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Angels & Ancestors: A Shavuot Night of Learning

A Traditional Night of Untraditional Learning


A night of rich learning to honor Shavuot, our holiday of revelation, This year we will lean into the mystical, exploring our lore and our own experience engaging with the unseen: angels, divine beings, ancestral guides. Everything from magic to ancestral healing to genealogical research. Come for a chunk of it or all of it. Or just for the cheesecake.

On the Docket

Reb Irwin on ancestors and angels at Sinai.

Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman on reimagining our ancestors’ stories to heal ourselves.

Cyndi Norwitz on doing Jewish genealogy research.

Doron Hovav on growing up among Aramaic-speaking Kurdish Jews.

Barbara Lesch McCaffry on tapping into the legacies created for us by of our elders.

Reb Irwin on Jewish magical practices, and the making of amulets.

This Tikkun is an offering of Ner Shalom’s Beit Midrash / Lifelong Jewish Learning!

Do you bake? If you are up for making some dairy treats, email Leiah Bowden.

Full Schedule

Welcome – 6:30 PM

Angels and Ancestors, Reb Irwin Keller

The giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai was an event packed to capacity. Midrash tells us we were there along with all our ancestors and all our descendants still to be. And angels? The scene was riddled with them. To begin the evening and the holy day, Reb Irwin will give over some of these stories, and we will absorb their energy to launch our own dreamlike learnings of the night.

Plenary Session – 7:00 PM

Re-Membering the Past, Re-Visioning the Future, Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman

Our ancestors live in us and can serve as guides, even when we know little about them, and even without our knowing it. Much of our family histories remain untold. Yet their individual and communal stories of trauma and hope, grief and joy, profoundly inform who we are in body , mind and spirit. Jewish tradition reminds us to hold the memories of those who have come before as a blessing, and while we sometimes don’t have a lot to go on, we probably all have something – a story from a grandparent, a snippet of a childhood memory, a photo, a dream, a longing, that connects us to those who came before. When we open our imaginations to what their lives might have been, a gateway to undiscovered aspects of our own lives can unfold, as can new insight about who we are and who we are becoming. In this workshop, Rabbi Shifrah will share from her own imaginal family story, discuss the healing that she is finding in her explorations, and use our time together as an interactive laboratory through which we can all explore our stories – past, present and future.

Workshops – 8:15 PM

Finding Our Ancestors: An Introduction to Jewish Genealogy, Cyndi Norwitz 

Family history research is one way in which Jews connect deeply with our spiritual roots. Finding missing connections, lost relatives, migration trails, and other surprises helps us feel more fully how we came to be who and where we are. In this workshop, Cyndi will talk about the meaning her own research and roots journey had for her, and will introduce us to simple tools for making genealogical headway, including web resources and DNA tests.

Awakening to our Ancestors, Barbara Lesch McCaffry

Some of our great poets have written about their ancestors in an effort to puzzle through their own legacies and identities. We will read a few such poems, beginning with Adrienne Rich’s beautiful work, “Grandmothers”. We will open up to how these poets' explorations inspire us to make sense of our own family (or other) legacies, and to notice how those continue to operate within us. Come open to expansiveness and the unexpected.

Cheesecake Break! – 9:30 PM

Workshops – 9:45 PM

Meeting and Tasking Your Angel, Leiah Rubin Bowden

Judaism has a rich angelology, pretty much ignored by mainstream Jewish practice and prayer. Nonetheless, the angels have not been ignoring us, and are poised to carry out our directives. Through silent meditations, guided visualizations, art play and free associative writing, we will meet our angels, record what they have to tell us (or simply express our impressions and feelings of their presence), and tell them what we need them to do on our behalf. This workshop is based on the effective “GRACE” (Grounding, Releasing, Alighting, Conversing, and Enjoying) process as presented in the groundbreaking 1992 book, Ask Your Angels: A Practical Guide to Working with the Messengers of Heaven to Empower and Enrich Your Life by Alma Daniel, Andrew Ramer, and Timothy Wylie.

Chad Gadya: Grandma Batya and the Jews of Kurdistan, Doron Hovav

The Jews of Kurdistan were the remnants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, conquered by Assyria in the 8th Century BCE. Despite their isolation, this community continued to maintain their Jewish identity in exile, and speaking Aramaic – the language of the Talmud and of many other important Jewish texts – until they were relocated to Israel in the 20th century. In this session, Doron Hovav teaches about the history and language of the Kurdish Jews, and tells stories of the grandmother who raised him, and how being from an Aramaic-speaking Kurdish family affected their lives, prospects and family traditions.

Workshops – 11:00 PM

Practical Magic: The Spells and Amulets of the Angel Raziel, Reb Irwin Keller

The Jewish practice of crafting and carrying written-word amulets to protect one's health, foster love, succeed in business or ward off demons is documented back to Talmudic times. Sefer Raziel Hamalakh – a medieval grimoire, or book of magic, supposedly given to Adam by the angel Raziel, contains instructions for spells and amulets in which angels are deployed to do one's budding. We will look with wonder at some amulet formulae and ask ourselves what these elements of Jewish magic might mean to us in our times.

Closing – Midnight

We gather to harvest our learnings for the evening and sing ourselves out. Chag Sameach!