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during the month of Elul, August 16 - September 13, 2015

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Elul 29 - Shanah Tovah! - by Rabbi Jim Bennett

“All beginnings are hard,” say the rabbis of the Talmud.  And so we come to the beginning and

the end.  The end of Elul. The end of what was, what has been.  The beginning of a new year,

the beginning of what will be, what can be, what should be, what might be.

As a friend of mine loves to say:  “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Ten two-letter words that speak

so much about possibility and responsibility.  Much that we will encounter in the coming year

is in our power, much can happen if and when we make it happen.  In those moments of victory

and success, we will revel in our own greatness, and we will remember that we have earned the

sense of self-satisfaction to know that we have created our own reality, that things are good,

that we have accomplished something.

And yet…and yet we know that this is not always the case.  Things will happen that are out of

our control, against our will, despite our effort, we will be confronted with moments of tension

and sadness and reality and loss and sadness and failure.  And in these moments, when we are

tempted to indict ourselves, we would well remember the teachings of the Torah:

“Beware, lest you forget Adonai, your God,…lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and

have built nice houses and lived in them, when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your

silver and gold has increased, and all that you have has increased; and then your heart be lifted

up and you forget Adonai, your God who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the

house of bondage; . . . who fed you in the wilderness with manna,…and you might say: “My

power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.”  (Deuteronomy 8:11-17)

All that we are, all that we have, all that we shall be is a blessing.  We are partners with the

Holy One, and we are all a blessing.  As we reach the end and the beginning, may we each feel


Shanah Tovah!

Jim Bennett, Rabbi

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Elul 26 - by Debra Baker

You played a game of peek-a-boo with my teenage son last night.  You caught his eyes through the glass door that leads from our rotting deck inside to our kitchen.   Maybe you also saw the avocado sitting on the counter and the jigsaw puzzle with only the frame assembled, nothing inside. 

There was a blender half-filled with iced coffee sitting in the kitchen, which perhaps I should have shared with you.  We could have sat together chatting about the meeting that I attended with my friend on Thursday, the one held in an airless room, the one where we prayed for serenity and listened to some guy named Ron unload his cargo of loss.  

I told the dispatcher how my boy had spotted you standing there, how you had pulled him away from the thirteenth inning of the baseball game on TV.  No, he did not know what you were wearing.  Yes, he thought maybe you were twenty years old.  Yes, you were black.  Yes, male.  

Eleven miles away last night, police lassoed a black male my son’s age, a teenager with a gun in his hand, all part of this pandemic of decay.  

You climbed up our five stairs, past the swinging green hammock chair and the empty box of Life cereal that had not quite made it into the recycling bin.   You slammed your palm into our glass, knocking a hollow knock, suffocating the two of us with the sound.   

The dog sat silently on the sofa.  To him, the world is not a carnivorous battleground.  To him, there are no prowlers, just pilgrims. He would have rested his head on your lap, kissed your palms, invited you to rub his gray belly. 

You ran.  You collapsed onto the driveway next door, wheezing with asthma, this marathon sprinting foreign to your weak lungs.  Four cops reported that you’d fled from a sobriety checkpoint miles away down on Olive Boulevard.  They huddled with a collection of quiet neighbors who plant daffodils and loan each other sticks of butter, sharing this small-town news. 

Maybe you called your mom from inside the county jail early this morning and heard her crumble into the oak rocking chair in the corner.  Maybe you felt her clutching the wicker basket laden with soft prayers. 

During the Tikkun Middot experience this past year, I repeated the following words in my head.  “Even though you have wronged me/hurt me/frightened me/done that which I fail to understand, I will not withhold my goodness from you.”   This reminds me that I get to choose my response to challenging moments in my home, with my colleagues and students, and out in the wider world.  This reminds me to listen with an open heart to the cries of individuals and of communities, even when I do not know their pain.   This reminds me to chip away at the us-them mentality that plagues our city, our country, and our world, not to shove people into categories, to embrace our common humanity.

I can choose to respond with goodness.  We all can.   May we continue to train ourselves in this new year. 

Debra Baker

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Elul 25 - by Cantor Seth Warner

I have a photograph in my office of my father holding my son, Simon, his first grandchild.  I remember the moment that picture was taken, and my father looking at Simon’s newborn face said “There is such innocence and love in his little body.”

My dad was right.  The innocence, purity and love that we have as infants is fleeting from the moment we’re born.  Before long, Simon was independently eating Cheerios, stamping his feet when he wanted a toy, laughing hysterically at himself and even laughing at his parents.  The truth is, innocence and purity are luxuries that no one can afford for long – but I wonder how far from them do we have to wander?  How far is too far? 

I wonder how my sense of sarcasm and cynicism developed.  (Surely my father was in on the ground floor of that creation within me.)  I wonder why I get so frustrated with the person on the highway driving too slow for me to get where I want to go, or any other example of annoyance you want to insert here. I wonder where my sense of love of ends and my sense of hate begins. 

This Elul, I am reminded that I have tendencies both ways – for great love and for feelings of annoyance and abhorrence.  Elul reminds me to check that balance often and to make sure that the love side is shining brighter than any other. 

I know my dad saw the purity in Simon’s face.  I’m grateful that, at times, he was able to see the purity in mine, too.  When he didn’t, maybe it wasn’t about my face – it was about the lens through which he was looking.  His own sense of doubt, perhaps – his own cynicism. Maybe that’s where mine comes from.

Cantor Seth Warner

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Elul 24 - by Rabbi Jim Bennett

In her poem “To Have Without Holding,” Marge Piercy reminds us that “Learning to love differently is hard. Love with the hands wide open, . . .”  “It hurts to love wide open,” she says. “It hurts to thwart the reflexes of grab, of clutch ; to love and let go again and again. . . , to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively. . . , to have and not to hold, to love with minimized malice, hunger and anger moment by moment balanced.”

Piercy gives us pause during this month of Elul, reminding us that change is possible, even when it comes to love.  We have the chance, again and again, to free our grip and love without smothering, without clutching, without grabbing, to rebalance the give and take and simply be.  True love, of our children, of our partners, of ourselves, of each other, of God….all these allow for this recalibration of what we expect and what we give and what we get and how we hold and how we let go and, above all, of how we love.

Rabbi Jim Bennett

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