Wednesday, August 17, 2022

How a Rabbi Uses Role Play to Build Community

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To his bat Mitzvah in his reconstructive Jewish synagogue, Rabbi Menachem Cohen hope to be saved. “I was waiting for God to put me on top of my head and take me on a spiritual journey. A spiritual acidic trip, without ever taking acid, ”he says.

It never happened. Many of us, especially in our pandemic-induced exiles, hope to be drawn into a hero’s journey, the term coined and explored by literature scholar Joseph Campbell in his book The hero with a thousand faces. The arc fits into many media, from books to popular movies. According to Campbell, the myth is that “the hero ventures from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are met there and a decisive victory is won: the hero returns from this mysterious adventure with the power to grant advantages to his neighbor.

We all want to be the one chosen to go out and kill the dragon. Unfortunately, we are relegated to our mundane professional life.

Cohen started playing Dungeons & Dragons at the age of 10. After his coming of age ceremony, Cohen hoped to be remembered the same way a hero would. “I was playing D&D and was interested in Big Magic. Fireballs, teleportation, flight, psychedelic spiritual journeys. But his coming of age ceremony was far from magical. “I read Torah and made mistakes and no one noticed it. The ritual consisted of feasts and monetary gifts.

He drifted away from Judaism somewhat after that, seeking but not finding in religion the magic he found in role-playing games instead.

After years away from home, he returned to his hometown of Chicago in 1994, stopping by his mother on the night of Rosh Hashanah, brought back by a job as a sign language interpreter in a temple for the hearing impaired. Shortly thereafter he was introduced to The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz, a Jewish Buddhist. The bestselling book captured the continuing relationship between Jews and Buddhists. “I saw that the esoteric that I dreamed of in the world was in my garden,” Cohen said.

The magic he was looking for, he discovered on a daily basis, in prayers and rituals. It wasn’t big magic, it was little magic. The wonders of the ordinary. He became more involved in the Jewish renewal movement, attending weeklong retreats and rallies. Cohen eventually took a 4-week crash course in Jewish Shamanism, and soon began to mix games with his religious practice.

In one of our Zoom calls, Cohen told me the story of Bathsheba and David in the Old Testament: the former Jewish king saw Bathsheba bathing and wanted her so much that he ordered to her husband to go to the battle front, where the man died. David then took his widow for himself. Nathan, the Prophet, contacted David and told him the story of a poor man with one sheep that he loved as a child, and a rich man had a huge flock of sheep. The rich then took the sheep of the impoverished man to serve a guest he cared little for. Asked about his reaction, David said the rich man should be punished.

“Nathan, I still imagine trying not to smile, said, ‘Yor are man. From this allegory, the king realizes his error. “The fictitious distance of the story allows David not to throw away his ego and defenses and to see the truth. And Nathan keeps his head. This biblical anecdote sets up a framework that leaders and therapists could use when playing role-plays.

In academic game design theory, there is a theory called an “alibi”. According to an article by Sebasian Detering, a researcher at the University of York in England, “Adults regularly provide adult-friendly alternative motifs to explain their game, such as childcare, homework, creative expression, or health. Once legitimized, the norms and rules of the game themselves then provide an alibi for potentially embarrassing behavior outside of the game. These adult-friendly motivations allow us the separation we need to tackle problems. important or explore ourselves in a way that we would normally be too defensive to do objectively.


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