DANCING WITH THE MAGGID
1994 Summer Story
by Joy Krauthammer
In the summer of 1994 (as soon as I graduated with my MBA from the University of Judaism (now AJULA) and just before I was going to begin rabbinic school, as was my plan) I went to six weeks of spiritual Jewish Renewal retreats back to back on the other coast. It was a very good summer (following the traumatic '94 Northridge [where I live] Earthquake), and I could get away.
At home I truly loved my Jewish library (which had to be earthquake rescued) and used to daily sit (before e-mail and computer Torah) literally surrounded by my precious books learning Torah and Kaballah. Going away, how was I to deal with one suitcase and without all my beloved books / sforim and make it work for me? How could I live during the planned four weeks (plus a joyous unexpected two more) without my books?
Minimizing, I decided that I could zerox only one chapter of one book to nourish me the entire summer. I went to my large tall oak "Jewish" bookcases in my living room with shelves doubled up and arranged by topics, scanned the books, taking many out to review, and carefully I chose one that spoke deeply to my soul. I took the book to the printing store, xeroxed and stapled one chapter, and packed the pages--my friend, for my meaningful summer reading, into my suitcase. The chapter was titled the "Song and Dance - The Service of Joy", pages 480-491, from publisher Jason Aronson's Jewish Spiritual Practices, a big, fat, heavy, dark blue hardcover book of quotes compiled by Yitzhak Buxbaum, whom I did not know, and is now a famous Maggid / storyteller.
This chapter, mamash, really was a favorite of mine. I deeply felt the joy of song and dance. I was/am a musician, was Reb Shlomo Carlebach's, zt"l, drummer, and this book alluded to my rebbe (but never mentioned him by name). One of my rabbis (Jonathan Omer-Man of LA's Metivta Meditation Center) had once mentioned this book during Monday meditation night, so I bought it. (Reb Jonathan said that when he and Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and a delegation visited the Dalai Lama in India, they gifted him with the book.)
Some of my favorite quotes by holy rebbes in the book include:
"Through music you can reach joy and D'vekut / cleaving with the Infinite One, blessed be G*d." - Baal Shem Tov
"Through holy music you can come to the level of prophecy. For the essence of D'vekut with G*d is through melody." - Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
"You should accustom yourself to serve G*d with niggunim and with joy and with dancing and hand clapping; and especially during the time of Torah and prayer you should greatly rejoice.
For the loftiness of melody is beyond all measure. Through dancing and movement you make with your body, you awaken joy within yourself ." - Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav
"Every day we must dance, if only in our thoughts." - Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav
Off the plane, and with my one suitcase, here I was at Elat Chayyim--Jewish adult spiritual camp in New York, minutes from Woodstock (during the 25th Woodstock anniversary), in the first of the four full weeks that gloriously I spent back to back in the grassy Catskills' fields. (Synchronistically, my little trailer bedroom assigned to me was in Beit Gila (House of Joy), and I am Gila Rena--'Double Joy'.)
Daily, after classes, sitting on the green grass in the late afternoon, we had a required "Mishpucha" / 'family' sharing and support group session. An annoyed man, new to the retreat, questioned out loud with attitude, "What is all this singing and dancing here? I don't get it."
Knowing I had with me my treasured zeroxed chapter "Song and Dance - The Service of Joy", I responded to the stranger, "Come to my room and I shall loan you something to read." Days later, after reading my lone chapter from my library which then resided in my suitcase, the mishpucha man reported that he, "got it." I felt good. I'd chosen the right / beshert chapter to accompany me, and now had a convert to joy and Renewal Judaism.
A month later, the last night of the (unplanned 5th retreat week) week-long National Havurah Institute (NHI) in Connecticut, to which I had never been before, was SIXTIES NIGHT. I loved to dance and almost everyone was dancing with a partner to the piped-in DJ music. Hardly knowing anyone present, except a few teachers from Elat Chayyim, I felt like a 'wall flower'. (I had travelled to NHI down the Hudson River with one of the teachers and Artist-in Residence, Hanna Tiferet Siegel, who had told me about NHI as she was preparing to go.)
Standing also alone by a wall, I saw a man whom I had never met, one of the teachers (about my age, just the right height) without a dance partner. We glanced at each other and we joyously joined up. Never held hands, never touched, never spoke. We danced in joy! Just enjoyed for hours-- the music, dancing not alone, and 'together'. In the wee hours of the night, when the music stopped, and it was time to return to dorm rooms to pack for morning departure, the man and I shared gratitude for being dancing partners, and shared our names.
Mamash, Gevaldt! Truly amazing! Hashgachah Pratit / Divine Providence.
Yitzhak Buxbaum, as we met each other by name, loved hearing my story of my library's precious "Song and Dance - The Service of Joy" chapter from HIS book. I was so excited, as was he. In the morning, packing finished, as I arrived at breakfast, Yitzhak--the author and dancing Maggid, standing at a table, sighting me, called out to all his friends, "There she is!", and I held the chapter in my hands to prove it. Synchronicity. I love it!
I continue each summer to go to my spiritual retreats, filled with wondrous events and people, like the most recent 2009 Jewish Renewal Kallah in Ohio. I get to say, "Hi, Shalom" to Yitzhak, the Maggid, and we smile remembering our own story and "Song and Dance - The Service of Joy". Even though it was not a Chassidic tale, I told my very own "Dancing with the Maggid" story at Ruach HaAretz, Oregon, in 2008, in Debra Zaslow's Story-Telling class.
May you, too, be blessed with "Song and Dance - the Service of Joy",
and even a joyous tale of your own.
Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum & Joy Krauthammer
One love, shalom and abundant blesSings of harmony, wholeness, health and joy to you,
"Serve G*d With Joy"
"The Divine One is The Source of Joy. To be joyous is to be connected with the Source – one who is connected to the Source IS joyous!" Rav Sholom Brodt
NHI 5th week retreat ended and spontaneously I rented a car and I travelled North to the Berkshires that morning to dance and davven in meditation each early morning day-break with Bhante Wiimala, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk in saffron robe at Omega Institute, my 1994 summer unplanned 6th retreat week.
Bhante's affirmation is: "I am kind, I am loving, I am patient, I am open to the Universe".
(Yes, lots of mamash beshert Divine stories in those six weeks.)
A few years ago, during a yoga session, Buddhist breathing, and reading Rumi in Balboa Lake Park by a man-made stream and lake here in this Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, that same New York Omega monk was walking by in his saffron robe as my breath was dancing in joy. With a song in my smile, I called out, " Hi, Namaste." Emes / true, it was Bhante. I'm still learning to be kind, loving and patient.
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