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This post originally appeared on www.edumundcase.com and is reprinted with permission.
The discussion about Conservative rabbis officiating for interfaith couples has quieted, other than a terrible piece by one of the Cohen Centerâ€™s own researchers, that IÂ blogged about separately. Iâ€™d rather focus on the positive responses to intermarriage as the High Holidays approach, and fortunately there is are five of them!
Back when Mark Zuckerberg was marrying Priscilla Chan, there were all sorts of derogatory comments from critics of intermarriage to the effect that his children would not be Jewish. So I was very pleased to see Zuckerbergâ€™sÂ Facebook postsÂ showing him with his daughter in front of lit Shabbat candles, what looked like a home-baked Challah, and a message that he had given her his great-great-grandfatherâ€™s Kiddush cup. The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.
Second, Steven M. Cohen, in aÂ new pieceÂ about declining number of Conservative and Reform Jews, says that arresting the decline â€śmeans encouraging more non-Jewish partners and spouses to convert to Judaism.â€ť Thatâ€™s not the positive news â€“ the positive news is a much different response: the â€śradical welcomingâ€ť recommended by Rabbi Aaron Lerner, the UCLA Hillel executive director â€“ a modern Orthodox rabbi, who grew up in an interfaith family himself. Rabbi Lerner writes thatÂ on college campuses, the intermarriage debate is already overÂ â€“ meaning that they regularly serve students who come from intermarried households, and sometimes those with only one Jewish grandparent, who they serve as long as they want to become part of their community in some way. Cohen could learn a thing or two from Rabbi Lerner:
Hillel and our Jewish community benefit enormously from that diversity.
Nobody can know for sure whether someone will grow into Judaism and Jewish life just because of their birth parents.
A Jewish student in an interfaith relationship may be inspired by our Shabbat dinners to keep that tradition for his entire life, no matter who he marries.
If these young students feel intrigued by Jewish learning, choose to identify with their Jewish lives and take on leadership roles in our community, they will be the ones shaping the future of Jewish life in America. But none of that happens if we donâ€™t make them welcome and included members of our campus communityâ€¦ I understand the communal sensitivities to intermarriage. But it happens whether we like it or not. If we donâ€™t give these young men and women a right to be part of our community, we risk losing them forever.
A third inclusive response is reported by Susan Katz Miller inÂ a piece about PJ Library. She notes that PJ is inclusiveâ€”when it asked in its recent survey about Jewish engagement of subscribers, it asked if children were being raised Jewish or Jewish and something else; it also asked how important it was to parents that their children identify as all or partly Jewish. She reports being told that 50% of interfaith families in the survey said they were raising children Jewish and something else, and 45% Jewish only. She quotes Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, president of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, as saying â€śâ€śThis entire program is for interfaith families, and non-interfaith families, whether itâ€™s the exclusive religion in the home or notâ€ť she says. â€śIf your family is looking for tools, and youâ€™re going to present Judaism to your children, whether itâ€™s the only thing you teach them or part of what you teach them, then this is a very easy tool.â€ť
(There were other brief news items that are consistent with the value of an inclusive approach. The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent had a nice pieceÂ about interfaith families celebrating the High Holidays(featuring Rabbi Robyn Frisch, director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia), and the secular paper in Norfolk, Virginia had aÂ nice articleÂ about Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gillâ€™s work with an interfaith couple. The national past president of the Reform movementâ€™s youth group wrote anÂ inspiring pieceÂ about how she discovered the Jew she is meant to be â€“ revealing incidentally that she comes from an interfaith family. Batya Ungar-Sargon, theÂ ForwardÂ opinion editor,Â notesÂ the element of coercion in the Orthodox approach to continuity, with disavowal of coercion and embrace of freedom the point of being liberal. Thereâ€™s also an interesting article inÂ America,Â a Jesuit publication,Â When a Jew and a Catholic Marry. The author interviews four couples to illustrate different ways they engage with their religious traditions.)
