Today, the Hebrew word maggid is often used to mean anyone who tells Jewish stories. But in the Hebrew bible, a maggid (“teller”) interpreted dreams and riddles, or told eyewitness stories of real events, or served as a prophet.
In the Middle Ages, a maggid was an itinerant preacher and storyteller, while a darshan delivered sermons at his synagogue. The work of the maggid reached its greatest glory in Eastern Europe during the 17th through 19th centuries, when the chassidic movement fostered leaders who combined the jobs of maggid, darshan, and rabbi.
In 2010 Rabbi David Zaslow and Maggidah Debra Gordon Zaslow started their first two-year maggid program. I had been wondering whether I could call myself a maggid (or maggidah, the feminine form of the word), since I was already telling stories in the form of Torah monologues, and giving divrai Torah (sermons related to the Torah portion). But I wanted to learn how to tell stories without a printed page in front of me, and everyone likes certification. So I signed up—and learned more than I expected. David Zaslow showed me ways to construct a d’var Torah that I had never thought of. And Debra Zaslow taught me new ways to inhabit a story. I graduated and received my certificate in January 2012.
When I started the program, I balked at telling Chassidic stories. Too many of the ones I read in books struck me as thin, moralizing, and irrelevant to my own view of life. Then I discovered that I could start with a traditional Chassidic tale, and give it my own twist. An example is the story I rewrote and told at our graduation weekend. Click on the arrow to start the video (filmed by Cathy Zheutlin).
“The Madwoman of Kitov”
LIST OF MY JEWISH STORIES
A Five-Piano Religion (an autobiographical story)
Gilda Goldblatt Compares Miracles (my own invention)
The Evil Eye Has No Tears (two Chassidic tales I combined for Sukkot)
Gimpel the Clever (a tale adapted from Midrash Rabbah)
King Saul and the Ghost (a story from the Book of Samuel I)
King Solomon’s Ring (my combination of two folktales and Ecclesiastes)
Lot and Honey Go to Egypt (my story taking off from a Talmudic tale)
The Madwoman of Kitov (a Chassidic story and my own part 2)
Reb Dovid and the Book of Life (my revision of a Chassidic story for Yom Kippur)
The Shivitti and the Dog (a Chassidic story and my own part 2)
Shimon Bar Yochai and the Cave (a tale from the Talmud)
The Souls of Trees (a Chassidic story)
Yofi’s Fruit (putting a character into a Talmud story)