Yes, and….

This blog post is dedicated to – or more accurately inspired by – Ruti Mizrachi and Debbie Hirsch.

Many years ago I studied in Theater School. We did a lot of improv, and one of the many improv principles we worked with was called “yes, and.” In improv, it means you take the lead from what someone else in the scene says and run with it, you don’t reject it or shut it down. That would kill a scene and doesn’t move the action forward.

For example, if your fellow actor said “You are a cow”, the appropriate response would be to say “moo”, and perhaps kick them, but not to say “I am not! I am a person, that’s ridiculous!”. That just reminds the audience that it’s all make believe and silly and that spoils the fun for everyone.

As one of my wise friend-teachers reminded me this past year, however, all principles in improv translate into life, including “Yes, and.” We can reject or shut down a person’s flow, idea, sentiment or opinion, or, we can choose to embrace it even as we shift the tone into something that better suits our own style.

“Yes, darling, we could have waffles with lots of syrup and ice cream for dinner….. Or we could have healthy lasagna and make a waffle and ice cream party for dessert on Sat. night. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I was recently included in an exhibit in our local community center of “Female Professionalism.” There are 12 “female professionals” included, each interviewed, profiled and photographed. The point of the exhibit is to demonstrate the artists’ understanding of what each of these 12 women bring to our chosen careers, specifically as women. They featured 12 different qualities, expressed as icons, and chose 3-4 to place alongside the photos of each subject, based on her story and personality.  I didn’t know which of the 12 they had chosen to put next to my name until the opening of the exhibit. The names of them are each in Hebrew. One of the icons next to my photo can best be translated as… “Yes, and.” I don’t remember the precise phrasing in Hebrew, but it translates loosely into “saying yes and then figuring it out afterwards.”

Just as you learn a new word and suddenly see it everywhere, I find that when I learn something new about myself,  I suddenly see its manifestation every day, around every corner. And while I no longer participate in Improv, I guess the principle has stuck with me.

Today, a colleague gently, kindly and humorously pointed out a mistake I had made in Hebrew. In a professional message. To everyone I work with. He waited until it wasn’t in the moment and was soooo careful not to embarass me. It was good he corrected me, but the usage was ghastly enough that I am fairly certain this won’t be the mistake I make in the future!

My coworking space is located in a building with a beautiful gym on the floor below us. And this past week there were some problems with the hot water in what are usually the best showers in Gush Etzion (towels provided!) I wrote to everyone warning them that there were problems with the hot water that are being worked on. So for the next few days it would be advisable to check the water in our kitchen tap before relying on the hot water “below.” Only if you spell “below” with a tav instead of tet, it actually says “to  (or for) death. As in: “You should check the water in our kitchen tap before relying on the death showers.” I am certainly in the wrong tribe to be making that particular mistake!!!! Everyone else clearly knew what I meant, but it still makes me laugh at myself just to think about it.

My well meaning colleague handled it just right, but you might think today is the day I would feel least confident about my “always an olah” Hebrew….

Not an hour later, the Vice-Principal of one of my sons’ Yeshiva high school called me. In Hebrew. Now is the intense time of year when bewildered and busy parents try to figure out the “perfect” high school for their son. (The girls’ schools will start their own intensity very soon.) This process includes evenings at each school to hear from the administration, sometimes students, sometimes teachers, and sometimes parents, about what makes that particular high school unique. The Rabbi wanted to know if I would agree to speak at my sons’ school  in a number of hours to prospective parents. “Just for a few minutes.”

I said yes. I don’t think I said “Yes, and…”, in fact I don’t think I did much thinking. I LOVE the school for them, they are happy, I want to show the administration how much I appreciate them, and I hope my sons will be proud. So yes. I have to laugh at myself that I didn’t even stop to consider that I had just been schooled on my own or horrific or morbidly humorous Hebrew mistake, depending on your view.

I was slightly tempered by my son asking “You are going to speak at our school in Hebrew?!?!?!??”

But it was only as I watched the second hundred parents  – Israeli parents – file into the cavernous Beit Midrash of the High School that I had understood what I had done. I instantly got incredibly nervous and I thought that my heartbeat might be drowning out the Principal as he spoke before me.

I only spoke for five minutes. Tops. I didn’t use any spectacular vocabulary, and I didn’t make any major faux pas – that I have yet to be told about. I think the Yeshiva wanted to let English-speaking parents know that we are a big part of the school (we are) without switching to English, and I think they weren’t interested in a lofty speech. They wanted parents to see that the school has a heart and that it can make this old bird get gushy just talking about it in her second language in a room full of strangers in just five minutes. Which it can, and it did.

I hope the school is happy. Many parents thanked me, said it was “emotional” (less than five minutes, I mean it.) and had lots of questions, hoping I could help them with the herculean task of intuiting which school is the perfect fit for their unique child.

But I showed myself that I could do it, and the same incredulous son who asked if I would be speaking in Hebrew?!?!?! ended my evening telling me that he was really proud that I spoke at his school tonight. So I don’t know if I got the Hebrew completely right, but I do know that I demonstrated for my teenagers –  without theater classes – that there is a power in “Yes, and……”


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