Breathe In…Breathe Out: Preparing for the Days of Awe

When I was young, my parents would take my siblings and me on long car rides to visit relatives out-of state. One of our favorite songs to sing on those rides was: “The ants go marching one-by-one, hoorah, hoorah!…” When we played outside, we loved watching ants climb into their colonies, busy with their work. The ants fascinated me.

I was not quite so fascinated with ants, however, these past few weeks, as they took over my kitchen. At first, there were just a few, scurrying over the counter and near the sink. I set traps. I sprayed. Nothing helped. The situation became so bad that I realized I had to call in the exterminator.

He sprayed the entire exterior of the house and then the inside: the kitchen, upstairs, the bathrooms, and I thought I was finished (although he did tell me to call him back in two weeks if I still had a problem).

And then after two weeks, “the ants go marching one-by-one…” Just as I was preparing for a dinner party, I went to my floor-to-ceiling pantry, and I realized that I had floor-to-ceiling ants. Everywhere. Crawling up the walls. On the ceiling. In the pantry. Everywhere. And not “one-by-one” but by the thousands! A million times worse than before. It was as if they thought THEY had been invited to the party! And my guests were coming in five hours! Eek! I still had a lot of cooking to do. OY! How was I ever going to get it all done?!

I called the exterminator again in a panic. Left a message. Started to empty the pantry. Thankfully he called back right away and said he could come that same day. But I did have to empty the entire pantry and a few other cupboards.

Thankfully, my food was not infested. But I was thinking, how am I going to pull off getting this dinner ready? I now had the contents of my entire pantry on my dining room floor, table and in parts of the kitchen.

And then I realized, just breathe.

BreatheNo one was sick. No one was hurt. It wan’t an emergency. My house looked like a mess, but if I took a minute to just breathe, I would find a way to get everything finished.

So I breathed, slowly – in and out. I reviewed my list of what I was serving. I prepared each item one at a time. I ignored the mess on the floor. I found things that needed to be thrown away that had been sitting in the cupboard for too long.

The exterminator came. I finished prepping. I even had time to put everything away and clean up the kitchen before my guests arrived. I just didn’t have time to change my clothes, but it was ok.

And I sat down with my guests and just relaxed. And breathed and enjoyed being with them in my serene backyard.

My situation with the ants comes at a time on our Jewish calendar when we are also supposed to metaphorically “breathe”. This coming Saturday evening, we usher in the Hebrew month of Elul. This is the month that immediately precedes our High Holy Days. We’re supposed to slow down, breathe in, breathe out. We’re supposed to stop rushing around trying to “get it all done.”

During this time we review our own lists: how was our past year? What went well? What could have been better? What relationships can we improve? To whom do we need to say “I am sorry?” Do we have excess “stuff” that we’ve been carrying around for too long that we can/should “throw away” or let go?

How do we prepare our own souls, our own selves, so when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do arrive next month we are spiritually, emotionally and physically ready for all they entail?

If we stop, take the time to breathe, reflect and think, we can enter these Days of Awe refreshed, renewed, and with full intention of heart, mind and spirit.

Kol ha’n’shamah t’haleil Yah, hal’lu Yah!

Let all that breathes praise God, Halleluya! (Psalm 150:6)

I Bring My Loved Ones With Me into the New Year – A Personal Reflection

As Rosh Hashanah approaches this evening, I think of my mother, father and grandparents who are no longer alive.

Like my mother before me, I bake her special “Israeli Honey Cake” – with a whole lemon and orange, for a sweet New Year. I set my table with the beautiful festival table cloth she lovingly embroidered. I learn some new text, just as she did, for Torah study was part of the very fabric of her being.

Like my father before me, I craft my sermons and prepare my Machzor – my High Holy Day prayer book. I phone congregants who are sick or in need of a visit, because my father instilled within me the importance of being there for one’s congregants at all times. I read a new book, for reading and studying was an integral part of who he was, even after his eyesight failed due to complications from diabetes.

Like my grandparents before me, I prepare as best as I can for these High Holy Days, trying to touch base with all my family near and far. My grandparents taught me the blessing of family and so much more.

Like all who came before me, I pray that this New Year, 5775 will see a world that realizes a time of peace and harmony. My parents and grandparents strongly believed in tikkun olam – the value of repairing the world. I learned from them that each one of us must do our part to make this world a safe place for all who dwell upon it. We must use our voices, our hands and our hearts. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, when we take part in social justice we are “praying with our feet.”

As we prepare to enter 5775, I carry my loved ones in my heart. May they continue to inspire me, to guide me and to do my part to make this world a better place.

Making Connections – A Blessing for the High Holy Days

Some time last year, I received a “Friend Request” on Facebook from someone I had not seen in over 30 years.

I had been Audrey’s and Don’s religious school teacher at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts while I was a student at Boston University and for the next two years following my graduation. I had not seen them since I left Boston to attend rabbinical school.

Facebook Friend Request
Facebook Friend Request

I was delighted that Audrey tracked me down! We had some mutual friends in common and she had seen some of my postings on Facebook. I’ve since re-connected with her parents and brother, Don, as well.

This is not an unusual story. I’m sure many of us can share similar stories where we’ve reconnected with friends from our distant past. Friendships from long ago have been renewed and refreshed. And as my mother (of blessed memory) used to say: “What a m’chayeh!” What a great joy!

Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, begin next Wednesday evening (September 24, 2014).

Making connections is what the upcoming High Holy Days are all about: connecting with our innermost selves, connecting with our Jewish community and connecting with God.

There are times the High Holy Days arrive and we feel as if they are distant strangers. How do we make those connections so we feel renewed, refreshed and revitalized?

In a manner of speaking, we make those connections the same way we do on Facebook: by being part of a larger community. The more connected you are, the more connections you will make and the deeper and more meaningful those connections will be.

We are taught in our tradition: Al tiros min hatzibur – Do not separate yourself from your community (Pirke Avot 2:5).

Traditionally, in the Jewish world, a “community” is defined as 10 people. This concept is known as a minyan. Why? Because a group of 10 people has the power to persuade others to make decisions. If you are in the synagogue and not feeling moved by prayer, the voices of others around you can lift your spirits. There is great power, strength and fortitude in community.

When we study in chevruta, in partnership with others, we inspire each other by sharing our questions, our insights and our own thought processes. And, as the old UJA Federation slogan said: “There is no commUnity without “U.”

As we approach the High Holy Days this year, I offer this blessing:

May you find your place & space in your Jewish community.

May the connections you build be strong and vital.

May these connections enrich your spirit and nourish your soul.

May you hear the innermost voices of your heart.

May you feel touched by the hearts and hands of those around you.

May you touch the lives of others in meaningful ways.

May you hear and feel God’s presence in your life.

Shana Tova U’m’tukah – A New Year Filled with the Blessings of Health, Joy, Contentment and Peace!