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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Shared Tales Jewish, African Stories Have Much In Common, Listeners Discover

By Virginia De Leon Staff writer

The stories seemed worlds apart at first. The wise Jewish rabbi was nothing like Ananse, the cunning spider from Ghana.

But the lessons they taught were the same: tradition, suffering, overcoming odds.

These were the messages Thursday night during a storytelling hour at East Central Community Center.

“In the villages, famine began and the people didn’t have food to eat,” storyteller Francis Osei, a native of West Africa, told about 30 people gathered in a circle.

For a little over an hour, they listened to tribal narratives and Jewish folk tales.

Sponsored by Temple Beth Shalom and the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, the event was designed “to explore avenues of friendship” between Spokane’s African-American and Jewish communities, said organizer William L. Brown.

“We are two groups who have experienced prejudice and bigotry,” said Dina Tanners of Temple Beth Shalom. “We’re both minorities. … If minorities don’t work together, they’re only hurting themselves.”

Last year, the FBI reported that three out of every five hate crimes were motivated by race, with blacks as the most frequent targets. Religious bias was the second-most frequent motivation, with Jews at the top of the list.

In Spokane, Temple Beth Shalom and the NAACP have worked together in the past on human rights campaigns. In May, the groups met to plan a series of events that will help them learn more about each other - and share their cultures with the rest of Spokane.

“We want to get to each other as individuals and break down stereotypes,” Tanners said.

Her arms swinging wildly in the air, Karrie Brown of Temple Beth Shalom entertained the audience Thursday with funny stories centered around the rabbi, the synagogue’s spiritual leader.

The stories demonstrate the rabbi’s wisdom and convey the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, she said.

Her tales also allude to the Jewish people’s history of persecution.

“In Eastern Europe, (Jews) didn’t have money and there were pogroms,” Brown said in interview. “They were always miserable. The stories show how they solve problems, make people laugh and appreciate what they have.”

Similar themes were found in the tales told by Osei, who has lived in the United States for 13 years.

Wearing a dark pink dashiki, an elaborate costume from Ghana, Osei banged on drums as he told the adventures of Ananse, the spider who often got into trouble because of greed or ignorance. The stories also tell of the dire circumstances in West Africa - drought, famine, starvation.

Both storytellers spoke about large families, who made the most with what little they had.

“Storytelling is used to pass down tradition, cultural ways and morals,” Osei said in a lilting accent.

While Brown’s stories are centuries-old tales, Osei’s are oral traditions from West African villages. He learned the stories by listening to his grandmother as a child.

“We wanted to give people a sense of belonging, family and closeness,” Brown said.

By sharing oral traditions, “we might find that we share the same stories.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

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