Peninnah Pearl Schram is an acclaimed Jewish storyteller. Written by a scholar for whom Schram served as a doctoral dissertation committee member, this authorized biography artfully captures Schram’s journey in a series of chapters — each of which reads like a complete story.
Schram (née Manchester) was born in 1934 to immigrant parents and spent her early years in the coastal city of New London, Connecticut. Her father was a Jewish vocalist (chazzan) who also performed circumcisions and ritual slaughters, while her mother was an industrious businesswoman. They showered her with stories, music, wisdom, and love. She learned morality, empathy, and strength of character from oft-repeated folktales and biblical stories. An intelligent and resourceful youngster, she developed a love of theater and speech in school and college. She met academic and social success and was ever eager for new experiences and opportunities.
The narrative follows Schram through engaging anecdotes and candid accounts as she attends college, travels, marries, and has children. It tracks how she honed her theatrical skills, settled into NYC domesticity, and then lost her husband Irving at a young age. After his death, the single parent of two began teaching at Iona College. Through a serendipitous meeting at a wedding she reluctantly attends, the dean at Yeshiva University offers her a position. She rejects it, but a year later accepts his offer of a professorship at Stern College for Women. Her passion for performance and immersion in Jewish traditions allows her to develop the first college course in Jewish Storytelling.
Schram has become a trailblazer in Jewish folklore. She read and taped stories for the Jewish Braille Institute; implemented a storytelling program for children at the 92nd Street Y; broadcasted over the Jewish radio station WEVD; and brought her artform to the Jewish Museum. Among her other accomplishments, she organized the Jewish Storytelling Center (CAJE), appeared at National Storytelling Festivals, and authored many books and anthologies. Her talent and personality bring her accolades, numerous awards, and recognition as the central figure responsible for the reemergence of Jewish storytelling. What’s more, she counts Elie Wiesel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and other Jewish luminaries in her acquired circle as her friends, mentors, and colleagues.
Caren Schnur Neile has strung Schram’s stories with poetic language and relished examples of Jewish stories — fitting, considering the storyteller Schram herself is.
Renita Last is a member of the Nassau Region of Hadassah’s Executive Board. She has coordinated the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Programming and Health Coordinators and as a member of the Advocacy Committee.
She has volunteered as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County teaching the all- important lessons of the Holocaust and tolerance. A retired teacher of the Gifted and Talented, she loves participating in book clubs and writing projects.