#BlogElul 1: Prepare

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul, which means we are precisely one lunar cycle from Rosh Hashanah, the new year. There is a whole lot of preparation going on around our house, and some of it is even related to the upcoming holiday. Quite a lot of the non-holiday prep has to do with what my husband and I want to be when we grow up my husband comes to the end of his time on active duty in the Navy. That won’t be resolved by the time we welcome 5776, though.

After taking leave to visit family for the High Holidays last year, this year we are once again hosting Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner for our friends in the local area, especially our fellow military folks who aren’t able to be with their loved ones during this busy time of year. I’m narrowing down my list of recipes and coming up with a dazzling array of excuses to try even more varieties of local honey. I’m kicking myself for not having been on the ball enough to start brewing our own mead (honey wine) early enough for it to be ready for the new year.

My preoccupation with dinner planning is not, perhaps, the most spiritually elevated thing on which I could be focusing now. It may be a distraction from everything else we have whirling around right now, from my husband’s résumé honing to my rabbinical school application. I think, though, that by turning my attention to something as concrete as figuring out how best to feed and entertain an as-yet-unknown number of guests, I free up my mental background processes to work on deeper things.

The image of my subconscious diligently yet mysteriously plugging away while I look for the holiday table linens is a comforting thought, but I’m not going to bet on its success unless I set aside some time to prepare my mind and spirit, not merely my kitchen and table.

BlogElul 5776

Johnson Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

#BlogElul 4: Accept

#BlogElul 2014 topics

Shabbat is a gift. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that this time of rest and renewal is truly for us, and we turn it aside as if we’re over-modest children, too self-conscious to take a compliment at face value.

Sometimes, though, it’s easy to accept the gift of the world’s beauty. It is a beauty that not only exists independently of any of our labors, but one that can be experienced fully only when we free our hands of workweek burdens and allow our minds to drink in broader horizons.

Johnson Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

“The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array.” (Genesis 2:1, NJPS)


#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 3: Bless

#BlogElul 2014 topics

Today, my husband was blessed with a very short workday. We took advantage of it to get out and enjoy a rare treat: coffee at our favorite local place. In Judaism, we bless God for the big things and for the little things, such as every bit of food or drink of which we partake.

Caffeine and sunshine, both worthy of blessing today.

Caffeine and sunshine, both worthy of blessing today.


#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 2: Act

#BlogElul 2014 topicsI am a thinker. One could make a well-supported, cogent argument that I am an over-thinker, one who lives too much in her head and not quite enough in the world of action.

Confession time: I was already way overdue for an eye appointment and a dentist visit when the Navy moved us to Florida in March of 2013. A year and a half later, long after all the urgent upheavals of the move had settled into the routine (well, as routine as life ever gets with a Navy pilot for a spouse), I still had not managed to look up a new optometrist and dentist to call for appointments. Oh, I thought about it — frequently, in fact — but there always seemed to be something more compelling I could shove in front of it on the priority list.

I’ll do it later, I thought, and proceeded to throw up all kinds of excuses for why I needed to think about it more before picking some names from a list of covered providers and picking up the phone. I need to do research. I need to be sure our schedule is set. I need to… 

Today, goaded by the blog prompt’s exhortation to “act,” I pulled the dreaded task of phoning strangers off my mental back burner and made the calls. I now have appointments. Done. More than that, a chunk of my brain’s proverbial clock cycles were suddenly freed up. What I had thought was a low-priority task waiting to be done was actually a mental resource hog that had been taking up energy for so long that I had ceased to notice it.

In the new year, I want to be more aware of the difference between thinking about things because they need thinking about and thinking about things as a way to “deal” with them without taking any concrete action. Thoughtless, impulsive action is no help to anyone, but then, neither is overthinking a simple task to the point of paralysis.


#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 1: Do

#BlogElul 2014 topicsIt would take more geekly wherewithal than I currently possess to get through this post without quoting Rabbi Yoda, so I’ll get it out of the way now:

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do #BlogElul again this year. My regular blogging fizzled out for an extended spring/summer hiatus sometime before Pesach. The months were filled with more doing than writing about doing; I have no online record of events longer than a Facebook update or more deeply examined than a tweet.

We are one month away from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This month, אלול (Elul), is our chance to take stock of our lives, to sift through the events of the past year that might have whooshed by, unexamined, masked by the background noise of daily busyness. For the next month, thorough, thoughtful reflection is on our daily to-do list.

Because life goes on even in this month of taking account of ourselves, there will be times when the work of self-examination elicits a “do not” reaction from me. I’m not going to like everything I find with all the usual comforting, self-justifying excuses stripped away from my actions this past year. On those days, I will focus on R. Yoda’s first statement and do the work anyway.

Yoda

“Blog daily this month, you will.”


#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 29: Return

#BlogElul 2013We’re a military family. We move around a lot. In the six years before our most recent PCS, we davened (prayed) at High Holy Day services with five different communities.

  • Corpus Christi, Texas (Reform, with some Conservative elements thanks to the then-recent congregational merger)
  • Norfolk, Virginia (Conservative, with a true renaissance man for a rabbi)
  • Northern Virginia (my in-laws’ vibrant Conservative shul)
  • Reno, Nevada (a Conservative shul who took us in when we were in town for Tailhook)
  • Annapolis, Maryland (The Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the United States Naval Academy — chaplain-style services are the best!)

This evening, at Erev Rosh Hashanah services, we will add a sixth congregation to our list.

We have almost never spent Rosh Hashanah with the same community twice (our Yom Kippur list is just Corpus and Norfolk; we tend to stick to our local shul for that one). Even so, each Rosh Hashanah has felt to me like a homecoming of sorts. Wherever we find ourselves on this Yom Harat Olam, the Birthday of the World, we join our fellow Jews in turning toward our Source.

When the sun sets on 5773, we will welcome 5774 in a place we’ve never welcomed a new year before. We will begin anew with our visiting family and with friends we’ve made in our few months here and with people we have yet to meet. Even though this is our first year with this congregation, we are returning nonetheless.

L’shana tova, everyone — may your year be as good and sweet as the the feeling of coming home.


#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 28: Give

#BlogElul 2013

Chances are, there is something that you do particularly well, a knack you have that other people don’t. We talk of certain abilities as “God-given talents,” and we call children who show unusual academic aptitude “gifted.”

We all have our gifts, our special areas of natural facility. Also natural is our pride in our talents. When you’re good at something, there is an undeniable pleasure in knowing it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being proud of an innate flair for writing or mathematics or athletic prowess. The problems start when we become content to sit around and brag about clever and talented we are without ever using our abilities for the good of our world.

Like clouds, wind—but no rain— Is one who boasts of gifts not given. (Proverbs 25:14)

I am grateful for the talents I have been given. I can take no credit for the combination of genetics and upbringing and soul that made me pretty darn good at some things. Even so, a big part of my identity is still wrapped up in being “the smart kid.” I was labelled “gifted and talented” in kindergarten, and I spent my entire childhood being praised for the fact that schoolwork came easily to me. I’m sure kids to whom athletic ability came without apparent effort got the same kind of acclaim for being so good at sports. With that kind of reinforcement, it’s easy to start thinking that the world owes us merely for existing, just for being smart/artistic/strong/what-have-you.

We all have our gifts. The question is, Do we wear our gifts like name tags, mere labels that tell others what we are? Or do we take our gifts as a cue to give of ourselves, to use our talents for tikkun olam, repairing the world?

If I do not give of my gifts, I am a storm cloud that blows and rumbles and puffs itself up with accumulated rain that it never lets fall to the parched earth. If I do not give, I help nothing in this world to blossom.


#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.