In the fourth important item, Allison Darcy, a graduate student, asksÂ Are Your Jewish Views on Intermarriage Racist?Â She had decided not to date people who werenâ€™t Jewish because there was â€śtoo much pushback from the Jewish communitiesâ€ť in which she felt at home. A seminar on race theory prompted her to examine the implications of Jewsâ€™ prioritizing of in-marriage. For religious Jews who want to share their religion, it stems from a religious source; otherwise some amount of the conviction that Jews should marry Jews is based on ideas of racial purity.
Itâ€™s not a religious argument. Itâ€™s a racial one. Itâ€™s about keeping a people undiluted and preventing the adoption of other cultural traditions, which are clearly evil and out to usurp us. Itâ€™s a belief that itâ€™s our duty to keep everyone else away, rather than to strengthen our own traditions so that they can stand equally and simultaneously with others. In my mind, itâ€™s the easy way out.
Darcy acknowledges that the difference in Jewish engagement between children of in-married vs. intermarried parents â€“ but aptly points to the Cohen Centerâ€™s study on millennials to say that â€śby encouraging engagement with the community, we can near even this out.â€ť Her conclusion: aside from religious-based objections,
This idea that intermarriage is dangerous is a judgment, pure and simple. It implies that other lifestyles are inferior, and that we ourselves arenâ€™t strong enough to uphold our own. And at the end of the day, itâ€™s racist to insist on marrying within your own race for no other reason than they are the same as you.
The fifth itemâ€”I was startled by this, given past pronouncements by theÂ Jerusalem Postâ€”is anÂ editorialÂ that takes the position that Israel should allow everyone the right to marry as they chose, not subject to the control of the Chief Rabbinate.
If at one time it was believed the State of Israel could be a vehicle for promoting Jewish continuity and discouraging intermarriage, this is no longer the case. We live in an era in which old conceptions of hierarchy and authority no longer apply. People demand personal autonomy, whether it be the right of a homosexual couple to affirm their love for one another through marriage or the right of a Jew to marry a non-Jew. Dragging the State of Israel into the intricacies of halacha is bad for personal freedom and bad for religionâ€¦.
â€¦ Instead of investing time and energy in policing the boundaries of religious adherence, religious leaders should be thinking of creative ways to reach the hearts and minds of the unaffiliated.
â€¦ Those who care about adhering to the intricacies of halacha should, of course, have the right to investigate the Jewishness of their prospective spouse.
But for many Israelis, love â€“ the sharing of common goals and values, including living a Jewish life as defined by the couple, and a mutual willingness to support and cherish â€“ is enough.
TheÂ Jerusalem PostÂ endorsing interfaith couples living Jewish lives as defined by the couplesâ€”now that is another great start to the new year. I hope yours is a sweet and meaningful one.
By Rabbi Robyn Frisch and Rabbi Malka Packer
Just like the approach of the secular new year, the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year,Â is a great time to reflect on the past year and to make resolutions about how you can be better in the year ahead. (Click here to read how Jewish new year resolutions are different from secular new year resolutions.)
We propose that synagogues use this time to take stock of how theyâ€™ve been welcoming and inclusive to interfaith couples and families over the past year, and how they can be even more welcoming and inclusive in the year ahead. One way toÂ do this is to participate in InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI). But even for those not participating in IILI, this is a great time of year to come up with an action plan of how they can be more welcoming and inclusive. Below are suggestions based on a webinar on â€śLanguage and Opticsâ€ť that we are presenting to IILI participants. These suggestions are the combined work of a number of InterfaithFamily staff members over the years based on our vast experience working with interfaith couples and families. What is your synagogueâ€™s response to each of the following questions? Based on your responses, you can see where you have work to do.
Hopefully these questions can help guide your synagogue in institutional cheshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul) at this time of the year and encourage an action plan for becoming more welcoming and inclusive of interfaith couples and families in the year ahead.
To learn more about InterfaithFamilyâ€™s Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative click here.
