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The Owls of Shevat

Dear Friends,

Can you hear the owls of Shevat calling? They are beckoning us to find ways to bring our Jewish communities outside. I’d like to share a simple program that gets our community of different aged folks bundled up and joining a night hike filled with owl calls, wind song, star gazing, storytelling and fair-trade organic hot chocolate.

Here’s what we do. We gather when the Shevat moon is waning, on a Saturday night post Tu B’Shevat. Peak owl listening time may be 4am, but we just ramble around after dinner, wide open and trusting to the mystery of what we may experience, happy to simply experience the night together. We begin sharing stories of special encounters we’ve had with owls or the moon, meeting a few of our owl neighbors through photos and calls and learning to listen with ears wide open.

We then stroll around the paved mile loop inside a beautiful park/cemetery. It is here where many in our village of 2000 choose to walk, jog or teach their children bike riding. It is nestled in the Berkshire foothills surrounded by forest, cliff and river. The perfect place for a night hike.

When walking in winter, the art of building a container for silence is crucial for the success of this program (less so for the Owls of Sivan program that might be enjoyed in early summer!). For us winter walkers, I’ve found that active pacing and group jumping jacks fare better than slow and mindful walking meditations.

When we arrive at the stations of our loop, marked by beautiful old trees or open spaces, we all call to our owl neighbors- the simple hoots of Great Horned Owl, and the more elaborate “Kugels and Jews, Kugels and Jews Y’all” of the Barred owl and then listen with all of our heart, soul and might. Can you tell it’s kind of fun? Even if we only hear back the song of night wind and tree cracklings, people don’t seem to mind. After all, we are surrounded by the outlines of tall, stout and gangly trees, a glorious night sky filled with stars, and the warm presence of each other.

After 40 minutes or so, we arrive at a pavilion with benches, short walls just enough to support our backs and block the wind and a simple roof. The trees are still with us as we enjoy hot chocolate, introduce the great role of the moon in Jewish tradition and hear a few stories from Chelm and Reb Nachman that are dedicated to the moon. What might you share when everyone gathers around with hot cocoa?

If you want to explore ideas- feel free to write me at david@maggiddavid.net. Of course, the best ideas are to be found in the silence that fills the night. There, in the darkness, it becomes easy to feel how the entire universe vibrates- and how those same vibrations also move through us. Happy Hiking!

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