On Wednesday, Oct. 18, over 300 young adults coming from as far as Providence converged at The Center for the Arts at the Armory in Somerville to attend a live podcast recording for “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.” Sponsored by the Young Adult Initiative at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, this special live show, with its string lights and very “in” venue, gave attendees and partner organizations the chance to mingle in a laidback, fun atmosphere. Since us young adults are all about nostalgia, what better way to bring us together than the beloved series with which we grew up?
Hosted by Casper ter Kuile (one of the co-founders of the Boston Community Leaders Cohort) and Vanessa Zoltan, and produced by Ariana Nedelman, “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” extracts inspiration and instruction from the “Harry Potter” book series. Each chapter is examined in its own episode through various lenses like loyalty, belonging and forgiveness. With ties to Harvard Divinity School, Casper, Vanessa and Ariana are well-poised to do such deep dives into text. The podcast is, in their words, “the English class you didn’t know you missed and the meaningful conversations you didn’t know you craved…Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.”
Since the High Holidays occurred within a month of the event, “beginnings” was a natural choice for the night’s theme to interpret the very first chapter, “The Boy Who Lived,” of the very first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
The epic series begins on a Tuesday, a random day in the middle of the week. As Casper was quick to point out, “We feel like we have to finish something before we can begin something and actually we can begin any time.”
“This chapter is also showing us the opposite too,” Vanessa added, “that a beginning can be thrust upon you when you don’t want it.”
Throughout the show, Casper and Vanessa encouraged discussion and audience participation, with Ariana helping to make sure the conversation stayed on track. There was a fun musical number in which they all jammed out (or, in Vanessa’s case, stood there holding a ukulele) with their accompanying musician, Nick. Rabbi Aliza Berger from Temple Emanuel in Newton made an on-stage appearance to share a story. The finale was a truly fantastic game involving a Tinder parody called “W Date,” where we chose whether to swipe left (“Cleansweep”) or right (“Firebolt”) on various characters.
The most impactful piece, however, was their invitation for us to “check in with our heart”: “Where are you at on this theme of beginnings? Is there maybe kind of a little pull that you’re feeling, a beginning you’re invited to? Or maybe a beginning you’re being forced into, whether you want to or not…This is an opportunity to push yourself and wonder if there’s something that you want to begin, too.”
This silent meditation had us scribbling down our thoughts on a blank card that was placed on every seat. Participants could post their responses on a “Wall of Beginnings” after the show. From basic resolutions to deep personal reflections to advice for others, here’s what some of them read:
“Did I miss out on the beginning I could have had because I was resentful about it not being new enough? What keeps us from creating our own beautiful beginnings?”
“I want to start being less angry with my best friend.”
“Beginning an engagement and lifelong journey with my soulmate and person. I’m so excited for this new phase in my life and am just filled with so much hope, love and excitement.”
“I want to begin…really being legit intentional about making time for #SelfCare.”
“Beginnings are scary, but an important step in order to grow. Don’t be afraid!”
“I just fell in love again for the first time in a long time, after a long period of feeling unloved in a lot of ways. My heart is beyond full and I cannot wait to start this new life with my partner. I see a shared home, children and bliss.”
“Life after college, career, adulthood.”
“Begin to get out. To start a new direction apart from the weights. Begin to seek freedom and peace.”
Watch the event livestream here.