Tea Journeys

Back at our 2016 All-Star retreat in Garrison, we got a first taste of a unique tea ceremony orchestrated by Orly Noa Rabinyan. Now this ceremony has become a play, and Rabinyan was kind enough to share her intimate thoughts about this journey with us:

As a daughter of Iranian immigrants, who even on the hottest days of Israeli summer drank tea, for me tea represents home. After my father’s passing I witnessed Persian tea culture slowly fade away in our house. Noting this process of disappearance, I came to realize that our informal tea time was specific and unique, an unrecognized private family ritual. I had an urgent need to give my family’s fading tradition a room and an evidence. I went to the market in South Tel Aviv, bought “Made in Iran” products and constructed a nine-stage participatory meditative journey to drinking Persian tea. This action was loaded with emotional, artistic and political meaning for me personally, however I was not quite sure how my invented ceremony would impact the participants and whether they would connect to it at all.


At Asylum Arts 2016 international retreat I was able to examine an in-progress version of the ceremony for the first time. Jet lagged from a 12 hour flight, I started unpacking the ingredients. Suddenly I could grasp their longer journey from Iran, through Turkey most likely, on to Israel, until they ended in upstate New York with me. I understood the leaves’ strength and durability. During the ceremony I shared stories from my family life in the spirit of the Chai Khoneh, the Persian tea house, where collective tea drinking and storytelling are combined. I encouraged the participants, with hot tea cups clasped in their hands, to share their own stories. Once again the intensity of the gentle leaves was felt as stories from different corners of the world were being told. The ceremony and the Persian tea techniques were a vehicle to achieve intimacy, a device to shed light on daily rituals of all families, from all backgrounds, and celebrate them before they fade away.


Back in Tel Aviv I decided to keep the pop-up nature of the ceremony and continue travelling with tea. From my tea filled suitcase – my “tea bag” for that matter – I pull out sweets from Esfahan, and Abadan-made tea plates from my grandmother’s set, carrying my safe place with me everywhere I go. To enhance a family-like experience each ceremony is open to only 18 participants, the average number of guests my parents’ would normally host on holidays. Upon invite each participant is asked to bring a teapot to the ceremony. Without words the participants’ heritages and memories are brought to our table. During the ceremony I remain an outsider – director, performer, orchestrator. I speak and I listen. Until I feel the communal experience takes over. When that happens I join the table with a cup of tea, and for a few rare moments with complete strangers I am right at home.

Orly Noa Rabinyan, Tel Aviv.

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