A few weeks ago, I bonked my head while getting ready for bed and got a concussion. This was not my first time experiencing brain damage. I bruised my tender brain two-and-a-half years ago after a small car accident when I was living in Philadelphia. The air bag went off and temporarily knocked me out. It took two years to fully recover from this intense blast. My doctor informed me that I was more prone to â€śre-concussâ€ť my brain because of my previous accident and wasn’t at all surprised that this recent slight blow to my head was so traumatizing.
My symptoms include mega migraines, difficulty focusing, memory loss and utter exhaustion. The path to healing includes copious amounts of sleep, hours of meditation, brain rest, bed rest, no screen time, asking for help, accepting help, radical acceptance and deep surrender.
As a type-A, physically and socially active 40-year-old in a new city (I moved to Atlanta in May of this year), I find slowing down to be quite challenging. I love being out in the world; hiking in the North Georgia Mountains, biking on the Beltline, yoga-ing at Kashi and exploring various cafes and shops. I also love catching up with friends on social media and reading articles about social justice and spirituality. To lie in bed all day, every day, for weeks without much human contact or brain stimulation is very challenging. Needless to say, practicing radical acceptance and deep surrender donâ€™t come naturally to me.
At first, I was in complete denial. â€śThis is just a really, really bad headache. I feel like an anvil is smooshing my head, but Iâ€™ll be OK. Iâ€™m just overtired/dehydrated/stressed out,â€ť I justified.
As the pain and the fuzzy thinking worsened, it became obvious that I had acquired a second concussion and thatâ€™s when I began to suffer. â€śHow could this happen to meâ€¦again?!?!?!? How will I work, make money, make friends, go on dates with my partner, exercise, shop at the farmerâ€™s markets, buy a house? How can I possibly slow down again and survive this intense pain and boredom? Didnâ€™t I already go through this a few years ago?WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?â€ť
It can be very difficult for me to accept when things donâ€™t go MY way. Iâ€™m fairly certain that I know how my life is supposed to unfold and putting it on hold was not an option. Being present with what is, is countercultural. In a culture that likes to numb out with instant gratification, instant messaging, fast food, home delivery and smart phones, we are trained to avoid discomfort at all costs.
In Mussar, a Jewish spiritual movement that started in the 19th century, there is a spiritual concept called â€śAccepting Sufferingâ€ť (Kabbalat Haâ€™Yissurin). In this practice, we are first asked to explore the difference between suffering and pain. According to Alan Morinis in his book With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings To Transform Your Life, â€śPain is a direct reaction to an invasive stimulus and reflects simple cause and effect. Suffering, on the other hand, arises from interpretation and expectation.”Â In other words, when we experience physical pain and think, â€śOuch! That hurt!â€ť That is pain. While we try our best to avoid pain, sometimes it is unavoidable. But when we think, â€śwhy me?â€ť we are entering into the world of suffering.
Once we have discovered our suffering, our challenge is acceptance. We are called to be present with it. It is only when we are present with our suffering that it can pass. How can we be present with the suffering and accept our lack of control?
For me, this is not easy. It is not about pushing it away and stuffing it down. That only allows it to further manifest itself in another way. And it isnâ€™t about becoming a victim and allowing everything to happen to me. It is about accepting my powerlessness in life. There are some things that we just cannot change. When we practice acceptance, we are allowing the world to run as it does. We are accepting our reality.
A prayer that has helped me tremendously with acceptance comes from the 12-step recovery model: â€śG-d/Higher Power, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.â€ť
I cannot change the fact that I bruised my brain a second time. I am powerless over my limited abilities and the speed of my healing process. But what I do have power over is my perspective and attitude. Every day I have a choice: I can choose faith or I can choose fear. When I choose fear, I spiral into panic. â€śThis. Is. Not. OK.,â€ť becomes my matra and I am only able to see how this is just plain wrong. It doesnâ€™t seem right or fair. But, when I move into faith, I feel a deep sense of peace and am able to surrender to what is. I am able to observe my body as it heals and relax my brain. My heart opens as I practice gratitude. When I accept my situation, I ask for help and receive the gifts of living in community.
