Faith & Spirituality

August 24, 2012

Life lessons taught through stories

NEWCOMB — Tzipporah Marks-Barnett cannot account for it, but the notion presented itself that she become a maggida, an ordained Jewish storyteller.

Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum of Brooklyn was recommended to teach her the art.

“It was weekly classes over the phone,” said Marks-Barnett, who recently presented “Jewish Music and Stories through the Ages” with Rabbi Cantor Moshe Halfon and Herbert Chatzky at the Newcomb Methodist Church. “Once a semester, we go to his place in Brooklyn and have an intensive workshop.”

For two years, she studied ancient and modern texts, story collections, and Torah and Talmud interpretation. Buxbaum descends from the storytelling lineages of Rabbi Sholomo Carlebach and Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi. Marks-Barnett, a former trial attorney, was ordained in 2009. She lives in Santa Monica, Calif., where she is a labor arbitrator and hearing officer.


“Jewish storytellers are little bit unique,” she said. “They carry a teaching with them. They are not just for entertainment or to instruct on what life was like in a certain culture. There is a lesson there. It’s usually a spiritual/ethical lesson. In fact, I would say always.”

She tells her stories in English to reach many. Some are non-Jewish but are still embedded with teachings. Much of Jewish storytelling tradition hails from Baal Shem Tov, Master of the Good Name, a 17th-century Jewish mystical rabbi in modern Ukraine.

“He was a brilliant rabbi, very well-trained and such a great scholar. He also had a great love for the common person. He began to notice the common Jews were being treated badly. They couldn’t read or write. They were very poor. He wanted to change this. What he did was, he would travel from town to town, village to village and never identify himself as a rabbi,” Marks-Barnett said.

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