I hope you and your family are well. I am thinking of you and sending my positive thoughts and prayers. We are missing everyone, and hope to bridge the distance through this electronic connection.
There is no doubt this year is different than any other we have experienced. Over the past months, we have been challenged in ways we could not have imagined. In our own way, each of us has been touched by the pandemic, and our community, nation and world is aching. Like me, I’m sure you have had many hours of genuine soul searching.
In addition, for Jewish people, this is a contemplative time of year. Currently, we are in the Hebrew month of Elul. Elul, spiritually challenges each of us as we turn inward, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). During this introspective period, we begin to examine our past year, and think about hopes for the year to come. We also reflect on our relationships with other people, our relationship with G-d, and our relationship with ourselves. Rabbi Liz Hirsch refers to this as tikkun middot or “repairing of our attributes or character traits.”
On other years, many of us attend services. Due to the Cononavirus crisis, however, this year’s High Holiday experience will be different; many congregations will not have gatherings. But, a different experience, does not have to be negative. In fact, this year could be special, and possibility more introspective in its own way.
For those readers that are not Jewish, and/or are caring for a loved one with memory loss, I hope you will find this Touch Points informative and helpful. Many of the reflective questions encourage self-discovery and self-improvement. In the end, aren’t we all a constant work in progress?
This Touch Points is peppered with many Rabbis’ thoughts and opinions. I will share some of my favorite suggestions for self-reflection and preparation. I hope these ideas will elevate this sacred time.
“And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art.”
(-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
Preparing and Finding Meaning During Elul:
- Quiet Your Mind– A self-inventory is not always easy. So, before you begin to ask yourself questions, focus on quieting your mind. Strive for a peaceful openheartedness. Treat yourself with kindness, and remember to be compassionate and understanding as you open your heart, and honestly listen to your voice and feelings.
- Begin to Look Back at the Past Year- Imagine each of us has our own Book of Life; it is filled with all our words and actions. Rabbi Jessica Barolsky (and others) uses this concept. She suggests the High Holidays is a time to pause and look back at our own Book of Life. During the past year, what would your proudest moments be? What would you want to change? What habit would you like to break? Do you need to say you are sorry? What are you grateful for? Rabbi Barolsky asks, “What would you find in your divine notebook?” It is up to us to fill it with the good, rather than the bad.
- Try a Step-by-Step Process for Self-Improvement– What do you want to change or work on during the next year? Breaking down the goals into steps can make the process manageable and gradual. Get closer to your best self by looking inward and reflecting. Write down your goals for the next year, or share your thoughts with someone you trust. In addition, writing goals down or saying them out loud will help you recall where you started, and may make you feel more accountable. Additionally, telling a trusted person may provide support.
- Write a “Old Fashioned” Letter – Rabbi Beth Singer suggests to use this as a spiritual practice during the month of Elul. Write and mail a real letter (remember those things with pen, ink, and a stamp?) “to people that you need to be in touch with, to those you need to say something to, or to account for your behavior during the past year, and make a commitment to be a better person.” Think about all the relationships you have. Who do you need to connect with- a partner, spouse, parent, child, or friend? Imagine how the person receiving your letter feels and savors your words.
- Practical Preparation for Prayer- Where and When?– As I said, things are just different this year. Our synagogues are doing everything possible to stay close and reach us during this atypical time. However, due to Covid-19, many places of worship will not meet in person; each synagogue has its own plan for health and safety. At Ovation Communities, Rabbi Adams will lead in-person services for our residents at Ovation Sarah Chudnow, and Rabbi Emmer will lead in-person services at Ovation Chai Point. This year, services will be socially distant, and only for our residents. What is your synagogue planning for the High Holidays? If it’s your practice, find a synagogue that offers services virtually. Call them directly now to find out their plans, or if you need help getting connected, please let us know. (A variety of Milwaukee synagogues will have High Holiday Zoom links or offer electronic service options.)
G-d hears our voices everywhere. If you aren’t able or comfortable praying in person or virtually, find your own way to speak to G-d. Share your mind and heart. Personally, there have been a few years I was unable to attend services. Instead, I took out our prayer book and read the entire service at home by myself; I focused on pieces that had the most meaning to me. The stillness and the silence in our home added to my kavanah, or intention. Similarly, this challenging year may actually be an wonderful opportunity to reach a new direction of the heart.
- Finding Balance and Working to Repair the World- Our world is hurting right now. As we work to repair ourselves, let us also work toward Tikkun Olam– Repairing the World. We each have an obligation to continue to mend our imperfect country and world. Let’s all do our part. Find a cause that matters to you, and work, peacefully, to bring in more kindness, love and acceptance. In addition, we all have an obligation to vote and make sure that our leaders have our similar beliefs and values. Today, on your computer, click on the website: https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/ There you can register to vote, get an absentee ballot, find out about your polling place, and read election information. Let’s bring our world into balance. As Rabbi Liz Hirsch said, “…we will continue the legacy of John Lewis and so many others, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, and make the world better for all.”
I hope the month of Elul and the suggestions will make this challenging time full of meaning and value. I am wishing you and your family a New Year filled with good health, blessings and peace. As always, I am here for you. Email me at DRubin-Winkelman@ovation.org
Thinking of you and sending all my positive energy and love,