May this new year of 5776 bring moments of radical acceptance, deep surrender and inner peace.
One of my favorite childrenâ€™s books for Yom Kippur is Jacqueline Julesâ€™ The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story. Itâ€™s about the Ziz, an enormous bird with dark red wings and a purple forehead. The Zizâ€™s giant wings are always knocking things over. One day, after the Ziz mistakenly knocks over a big tree with his wings and the tree then knocks over another tree, which smashes a childrenâ€™s vegetable garden, the Ziz goes to God and asks God how he can make things better.
God instructs the Ziz to search the earth and bring back â€śthe hardest word.â€ť The Ziz stretches out his big red wings and goes off to search, coming back to God over one hundred times with a variety of words. Each time God sends the Ziz back out, insisting that there is still a harder word.
Finally, the Ziz, discouraged, flies back for one last discussion with God:
â€śWhat word did you bring this time?â€ť asks God.
â€śNo word,â€ť the Ziz says quietly.
â€śNo word?â€ť God asks.
â€śNo,â€ť the Ziz says sadly. â€śIâ€™ve come to say Iâ€™m sorry. I canâ€™t find the hardest word.â€ť
â€śYou canâ€™t?â€ť God asks.
â€śNo,â€ť Ziz shakes his head. â€śIâ€™m sorry.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re sorry?â€ť God asks.
â€śYes.â€ť Ziz nods his big purple head. â€śIâ€™m sorry.â€ť
â€śGood job!â€ť God says. â€śYou found the hardest word.â€ť
â€śI did?â€ť wonders the Ziz. At this point, the Ziz is very confused.
â€śYes,â€ť God says. â€śThe hardest word is Sorry. While the other words you brought were hard, Sorry is the hardest.â€ť
I love the story of the Ziz because it draws our attention to a universal aspect of human nature: the difficulty of apologizing. Elton John pointed out this fundamental truth years ago with the title to his song â€śSorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.â€ť And if youâ€™re like me and youâ€™re old enough to remember the TV show Happy Days, you may recall how Fonzie, the cool guy who all the guys wanted to be like and all the girls wanted to date, struggled whenever he had to even admit that he was wrong, let alone apologize. In one episode, when Mrs. Cunningham, a woman Fonzie greatly respects whoâ€™s like a surrogate mother to him, tells him that he has to be an adult and apologize to a guy named Roger, Fonzie finally says: â€śAlright look, I went a little nutso, alright. So the whole thing was my fuhvv-vu-vuâ€¦and Iâ€™m really suzz-zzz-zzz. Alright?â€ť
Apologizing was SO HARD for Fonzie that he couldnâ€™t even pronounce the word â€śsorry.â€ť I, for one, can relate. And I know that Iâ€™m not alone. Mental health professionals have pointed out that many people view apologizing as a sign of weakness. The perception is that the person who apologizes is the â€śloser,â€ť whereas the person who receives the apology is the â€świnner.â€ť Apologizing can make us feel vulnerableâ€”like weâ€™re losing power, or even control. Like Fonzie, most of us donâ€™t like the feeling of not being in controlâ€”too often we let our pride get in the way and prevent us from apologizing.
But in reality, apologizing isnâ€™t a sign of weakness, itâ€™s a sign of strength. It takes strength to exhibit the moral character necessary to offer an apology, thereby admitting that youâ€™ve hurt someone or done something wrong.
And think about it: Have you ever regretted apologizing to someone? If youâ€™re like me, then you probably havenâ€™t, or at least not often. For most of us, the time leading up to offering an apology is stressful, but once weâ€™ve gotten over the hump of saying â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť itâ€™s usually a big relief. In the best of situations, an apology is accepted. But even when an apology isnâ€™t accepted, when itâ€™s offered sincerely, we at least have the consolation of knowing that weâ€™ve tried to make things better.
