Sunday, May 8, 2011

Exodus Story Telling - Egypt and Earth Gravity

Story telling is an art. Captivating an audience by telling a story pivots on how the story is told no less than the story being told. Passover Seder ("Seder" means order in Hebrew) is a very effective way of perpetuating the story about exodus, going out of a known situation into the unknown called freedom. The paradigm is so effective, in fact, that its structure was borrowed to commemorate another story about another pseudo-exodus - getting free of Earth gravity for the first time and traveling to the unknown of space.

The passover story has all the right ingredients for an epic. It's about moving for an opportunity and staying for too long. It's a story about hosts who become anxious that their once guests would become enemies. It's a story about enslavement and freedom, about entitlement and righteousness. It's a story about returning to the land of Israel after a long exile. Coming from the bible, it's a story about god and keeping promisses.

Why do stories get told? The simple answer is so that it is not forgotten. In case of Passover, beyond the emphasis of god (after all, it is a religious ceremony) the Seder script makes a point of every person seeing oneself as if he or she went out of Egypt. The Hagada ("Telling" in Hebrew, the script of the Seder) goes on to explain that if our forefathers hadn't escaped the Egyptian enslavement instead of going through the Seder one would still be in Egypt as a slave.

Telling of the story is laid out as a unique script of events that involves all the senses through dialogs, narratives, songs, symbolic food, wine and games for the kids. By the time a Jewish kid is eighteen, he or she most likely remembers the story by heart, can sing the songs and knows what to eat and when. Then come eight days of digestive system blocking Matzo, but what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

Why do we need to remember Apollo 11? The first time mankind left Earth gravity and stepped on another celestial body is one of the biggest technological achievements (and also perception altering) of mankind in documented times. Equipped by the most advanced technology of the time (which most electronic devices today put to shame), three men blasted off from Earth on the top of the biggest rocket mankind has ever built, two of which set foot on our nearby neighbor, the moon.

In 1989, twenty years after the first moon landing, a new type of Seder was created to pass that story and make sure it is not forgotten. Evoloterra tells that story using many of the same tools as the Passover Hagada - symbolic food, wine, ceremonial actions and narrative. For example, close to the beginning of the ceremony the participants eat seeds after the leader says:
The seed is the domain of the DNA and a symbol of life's potential.
As we eat the seed let us reflect on the significance of the emergence of DNA and its importance to life as it evolved on Earth.
Evoloterra starts the story with the big bang and goes through key developments that led to mankind landing on the moon, from the moon itself providing the power to pull organisms from the sea through tides all the way to launch of Sputnik and the space race.

To reconstruct the excitement of the moments before and after the moon landing, four participants get the roles of Narrator, CAPCOM, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. These four relive the moments leading to the landing and after it, including communications during descent to the moon surface and the most famous moon-landing quote -
That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Evoloterra is an interesting social experiment in remembering a historic event. Just like the Passover Seder describing Exodus from Egypt, Evoloterra describes the first time mankind stepped on a rock in the sky that wasn't Earth, including the background story leading to the important event. Will it stick like the Passover Seder? I'm not sure about that, but I also don't know how the story of the biblical Exodus was being told less than fifty years after it happened. When I first heard about it last year it was a bit too late, but I'm curious to try it this year and see how my family of three boys and a non-space-enthusiast wife would react to the words and ceremony.

You can hear more about Evoloterra on The Space Show 1396 from July 20, 2010 available here or read about it on the Evoloterra website:
The script of the ceremony itself is available at

1 comment:

Norman Copeland said...

Something that I think of is that a jewish law is that after seven years of debt the debt is forgotten and no further debt is owed... Perhaps I am not proper with my knowledge of Jewish law, but, admirable. The rise of the nile on a seven year cycle could perhaps tell us that gefelter fish balls last longer?


Norman Copeland...