Storytelling booth comes to CJM for a year

Inside a soundproof booth at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Teresa and Robert Forman count to three and begin singing “It Had to Be You” — the very same melody they sang to each other at their wedding in 1991.

Robert was 71 and Teresa was 67 when they stood and sang under the chuppah in San Diego after having met one another at synagogue.

Seventeen years later, they sit in front of microphones in this dimly lit, 8-by-8-foot booth in San Francisco, because their granddaughter, Leah Turchin, is trying to preserve the story of their love. They are doing this through StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history project that has recorded 20,000 interviews with Americans across the country.

Turchin leans forward into the microphone when her grandparents conclude their musical interlude.

“How is this marriage different from your first marriages?” Turchin asks. Both were widowed years before they met one another.

“I always thought you can only have one love in life, and you never forget that love,” Teresa says. “But to be able to love again, it is a miracle. It is magical. And being married now for 17 years, it’s still the same way.”

Says Robert, “I feel like I really stumbled into Garden of Eden when I met Teri, and that we found a common bond that made it possible for us to get married.”

The conversation is part of a 40-minute recording Turchin and her grandparents made Oct. 12, when the StoryCorps booth opened at the CJM.

“We’ve grown into a larger, richer family for having expanded,” Turchin told her grandparents during the StoryCorps interview. “I find that the two of you being together creates another entity in the family, brings a really deep-seated wisdom and peace. It’s very nurturing, very inspiring.”

All participants receive CDs of their interviews. Digital copies go to the Library of Congress, where they are archived at the American Folklife Center.

“If the Smithsonian is the nation’s attic, then this is the nation’s memory,” said Jack Heinsius, who made a StoryCorps recording with his girlfriend, Tina Olson. The pair talked mostly about Jack’s late mother and Tina’s late father, who they said were the most influential people in their lives.

StoryCorps was created by radio broadcaster Dave Isay. The first booth opened Oct. 23, 2003, in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and has since relocated to Manhattan’s Foley Square.

The CJM is the first museum to host a listening booth for a yearlong residency, and the first Jewish museum to partner with StoryCorps. Visitors can peer into the booth but not hear the conversations.

“Storytelling is very much intrinsic to the Jewish community and to Jewish culture,” said Fred Wasserman, deputy director for programs at the museum. “Going into the booth and having a conversation with stories — it’s very much as we do at Passover.”

Of course, the experience won’t be limited to Jewish participants. Anyone can sign up.

Selected stories from StoryCorps (from New York and the program’s roving trailer) are aired on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday. In addition, stories from the San Francisco StoryBooth are slated to be aired on two local public radio stations, KQED-88.5 FM and KALW-91.7 FM. Museum visitors will also be able to hear selected local stories and excerpts at listening stations in the museum.

StoryCorps will celebrate its San Francisco opening Sunday, Oct. 26 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a community listening party and book signing by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay. It is free with admission ($10 for adults, free for children).Recording sessions are by appointment only. Reservations can be made by visiting the StoryCorps Web site,, or by calling (800) 850-4406.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.