When word began to spread that she was organizing a workshop involving snakes, tolerance and Jewish values, the idea sounded wonderful to some people and terrible to others, says Vivian Stadlin, whose event took place Sunday at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
“Snakes play a role in many of our stories,” beginning with Genesis, she notes, adding that they’re often the source of trouble and symbolize evil speech.
On the other hand, “all creatures are made by God,” says Stadlin, co-director of Camp Eden Village, the Jewish environmental camp in upstate Putnam Valley that sponsored the workshop. Moreover, as she sees it, looking at snakes with a fresh eye can allow people to overcome their fears and develop a new understanding of the animal — a practice that can also be applied to other people.
The lesson hit home for the 15 people who attended the workshop, led by Michael Even-Esh, an environmental educator in the Golan Heights who grew in Kansas City, Kan.
Even-Esh passed two snakes around the room Sunday, offering tips on how to handle them and sharing his knowledge of the reptiles. He does the same in Israel, where he raises snakes and brings them to his talks with different groups, including Jewish and Muslim children.
After some initial hesitation, most people in the room held the snakes, both of them non-venomous, and allowed them to travel up and down their arms. One of the bravest was Benjamin Jacob, a 7-year-old student at the nearby Abraham Joshua Heschel School, who told The Jewish Week he has a lizard at home.