As a longtime storyteller in the Memphis community, Lynnie Mirvis has always used stories to create connections. It’s what she calls “heart-to-heart sharing.”
In her storytelling, Lynnie has drawn from the richness of all cultures – Native American and Asian to name a few – in order to convey messages of empathy and help listeners connect with others outside of their own experience on a deeper level.
However, it is Jewish folk tales that she describes as her soul stories: teachings that have the ability to bring about a tikkun, or repair, for those who are experiencing difficult life challenges.
Lynnie’s journey into the world of Jewish storytelling deepened three years ago, when she entered Maggid-Educator Training – a new and innovative distance-learning program for teachers from across the United States. It is offered through the Institute for Jewish Spiritual Education and its parent non-profit Reclaiming Judaism.
Her interest in the program stemmed from a friendship and working relationship with Peninnah Schram, an internationally known storyteller serving on the faculty. “She inspired me in learning and sharing the magic and wonder of the oral tradition of Jewish storytelling,” says Lynnie.
As a member of the first Maggid-Educator graduating class, Lynnie was one of 10 students from across the country to be honored at an ordination ceremony held at the NewCAJE educators’ conference this past August in Moraga, California.
“We strive to both embody and expand the role of the ancient Maggid storyteller,” says founding dean Rabbi Goldie Milgram. “Our Maggid-Educators are trained to help guide Jewish learning in ways that ensure students of all ages will feel seen, inspired and personally touched by Torah.”
“Stories are a way of seeing God in the world,” adds Lynnie, who infuses her own brand of personal narrative into traditional Jewish tales to create compelling, mitzvah-centered stories that can touch the soul and bring about healing.
In a story she wrote for the book “Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning” (Reclaiming Judaism Press), Lynnie drew from a childhood memory in which her mother told of inviting a beggar in off the street when she was nine years old and making him a sandwich. “He said, ‘God bless you child,’ and that interaction became a metaphor for the good in my mother’s life.
“As an adult, I drove past someone who was staggering at the curb,” continued Lynnie. “So I went back to see if he needed help. He was hungry, and when I handed him a challah I had just bought for Shabbos dinner, he said the same thing to me — ‘God bless you.’”
Lynnie explains that this is just one of many examples, known as ‘Elijah moments’ that have come to embody an entire Jewish folk tradition: “Eliyahu Ha-Navi – Elijah the Prophet – could change himself into many different guises, such as a magician or beggar, in order to see how people were conducting their lives. He became known as a helping figure who could appear out of nowhere and help poor people in need.”
She has also crafted stories of her own around Miriam the prophetess, who created a long-lasting well of water for the children of Israel in the desert after they left Egypt. “The image of Miriam and her life-giving waters is very powerful for me,” she says.
Lynnie proffers the hope that her family story, “My Mama’s Elijah” – as well as inspirational stories about Miriam, and others like her – may move someone to become an Elijah or Miriam for someone else: “to do a tikkun by helping someone in your everyday life when they need it.”
As coordinator of the Memphis Exodus Project, Lynnie added another dimension to her storytelling by becoming an active listener of – and witness to – other people’s stories.
Since 2015, community volunteers have helped to document the stories of Jews who came to Memphis from the Former Soviet Union during the latter part of the 20th and early 21st centuries – as well as those who helped in their resettlement.
“All these stories about leave taking, starting over and new beginnings reflected for me the experience of my own immigrant grandparents who came from Russia and Poland,” says Lynnie. “Welcoming and opening up our doors are such core Jewish values.”
Above all, she says, “This inspires young people to know that our Jewish community helped to play a role in welcoming a stranger, which is really tikkun olam – a repair of the world.
The Maggid-EducatorSMTraining Program for teachers provides live video-conference classes, annual retreats, and one-to-one mentoring and coaching created by a team
of award-winning master teachers. For more information: www.reclaimingjudaism.org/maggid-educator.
To see Lynnie in action…