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Stories that sing

By Shoshana (Suzanne Kort) Litman

Ever thought of your life as a story?

On Wednesday January 21 at 1 p.m. at the JCC’s Wosk Auditorium, I invite you to join me for a journey of discovery through inspiring folktales, engaging melodies and transformative narratives that reveal life as an ever evolving story.

The program, “Stories that Sing,” emerged when members of the Jewish Seniors Alliance asked me to provide a storytelling session for their anual Empowerment Series that would put “…a smile on your face (and) a song in your heart.”

My own journey into story did just that in 2005 when, after telling one of my favorite tales, “Choose Heaven,” (a Chinese, First Nations, Jewish folktale about cooperation), an enthusiastic listener asked, “Are you a Maggid?”

Like any self-respecting Jew, I answered her question with a question. “What’s a Maggid?”

Here’s what I learned:

  • A Maggid is an inspirational speaker, storyteller, teacher and preacher. Some Maggidim are also healers.
  • In pre-Holocaust Europe, Maggidim traveled from town to town, often on foot, to encourage listeners to connect with G-d. Maggidim were usually rabbis who focused on aggadah (stories) more than on halachah (law).
  • There were also Maggidot (feminine plural) who were, of course, not rabbis back then and there was not much written about them.
  • Get used to living simply if you want to become one: money is not usually a Maggid’s top priority.
  • There is a Maggid named Yitzhak Buxbaum in Brooklyn who is part of a movement to encourage more people to become Maggidim to help uplift the world.

The following autumn, I began learning with Yitzhak, a former student of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l (may his memory be for a blessing) and the author of ten books on profound Jewish subjects. Yitzhak’s two year training program covered Jewish history, spirituality, mysticism and stories through text study and phone discussions. We heard from other inspiring authors as well such as Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and gifted spiritual leaders like Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l.

My classmates included talented artists, therapists, professors, rabbis, cantors and musicians from across the continent. Highlights included four intensives and storytelling jamborees in Brooklyn Heights where we learned and told stories face to face. We participated in workshops with New York City’s official storyteller, Diane Wolkstein (z”l), Director Arthur Strimling, Reverend Michael Banks, and other fine orators and teachers.

Each student established relationships with local Maggid Mentors as well. My mentors included composer, Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel, as well as congregational rabbis, Harry Brechner, Meir Kaplan, and Louis Sutker and Speech Therapist, Nomi Kaston.

The course culminated for me in May 2008 when I became Canada’s first ordained Maggidah. This unusual calling continues to be an incredible, exhilarating journey that I look forward to sharing with you on January 21. You can also hear my stories or participate in a workshop to hone your own storytelling skills at LimmudVan ’15 on January 31 at the JCC and February 1, 2015 at Eric Hamber Secondary, my old alma mater.

My main goal throughout all these storytelling adventures is to inspire you to share your own unique stories with your friends and loved ones at home and beyond, bringing us all a little closer to the Divine Source as well as each other.

NB: Versions of this article appeared in the Victoria Storytellers Guild Newsletter, Tell Me a Story, and Congregation Emanu-El of Victoria’s newsletter, Koleinu.

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