On the other hand, have you ever regretted NOT apologizing to someone? For most of us, the answer to this question is â€śyes.â€ť Surely, if we take the time to think about it, we can all point to times when we didnâ€™t say â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť even though we now wish we had.
The Jewish New Year is an ideal time to reflect on the year that has just passed and think about those people to whom we owe apologies. Jewish tradition urges us to recount the people weâ€™ve wronged in the past year and to apologize and ask for forgiveness before Yom Kippur. â€śSorryâ€ť may be the hardest word, but it also has the potential to be one of the most powerful wordsâ€”a word of restoration, a word of healing and a word of starting over.
I can think of several people I want to apologize to before Yom Kippur for things Iâ€™ve done in the past year: my husband; my children; some friends and colleagues. I know that apologizing wonâ€™t be easy, but I also know that itâ€™s worth it, and that the year ahead will be better because of it.
What about you? Have you ever regretted apologizing? Have you ever regretted NOT apologizing? Do you plan to apologize to anyone in preparation for Yom Kippur?
My Grandma Harriet died a few weeks ago, at the age of 95. She was beautiful, creative and could expertly apply her lipstick without a mirror. She was my favorite hug. She cooked up the yummiest tuna noodle casseroles and the tastiest matzah ball soup. She lived a long life full of family simchas (celebrations), fancy dinners out with my grandfather and travelling around the world. When I got the call that she passed away, I was sad, but grateful that she lived a long, rich life.
A week later, I found out that my colleagueâ€™s wife was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 37.Â N was vibrant, involved in the wider Jewish community and the mother of three kids. She was passionate about education and inclusivity. My heart broke when I read the news of her unexpected passing.
Death confounds me. After these losses, my theology was shaken up, once again. Why was my grandmother blessed with a sweet long life when people like N are tragically taken away from us so suddenly? How is it determined: Who shall live and who shall die?
We are moving into the High Holiday season in the Jewish calendar. The Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are a time of contemplation, reflection and spiritual awakening. The Shofar is sounded to pull us out of our sleepy routines and open our hearts. It is a time to deeply connect with ourselves. And it is a time to face our own mortality. In the “U-netaneh Tokef” prayer, it is sung, “Who shall live on and who shall die.”
As a kid, I was taught that on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), we are either written in the book of Life or the Book of Death. And on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), our fates are sealed. Like many children, I pictured Gd as an old man in the sky, who looked exactly like Moses with a long white beard and a cane. My personified Gd lived above the clouds and wrote two lists each year: those who would live and those who would die. And I worked hard to be my best self so that I wouldnâ€™t be added to that dreaded death list.
I have outgrown my childhood theology. It doesnâ€™t serve me anymore. This simplistic theology that only the good are rewarded with long life contradicts with my understanding of the world.
I don’t know why people die when we do. I don’t understand why my grandmother got to live a long healthy life while N was taken from us too soon. I continue to grapple with death. The answers to this are bigger than me and beyond my comprehension.
What I do know is that the Gd of my understanding provides me comfort in the midst of uncertainty. I can lean on The-Abundant-One when I feel scared, lost and sad. When my grandmother passed away, I felt held by a nurturing presence. I experience Gd working through my community as they surround me and my family with love. When I learned of Nâ€™s death, I cried out to the Mystery. It felt unfair and unjust! My heart cracked open and I felt a deep pain. And yet, I experienced a sense of awe at the outpouring of support and strength from the wider community. The way in which she has been memorialized in countless stories is breathtaking. To me, that is Gd.
Today, I understand the “U-netaneh Tokef” prayer to be about surrender. We are not in control. These words are a reminder of the cycle of life and death. How can I honor the ways in which death is always present? What legacies will live on? What old habits will die? This year, as I sing the line, “Who shall live and who shall die,” I will be reminded of my own mortality and how I choose to live my life this year.
Have you begun thinking about the high holidays yet? Do they usually seem to appear out of the mess of end-of-summer-start-of-school-year and you find yourself trying to catch your breath on the way to services? Wouldn’t it be nice to take a moment now and reflect on the coming new year? Enter Jewels of Elul:
As stated on their website, “There is a great Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days in the month of Elul to study and prepare for the coming high holy days. The time is supposed to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery.
