This is a reprint of an article which appeared in The New Jersey Jewish News in May 2006.

 

New Jersey Jewish News
Princeton | Mercer | Bucks Counties Feature

A Jewish ‘shaman’ finds a home in a new-old mystical practice

by Norm Oshrin
Special to NJ Jewish News

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish home in northern New Jersey, Jodee Chizever always sensed there was something missing. Jodee Chizever - who has immersed herself in the study of shamanism from the perspective of Jewish traditions - in Peru, where she studied with native shamans.

“Judaism to me felt very sterile,” she recalled. “There was a lot of standing up and sitting down, but little emotion and feeling. I found spirituality absent.”

Two decades later, she has reconnected to Judaism through an unusual path: Chizever has been studying and practicing Jewish Shamanic Healing under the principal tutelage of Rabbi Gershon Winkler, founder of the New Mexico-based Walking Stick Foundation. The foundation, Winkler explained, is “dedicated to the restoration and preservation of aboriginal Jewish spirituality.”

“I am in intensive study to learn more about shamanism from the Jewish traditions, including Kabbalah,” said Chizever, who met Winkler at the Elat Chayyim Jewish Renewal Retreat Center in Accord, NY, two years ago. “Shamanism brings transformation at the deepest level and can help with life changes, relationships, healing, connection, and traditions,” Chizever said.

Although the word “shaman” is most often associated with Native Americans, Winkler uses it to mean someone who can serve as an intermediary between “the realm of spirit” and “the realm of matter.”

Winkler — who was ordained by the late kabalist rabbi, Eliezer Benseon, at Yeshivat Beit Yosef-Novoredok in Jerusalem in 1978 — insists the shaman tradition is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.

Winkler trains Jewish shamans in a combination of chanting, movement, and teachings that draw on the “four worlds’” theology of the Jewish Renewal movement. He calls shamanism “mystery wisdom that draws from rich, lesser-promulgated traditions of the Kabala that are more concerned with the teachings of birds and trees than with codes and creeds.”

Winkler said the intent of his programs “is to help participants to realize the magic of the ordinary, the gift of knowing that everything they strain so hard to discover so distant from where they are already standing is actually right under their noses…. There is an ancient Jewish teaching that goes like this: ‘Every person needs to declare, because of me alone would the entire universe have been worth creating.’”

While unfamiliar with Winkler’s shamanism workshops, Rabbi Marcia Prager of P’nai Or , the Jewish Renewal congregation in Princeton — where Chizever is a member — does suggest that someone with “shamanic training or capabilities is presumed to be able to bridge the physical and [divine] realms.”

She does not dismiss Chizever’s work out of hand. One of Prager’s rabbinic colleagues is not so sure.

While acknowledging Winkler as “the expert on shamanism,” Rabbi George Nudell, religious leader of the Conservative Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, remains ambivalent about his teachings.

“There is an extensive history of Jewish healers, especially in the hasidic world, and the Talmud has memories of men like Rabbi Ahanina ben Dosa, who were miracle workers,” Nudell explained.

But, he said, “for shamanism to have acceptance, it would have to ascribe all powers to heal or perform magic to God and God alone. The Torah forbids Jews to consult soothsayers and magicians — though it never really denies that these people have powers.

“As far as the Conservative movement goes,” Nudell said, “I don’t think there has been an official ruling. Is it compatible with Conservative Judaism? That’s a different question. It’s not our cup of tea, to be sure. We are focused on changing the world through deeds of mitzva and g’milut hasadim [acts of loving-kindness] — not magic.

“But, given the [Conservative] movement’s insistence that there is more than one way to be authentically Jewish, one could argue that shamanism, if it ascribes the powers of healing and magic to God, could be considered a legitimate part of klal Yisrael.”

Computer search
Chizever’s commitment to shamanism began in earnest about three years ago.

“I started to see a lot of information about Kabala,” she said. So, from her home in North Brunswick, she contacted a woman in Wayne who was conducting a class in the ancient Jewish mystical tradition.

It was the beginning of her journey — but one she would just as soon forget.

“In the first class, I realized it was Christian Kabala — Christ-focused,” Chizever remembered, with a laugh. “It never crossed my mind it would be a Christ center. I never went back.”

But, she confided, “it made me think there’s something to this.”

Chizever went to her computer, “searching for ‘Jewish and shamanism.’” Later, she met Winkler at Elat Chayyim, and began studying with him two years ago. She continues to consult with him regularly. She also has studied with native shamans in Peru.

Eventually, Chizever initiated her Finding Your Power Animal workshops at the Princeton Center for Yoga & Health in Skillman. (She also conducts workshops for outside groups and holds one-on-one sessions at her Flemington home.) In 2004, Chizever left her job as director of volunteer services at the United Way of Central Jersey in Milltown.

She said that she told her husband, Brian, a computer software specialist, “‘I need to quit my job to do [workshops] fulltime.’ It’s been an amazing unfolding. When I quit my job, it felt like I jumped off a cliff.”

In her workshops, Chizever uses shamanic techniques learned at Walking Stick, such as drumming and chanting, in an effort “to help people find their inner light, to ignite that inner spark. My work is a combination of different traditions that I have studied intimately.”

All of this is a far cry from her early years when, she confided, no one wanted to hear about her approach to spirituality. As she notes on her Web site (www.MarahLight.com), “I started this work as a young child who saw colors (auras) around people, plants and animals.… I was looked at as ‘weird’ and ‘abnormal’ [and was] discouraged from saying what I saw.… I realized other kids did not see what I did and I wanted to be normal — so I shut it down until it came back in full force when I was 16.”

Around this time, she recounted, her late mother brought her along to a psychic, where she learned “how to control my gifts and always surround myself with white light.”

The experience has made the 35-year-old Chizever “considerably more Jewish,” she said. “It made me more aware of my Jewish roots…going deeper…seeing richness, color, tapestry.” She also is “starting to learn Hebrew, coming to understand how the letters all have energies and resonance.”

Her husband enthusiastically supports Chizever’s commitment.

“When I met her [four years ago], it was part of her life,” Brian said. And while he is not himself immersed in her spiritual practice, he said: “I know there are more things out there than I know of. It opened my mind to a lot of things.”

Her father, Matthew Yablon of West Orange, is just as enthusiastic.

“What’s the big deal?” he said. “There’s mysticism in Judaism, too. If you believe in this — and more and more people do — it gives them faith and helps them get better. There’s nothing wrong with this.

“So my daughter is a shaman. People look it up on her Web site, get excited, and call her. If it does good, why not?”


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