema is a word for the soul, and Limshom is the verb ‘to breathe’ and what is the connection between the soul and breath?” and never before, was boredom so palpable. I had never seen deader faces before me like I had, and it was crushing – so disappointed – what had happened? I had learned this root and I had learned about Hebrew and it was so exciting, and I tried passing it on to these kids who must have just been…there was something wrong with them, clearly…something happened; I couldn’t just take my revelation, my meaningful moment and insert it into these kids. And it really bothered me. It bothered me for a long time. And I thought about it, and I realized the question I was asking was not just about my own failure and why that had happened, but I was asking “what makes a revelation?”, what has to happen in order for someone to have that truly meaningful moment, in order for someone to have that revelatory experience. And I realized, I had been approaching this concept as if that as if revelation were synonymous with information, just passing along this thing, inserting content from one person into another.

And, in my limited experience that’s not really how it works. Revelation is a lot more than that, in fact it’s three things that need to really align for the individual in order to have that moment of revelation and I think it has to do with content, it has to do with the stuff, the thing the idea, in my case it was amen, it was this beautiful root, but it also has to do with context. The reason that amen worked so well for me, the reason that all of these things came together, was because it was the right time in my life, I’d had a horrible Hebrew school experience beforehand, I had been in this class of kids who were more excited about the soccer games that they were missing and who lodged a formal protest against the teacher because we were learning a story with the word ass in it, it was Balaam and the Ass, we were talking about a donkey guys, and they literally said “My parents would not approve of me reading a book like this” – it’s the Torah, it’s really ok, I think they’re alright with it. But for me all of those experiences accumulated and the time and the place was right. In addition to that the medium has to align. I heard about amen from someone I respected, someone I trusted and someone who sat me down one on one and handed over this information in a way that really made sense to me, and the medium was right, and when all of these things came together that was my revelation, and I can’t take that and expect to just insert it into another person. I think all of these three elements and probably a lot more, are really key to creating a revelatory, meaningful life-changing experience.

When my husband and I tell this story of how we got engaged, and you’ll hear two completely different stories, so it’s good that I’m the one on stage so you can get the real view, when we tell this story we tell of this time that we were playing a gig in Amsterdam, and Alan played this song that I had written for him and then called me up on stage and proposed and there was this sea of clapping Dutch people and then mazaltovs and then a ride in this little chug-chug boat that went through the canals of Amsterdam, and it was just awkward and romantic and lovely, and the thing that we won’t tell you is that each of us had proposed to the other a couple of times before, and I don’t actually remember rejecting Alan but apparently I did, because these things didn’t line up. It wasn’t the right content maybe, it wasn’t the right context – the medium I’m going to go ahead and say was right but things didn’t click and so when I talk about what a revelation is and why it worked for me with Amen and why it worked for me with my wonderful husband and why it didn’t work with this group of idiot kids (just kidding), why it didn’t work with these teens is because a revelation is about that moment when you can say your own personal na’aseh v’nishma, you can say your own personal ‘I’m ready to do this and then I’ll figure out what the heck I’m doing and why this matters and why it’s important’. It has to click for that person. It has to be an internal process – revelation is not something that you accept passively as if for instance you are watching television.

Now when we think about revelation and we think about ourselves as parents, as educators, as caring members of the Jewish community, our impulse is sometimes to want to create these moments for another person and that’s really really difficult, as I learnt for myself, but also as it turns out, it’s not just difficult for we humans who are created b’tzelem Elokim, it’s also difficult for God who apparently also got it wrong the first time. So, let’s think back on the original revelation at Sinai, right, we’ll set the stage. We’ve got this people who have been to hell and back and they have decided to follow this guy out to this mountain and there is noise and there is darkness and there is rumbling and suddenly God clears his throat and is about to deliver whatever you understand as Revelation – the 10 commandments, the whole Torah – and the people say “No, you had us up to this point but God you can’t be the one to deliver revelation. We’ve got to hear this from Moses or we’re not going to get this”. God screwed up the medium! Right? We’ve got these three pieces of the content and the context and the medium, and God had to switch the medium in order for the revelation to take place.

And that made me feel really good about my own failure. Revelation is a really difficult thing to hand over, and I don’t say this to say we should stop trying, we are a people of striving and so let’s strive. I think every single one of us can do better at making sure that the content we’re thinking about is the right content, is the meaningful content, is the powerful content, but even more so I think that we need to think more about context, that second circle that aligns with it, because thinking about context is really thinking about empathy, and if there is one emotion that will save the world it is empathy. If we can think more about what it means to be another person, understand where they’re coming from and not just understand where they are coming from but be there with them and feel what they are feeling and know what they are knowing, we’re going to be better Jews and we’re going to be better people. And finally we can think more about the medium, we can think more about who are the people and what are the technologies that are going to deliver the messages for us that will lead us into a new land, that will lead us to be a new people. But beyond that, when it comes to revelation, there is something else that we need to think about. Only 20% or so of the children of Israel who were in Egypt actually got to Mount Sinai to receive revelation. 20% – one in five, right? Not so many. That was a big bold leap that that 20% took in leaving behind everything that they knew in order to go off and receive revelation and become a new people. And so the message I think for us is that revelation is not something you can accept passively it’s something that you run after, as Abraham Joshua Heschel has taught, when it comes to prayer, when it comes to living a good Jewish life you have to pray with your feet , you have to move towards revelation, you have to grab it with both hands and you do not let it go. But it’s something that you have to seek for yourself, try out new content, explore the context in which you’re living, where have you been, where are you going, and don’t be afraid of new media, of new people who might deliver the right message, of new technologies that might deliver new things to you. It’s only through exploring those things that we’re going to be able to get those moments, which don’t come often and don’t come easily, that’s the only way we’re going to find them for ourselves. And so, when it comes to the revelation, when it actually does happen, I will say in the words that my wonderful husband who inspires me in everything and to whom I dedicate this talk – ‘The revelation will not be televised. When revelation comes, you will not be able to stay home rabbotai, mainly because you will not be able to keep your feet from moving, mainly because your feet will acquire for themselves a mind of their own, a beat of their own, mainly because you will hear the sounds the way they were meant to be heard, not through your ear which hear not, not through your eye which see not but through your feet rabbotai. The revelation will not be televised or named something else in vain. Rabbotai the Cohanim cannot bless you with it on Holy days, the revelation cannot be fashioned from gold or silver, or from wood or stone or surround sound, the revelation will not be texted, emailed or chatted, you will not be able to watch it the next day online, the revelation cannot be bottled up, stuffed into fiber optic cables or thrown onto invisible waves of radio broadband or other shattered vessels, the revelation will not be televised.

(Revelation will not be televised song – text on screen)

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