..For the past seven years I have collected short stories, anecdotes and introspections from some fascinating people.
We have collected these Jewels of Elul, from an eclectic group of people including President Barack Obama, Eli Winkelman, Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama, Sarah Lefton, Eli Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, Pastor Rick Warren, Kirk Douglas, Rev. Ed Bacon, Rabbi David Wolpe, Ruth Messinger, Jeffrey Katzenberg and over 100 other inspired voices . . . well known and not so well known.
I invite you to make each day count. Join us is preparing for this most sacred time of year.
To sweet, inspired Holy Day of change.
I think this is a wonderful way to begin the new year, and encourage you to sign up for the daily emails, or purchase the booklet of all 29 which will benefit the work of a not-for-profit interfaith cultural center in Los Angeles. Learn more here.
I admit it â€“ I was raised to think that intermarriage is wrong. It has taken awhile but I now am embarrassed by some of the comments I might have made when friends told me they were marrying someone who wasnâ€™t Jewish. I was insensitive. On this Yom Kippur, I want to ask for forgiveness from those whom I have offended. In many instances, I may not have said anything, but the negative thoughts crossed my mind and an expression of disapproval may have crossed my face. Again, I apologize.
In my defense, we all are evolving. We all say things that might have been inappropriate. I donâ€™t lose sleep over insensitive comments I may have made 10 years ago. I was young. I was immature. I am not perfect. I try not to let guilt consume me, but there is a fine line between being conscientious and guilt ridden!
But here is something I hadn’t thought of until a few months ago: Our comments leave scars. I know that I offended some people and that they remember my comment or look of disapproval. So, even though I have evolved, I may have hurt their feelings and I suspect they still remember it. In fact, my act of disapproval may be the last (and only) thing they remember about me. Who was I to judge?
This reminds me of the old Kabbalah story where a child says bad things about someone to a friend. Madonna and Loren Long have rewritten this story for todayâ€™s family in Mr. Peabodyâ€™s Apples. In this story, Mr. Peabody is an elementary school teacher and baseball coach, who one day finds himself ostracized when a child misinterprets an incident and then spreads rumors through their small town. Mr. Peabody silences the gossip by teaching the child how we must choose our words carefully to avoid causing harm to others. The child is told to take a pillow to the baseball field and tear it open. The wind is blowing and all of the feathers fly everywhere.Â Mr. Peabody asks the child to collect the feathers and put them back in the pillow. The child tells him that it is impossible. Like feathers in the wind, we canâ€™t put our words back in our mouths.
Since we canâ€™t take our words or acts back once they are out there, this Yom Kippur I want to say:
1) I apologize for any words, actions or thoughts that may have been insensitive.
2) To anyone who might have offended me, I forgive you and know that we are all evolving. Hopefully, we can all evolve a little faster before we hurt anyone elseâ€™s feelings.
I wish for all of us that our personal journeys take us to a place of kindness and understanding. Happy New Year. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
Not long ago I was sitting at my computer playing around on the Internet and I found myself at deathclock.com, which bills itself as â€śthe Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away â€¦ second by second.â€ť All you have to do is enter your date of birth, your gender, your â€śmodeâ€ť (whether youâ€™re normal, pessimistic, sadistic or optimistic), your height and weight, and your smoking status. Then you click a button that says â€śCheck Your Death Clockâ€ť and it calculates your date of death.
I didnâ€™t put in my information to â€ścheck my death clock.â€ť I was so freaked out by the thought of knowing my date of death (or at least what deathclock.com predicted as my date of death) that I quickly left the website, and promised myself Iâ€™d never go back again.
