#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.

Advertisements

#BlogExodus 6: Clean

#BlogExodus promptsYesterday, when I was supposed to be ruminating on the topic of “Clean” as it relates to the rapidly approaching holiday of Passover, I was out playing instead. We braved the morning fog to get to the movie theater in time for an early showing of “The LEGO Movie,” which was just as awesome* as my brother and various other family members had told us it was. Still singing to ourselves the movie’s notable song, we moseyed on over to Mellow Mushroom for a chametz-ariffic lunch.

It felt great to get out of the house for fun rather than errands. As much as I love the holidays, it takes a lot of work to get ready for them. For Pesach, much of this work is centered around thoroughly cleaning the house to remove all traces of leaven. Having the chance to step away for a few hours from the reminders of work yet to be done accomplished a lot in the way of cleaning up my attitude for this week’s home stretch.

* If you’ve seen it, you get it.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogExodus 5: Prepare

#BlogExodus promptsTwo #blogExodus posts in one day? Well, not really — this one is for the 5th of Nisan, which begins, like all Jewish days, at sundown. I wanted to make sure the day’s post went live before the setting of the sun ushered in Shabbat and I shut down my computer for the next twenty-five-ish hours.

Here’s a glimpse at one aspect of Pesach preparation at my house: the time-honored ritual Perusal of the Cookbooks. I’m a food geek who reads cookbooks cover-to-cover for fun, so dreaming up a menu that makes the festival’s peculiar dietary requirements sing is one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday prep for me.

Passover Cookbooks

This isn’t even all of them.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogExodus 4: Free

The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field (Exodus, 1:13-14).

#BlogExodus promptsAs a free person, one of the great joys in my life is the ability to create. Whenever I knit or write or make wire kippot, I partake of my freedom to craft things for reasons of my own. Although even free people must sometimes labor for the goals of others, my creative drive is not sapped utterly by molding brick after brick for any Pharaoh, ancient or modern.

I think I’ll set aside some time this afternoon to work on my Rainbow Dash-worthy afghan before Shabbat. When I have completed all one hundred squares with my own hands, I’ll enjoy the fruit of my freedom to make something for no reason other than the fact that it makes me smile.

 

Hue Shift Afghan in progress

The colors are crazy-bright, but they delight my inner six-year-old.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogExodus 3: Enslave

#BlogExodus promptsI am having trouble with this prompt. Although the holiday of Passover requires us to see ourselves as having personally been freed from slavery in Egypt, I am loath to use “enslaved” to describe any aspect of my life in the United States, a country where I enjoy personal, political, and religious freedom largely unprecedented in history. In a world where actual human trafficking and slavery still poison the lives of real people, anything I could say about enslavement in my own life feels like hyperbole to the point of absurdity.

With that in mind, it’s a good thing I have teachers who can help me to see that the concept of metaphorical or spiritual enslavement can provide a useful lens through which to view parts of our lives that have become tangled. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s post on today’s #blogExodus prompt acknowledges her own difficulty with using such a strong word as “enslaved” (“And usually it’s not a term I would use,” she writes) to describe a potentially unhealthy relationship with the Internet, email, and our myriad digital distractions. When they control us, we are — metaphorically — enslaved.

Reading Rabbi Barenblat’s take has helped me get past my initial strong hesitation about how today’s prompt could possibly apply to my own life. I can see where the way I think about my relationships with some things in my life have me entangled, or feeling other than free.

Take my husband’s daily flight schedule, for instance. It is a fact of military aviation life that we do not find out what Sampson is doing on a given day until about five o’clock the evening before. Depending on how the “sked” is written, we might find out this evening that he has a brief just twelve hours later at 5:00 AM, or we might see that they switched him to nights and he won’t be home until 10:00 PM. It is what it is, and mostly we roll with the uncertainty, despite the difficulty it presents for making dinner plans with anyone in advance.

Lately, however, I have noticed myself getting a little too caught up in it, allowing my own mood to be dictated by whether my husband has what I see as a favorable schedule. That ought to be a signal to me to loosen my grip, take a deep breath, and disentangle my emotional state from this thing over which I have no control. If I can shift my focus away from my frustration at the constant flexibility required of us, I think I’ll find that I feel less like a slave to the exigencies of squadron scheduling.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogExodus 2: Tell

#BlogExodus prompts“All right, let’s go around the table,” our rabbi said, sweeping his gaze over the people crowded around the long, tall table at the back of the bar’s patio. “Tell us your name and, let’s see… your favorite Passover dish.”

Sampson and I arrived late for the pre-study schmoozing yesterday evening, but we were just in time to dive into the monthly “Torah on Tap” discussion. We know almost everyone’s names without being told, and the regulars know ours by now. As the imaginary introduction baton passed from person to person, we learned that matzoh ball soup is a near-universal Passover favorite, that Sephardic versus Ashkenazi charoset is a topic of some debate, and that people who claim to love fiery, fresh-grated horseradish are acclaimed as stupendous tough guys and gals.

With the key issues (i.e., best Pesach food) settled amongst ourselves, we were free to begin our loud and lively conversation on the month’s topic: “Plagues, Torture, and Collective Punishment.” We read selections from Torah and Talmud, rabbis both modern and ancient, Israeli Supreme Court rulings and psalms. The intensity of our discussion was balanced by our comfort with one another as we sipped our stouts or our sodas.

I like to think that anyone who saw us there, a group of Jews freely and publicly displaying our passion for our text, our tradition, and our deep commitment to ethics, would have been able to tell that something vital and vibrant was at work. All of us there were busy people, many having come straight from a long day at work (which, in Sampson’s case, involved two draining flights with brand-new students), and yet it mattered to us all enough that we made the effort to come together with our community to study big issues through a Jewish lens. That tells me something about my people and my Judaism.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogExodus 1: Believe

#BlogExodus promptsBelieve, believe… I believe I need to get my rear in gear for Passover preparation, because I just had my very first Pesach stress-dream of the season last night.

We had just arrived back in Pensacola after a whirlwind jaunt up to Northern Virginia to celebrate my amazing father-in-law’s 70th birthday. While my parents’ guest room is quite comfy, the sheer concentrated fun of the short visit meant that we were up past our bedtime every night. We arrived home yesterday evening after a day of schlepping through crowded airports, looked at the flight schedule, and discovered that the Navy was welcoming Sampson back from leave with a 5:30 AM brief. So much for easing back into things.

My attempt to squeeze a few more hours of rest out of the pre-dawn darkness after Sampson headed to work was thwarted by an intensely vivid dream about showing up at a seder where they were using a strangely colorful Hagaddah and playing rock music for accompaniment. The “stress” part of the dream came halfway through the (bizarre, rock-and-roll-laden) service leading up to the meal, when I realized we had forgotten to make the dish we’d promised to bring. Ack! The shame!

And then the dream morphed into me and Ecco the Dolphin rescuing other dolphins who were beached on a marshy shore, but that is less relevant to the subject at hand.

In real life, some friends from our synagogue have invited us to their seder this year. I already know that our contribution to the festive meal will be a vegetable dish of some kind, but I haven’t made a final decision on what it will be. My dream would seem to indicate that the prospect of cooking something to delight the palates of twenty-one people is weighing on my mind more than I’d realized.

I believe I’ll get out my cookbooks and make a final recipe choice today.


#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.