What is a Maggid?
Until the middle of the twentieth century, in the villages of Eastern Europe, Maggidim, or preachers, traveled from town to town, sharing stories, insights, and interpretations of the Torah. Some were Rabbis and some were simply wise storytellers and teachers. In an article in Tikkun Magazine, Rabbi Rami Shapiro said, “….to secure a vibrant Jewish future, we should be pouring serious thought, money, and effort into training, supporting, and promoting maggidim.”
Rabbi David and Maggidah Debra Zaslow ordained their first class of Maggidim in Portland, Oregon in 2012 and now run programs leading to private smicha (ordination) and certification in Ashland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado. The program is a two-year course in the field of Jewish storytelling and Torah interpretation. Training sessions are held monthly, and there are two four-day retreats held in Ashland, Oregon each summer.
The Maggidic training consists of Torah study, storytelling, and prayer. Intensive study of the sacred art of storytelling is led by Debra Zaslow. She says, “Our legacy of Jewish stories contains the wisdom of our people and universal truths that complement teachings of the Torah. This training focuses on techniques for enhancing stories with gestures and vocal control, and developing ease in connecting with an audience. The students will become familiar with the wealth of Jewish stories, including midrash, Baal Shem Tov tales, and Jewish folktales, while continually exploring interpretations of stories on the level of body, heart, mind and soul.”
Along with storytelling, Rabbi David Zaslow trains participants in the art of prayer leadership and Torah interpretation based on etymological word studies. Rabbi Zaslow says, “The skills in this program allow participants to go back to their synagogues with tools that are of great service to their communities. In our tradition a maggid is a master of the parable and story as a means of understanding the Torah. To complement storytelling, a maggid must also understand the mystical roots of the words of Torah.” Participants must be able to comfortably read Hebrew, and be willing to commit 5 hours a week to study.
Cassandra Sagan says, “The work I have done with the Zaslows has transformed my life beyond imagining. Every one of us in the Maggid program has grown and changed in remarkable and powerful ways. These Holy Teachers are kind, brilliant, accessible, funny as all get out, and have demanded each of us to stretch FAR beyond our perceived limitations. If Maggidut is your soul’s longing, you will be blessed and fulfilled.”
Joey B’Shalom says, “The maggid program has given me a wealth of knowledge, information, and insight that I would never have gained otherwise. David and Devorah are masters at their respective crafts and I have gained so much more than my money’s worth. I’m building the skills to be a storyteller, a Torah scholar, and an all-around more knowledgeable and observant Renewal Jew. I wish the program was three years long!”