But the reality is that even though I donâ€™t want to know WHEN Iâ€™m going to die, I do have to accept the fact that I AM going to die. Rabbi David Wolpe tells the story of a man at age 93 who continues to be comforted by the consoling words that his mother had said to him while lying on her deathbed, seventy years earlier: â€śDonâ€™t be afraid. It happens to everyone.â€ť
Itâ€™s a fact of life. â€¦Weâ€™re all going to die.
And while I may never go back to deathclock.com, the reality of my mortality is something that I canâ€™t avoid thinking about this time of year. Confrontation with death is one of the significant themes of the Jewish High Holy Days, and especially of Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, some Jews wear a white kittel (burial shroud) over their clothing, which serves as a reminder of our mortality. And in synagogue on Yom Kippur, Jews confront death when we recite the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, describing â€śwho shall live and who shall die, who shall live out his days and who shall not live out his days.â€ť
What I love about Yom Kippur is that this â€śconfrontation with deathâ€ť isnâ€™t morbid or creepy. Rather, we confront death so that we can be more fully present in life. When we recognize and acknowledge that life is precarious, we realize how truly precious it is.
Every year at this time I ask myself: What would I do if I were going to die tomorrow? How would I live my life? How would I treat the people I love? Is there someone to whom I would apologize? Is there someone with whom Iâ€™ve lost touch who I want to reconnect with? I try to use the answers to questions like these to inform how I act during the High Holidays and in the year ahead.
These questions and others that help us to become better people and lead more meaningful lives are ones that we should all be asking ourselves throughout the year. And for Jews and those who are part of Jewish families, they are questions on which we should especially focus this time of year.
Hopefully, all of us can use our answers to the question â€śWhat would I do if I were going to die tomorrow?â€ť to inform how we live TODAY.
What about you? Are there questions youâ€™ve been thinking about this time of year? Iâ€™d love to hear what youâ€™re thinking.
According to a website called statisticbrain.com, the top five New Yearâ€™s resolutions people made for 2017 were:
When calculated for types of resolutions, they found that 44% of resolutions made were related to self-improvement or education; 32% were related to weight; 42% were related to money; and 22% were related to relationships. (The total comes out to over 100% because people made multiple resolutions.)
Like most Americans, I make New Yearâ€™s resolutions in December (or, in years that not procrastinating doesnâ€™t make my list, I sometimes make them in January). And this time of year, in the Jewish month of Elul, I also engage in making resolutions.
Elul is the month that leads up to the Jewish new year, and it is the month in which Jews are supposed to be involved in the process of cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul â€“ our spiritual preparation for the new year. It is a time to look inside of ourselves and engage in the process of teshuvah. Teshuvah is usually translated as “repentance” but it literally means “turning” â€“ we seek to turn toward wholeness in our relationships with others in our lives, with God and with our true selves.
When I make my resolutions in the month of Elul (this year Elul occurs from August 23Â â€“ September 20), unlike in December, my resolutions arenâ€™t about being thinner, healthier, wealthier and happier (not that I would mind any of those things!). Instead, I make resolutions about how I will relate to my family, friends and community and how I will engage in the world. I contemplate not just my physical wellbeing, but more important, my spiritual wellbeing.
One of the great things about the process of cheshbon ha-nefesh is that itâ€™s something that everyone can do, regardless of their own faith tradition or lack thereof. (I donâ€™t know of any religion or culture that wouldnâ€™t encourage individuals to look inside of themselves and contemplate ways that they can be better people in the year ahead.)
If you are not Jewish, you may or may not be comfortable accompanying your Jewish partner or family to synagogue for the High Holy Days. And you may or may not feel connected to the at-home rituals that are part of these holy days. But you can still find meaning in the process of reflection in which Jews engage at this time of year.
I hope that as the Jewish New Year approaches, all of us will give ourselves the gift of taking time for cheshbon ha-nefesh, for the accounting of our own souls. May we recognize and be grateful for our generosity and goodness; and may we be honest with ourselves about those qualities that we need to improve â€“ and may we seek to do so in the year ahead.
Are you taking time for yourself during the month of Elul to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh?Â Have you made any resolutions for the year ahead? If so, please share them below.