“I have so many stories to tell and now I feel comfortable to share them” – *Elke (Pathfinder since 2020)
Expressive writing is a powerful tool for healing. It allows us to turn our attention inwards so we can better process emotionally difficult events and life challenges. Writing about our personal stories can reveal deep insights into our own thoughts and behaviours. Being part of a writing group, where lived experience and personal stories are shared, can also create a sense of community and belonging — a safe space where bottled up emotions can be released in a private and cathartic way. With all these benefits in mind, Pathways Melbourne (a Jewish non-profit organisation) launched its Storytelling Programs in 2021. Beginning with an annual Writer Workshop Series with 8 tailored workshops, the program recently culminated with a public storytelling event, ‘FREEDOM: My Story’.
The Storytelling Program was designed by Pathways Melbourne CEO & Founder, Leah Boulton, and was created to support and empower ‘Pathfinders’ —who are people from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities who are questioning their lifestyle, practices and beliefs. “I’m so proud that our Storytelling Programs have gone from strength to strength over the last 2 years. The idea grew after our Pathfinder members expressed a need for community building, through the sharing of sometimes difficult life journeys and personal stories. It has also enhanced their writing education and skills, which many hadn’t had the opportunity to develop before. We already have more Pathfinders booked in for this year’s Writer Workshop Series, so it is continuing to grow”.
Pathways Melbourne is the only support service of its kind in Australia. Its mission is to support and empower Pathfinders, no matter where there are on their journey. Some of the Jewish people it supports are questioning their current lifestyles and beliefs and need a confidential sounding board to help them process their thoughts. Someone who will listen without judgement or agenda. Others have taken a step further, and decided to follow a different life path to the one they grew up in. As a consequence many in the group are also dealing with loneliness and estrangement from their families, parents and social networks.
While each Pathfinder in the program has an individual story to tell and has faced unique challenges as a result of their life choices, collectively, they share the desire to connect with others who have faced comparable internal conflicts. The Writer Workshop Series has created a private space for the development of their literary and storytelling skills, deep personal reflection and confidence building. According to workshop participant, *Dovid (Pathfinder since 2018), “Writing has helped me to unblock the thoughts I’ve been holding onto and in this way enabled me to better understand myself and others”.
Under the guidance of Dr Deborah Rechter (educator, writer and researcher), Pathfinder participants have been encouraged to discover their inner voice and explore a variety of writing styles, while tapping into their creativity and engaging their subconscious minds. Volunteers from within Melbourne’s Jewish writing community were recruited to provide extra guidance to participants interested in publishing their finished stories in the future.
The Storytelling Program culminated this year in a moving and emotional public storytelling evening , entitled ‘FREEDOM: My Story’. This event gave Pathfinders in the program the power to be the narrators of their own life stories, rather than the victims. 8 writers from the program worked together with writing mentors, Janine Schloss, Dalit Kaplan, Bram Presser and Deborah Rechter to perfect the personal poetry, prose and social commentary pieces they presented in front of an audience of 130 people. Some of the stories read out on the night gave a voice to the deep anguish resulting from sexual abuse and the distress of not fitting into the mould of family and social expectations. Some of the most sensitive pieces were read out by community volunteers to protect the privacy and identity of the writers.
Through these Storytelling Programs a uniquely Jewish writing community has emerged — one that is assisting Pathfinders to heal from past experiences, combat isolation and look confidently towards the future. Thank you to the Community Bank Caulfield Park and the Grosman Family Foundation for kindly supporting Pathways Melbourne’s Writer Workshop Series and the FREEDOM: My Story event.
*Names changed to protect their identity
Featured Image: Dassi Herszberg with Dr Deborah Rechter.
Second Image: Susan Glass