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Traditionally, the Hebrew month before ראש השנה Rosh Hashanah (named אלול Elul) is a time of תשובה teshuvah, of “turning” or “returning”, soul-searching and reflection. In this time of so much loss, many disappointments, and an exhausting deluge of difficult decisions, what does it mean to search our souls?
 

Every day during אלול Elul (from August 21 to September 18) members of our community will address two questions that speak to the goal of these holy days that we seek an inner change that can better ourselves, our relationships and our society. The two guiding questions of these reflections are:
What has this time of plague helped me to see that we should turn from or to?
How do I hope the world might be different after the pandemic ?

May these daily postings inspire you to ask important questions to help lead you to a richer, more meaningful and directed life.


 

Elul 29
Reflection by Rabbi Zeplowitz



As the pandemic began to shut things down, I shared the teaching of the Bratslaver Rebbe that the world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid. The Hebrew, lo l’facheid klal, does not mean that we not be afraid at all. Rather, what he suggests is that not be become totally (or fully) afraid.  

Fear normal. These days it is more than justified. Can I bear witness to the hundreds of thousands of dead, the millions struggling to feed themselves and their families, great societies brought low, violence on the rise, the lack of leadership and derision of truth, those who seek to stifle dissent on the right and on the left … and not tremble?

Yet fear is not all there should be. As the many amazing speakers during these reflections have noted, there have been many unexpected blessings that have come during this time of a great plague. More opportunities to reflect and slow down. A chance to reevaluate what matters and how we want to use the precious, limited time we all have. Moments to discover simple joys and to be more grateful for what we do have. What I think the Bratslaver is really saying, then, is that even when we are afraid, not let it not paralyze us from acting.

From the 1st of Elul until Yom Kippur it is traditional to read Psalm 27. The writer speaks of a seesaw of emotions – being confident and unafraid, feeling God close at hand; and then turning suddenly anxious and uncertain, of God hiding. Like the Bratslaver (and me) the Psalmist swings between hope and despair.

Yet there is a way through the depression, for us as individuals and for our society. There is a path across the narrow bridge. The Psalm 27 provides it in 4 easy steps:

  • First, seek the “straight (or honest) path.” Have integrity. Respect the truth. Honor God and values, not country, not land, not party nor person.

  • Second, “believe in seeing good.” Be hopeful that better days are ahead. Do not allow the extremes to define the vast potential – in yourself, in the Jewish people, in this country.

  • Third, “be strong.” We cannot eliminate what we feel, but fear must not keep us from action. Do not stand idly by. Find your inner courage to make a difference – somehow, with someone … and the best you can.

  • Finally, “wait”. To be a Jew is to be prisoner of hope, to believe that better days lie ahead. Though they tarry, believe – with all your heart – that they will come. Be patient even as you work to bring those better days closer.

Elul is ending. The Days of Awe are at hand. Let us walk the narrow bridge – maybe a bit afraid, but more determined, sure of the good, strong and patient than ever.

L’shana tova – may it truly be a good year because you and I make it so.


Elul 28
Reflection by Cantor Franco



I don't know about you, but I've spent a lot of time thinking lately about what history will say about this last six months. Or what we'll say about these last six months with the pandemic, murder hornets, sharks in the Sound, wildfires raging, earthquakes, hurricanes, political unrest, civil rights unrest and uncivil discourse in our country. It feels like it is in fact a time like no other but the truth is in many ways it is a year like any other with dramatic highs and dramatic lows. While yes, there has been terrible loss and sickness and lots of things to be really worried about there's also been, for me, an amazing amount of quality family time, family dinners, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, badminton (I'm terrible), lots of laughter and bonding and an appreciation for the simpler things in life. I also think for me that most years are like that; there are real highs and real lows.

I think back for myself to the year 2014 when we celebrated Eden's Bat Mitzvah and about a month later we were in a terrible car accident. Just as we started to put ourselves back together again and heal from that, I got sick and spent the summer in the hospital. I couldn't wait to see that year go and to leave it behind.

The nice thing about Judaism is we get multiple opportunities during the year to do a hard reset, along with our secular New Year. Tomorrow as we begin 5781, and we look back on this past year with the pandemic, murder hornets, sharks in the Sound, fires, hurricanes, and tropical storms, I hope you, like me, are also able to find the moments with a silver lining in all of this. Because while there has been terrible sickness and tremendous loss, there has also been a lot of nice moments and I like to hold onto those. The good news is, if you are anxious to leave this year behind and looking ahead to what's coming, the nice thing is there's always next year. 

"Next Year" with Music & Lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick, Shaina Taub and Benj Pasek


Elul 27
Reflection by Wendy DeAngelis



L’Shana Tovah.  I’m Wendy Baila DeAngelis.  On March 12, 2020  New York shut down,  with the exception of  every Heroic Essential  Worker, to whom I am  forever grateful. Life as people knew it  was about to change  drastically  and I  discovered  a sense of purpose,  not felt since Feb. 27, 2016  due to a car accident that  drastically changed my life. I had an expertise of  surviving and thriving  in 4 years of isolation!  Finally, I had something to give.  Could I gently prepare  friends and family for what I  knew could lie ahead? — I had been optimistic till I  reached my first 6 month  mark!  I was having the opposite  experience of those  beginning isolation;  with concrete and tested  practices of how to get  through moment by  moment and day by day - I must confess it helped me  gain more strength and  focus.  I was still isolated,  but I had a computer  screen, a window,  that I could now visually  tolerate and use. Survival, during this plague,  rising death rates  approaching 200,000  beloved human beings,  racial injustice, grave economic disparity,  and two different political  planets, is different in  specifics from my personal  world turning inside out and  upside down -  BUT the inside out and  upside down part WAS  the same experience!  I translated the core  challenges I had  experienced of loss of control,  loss of self,  fear of the unknown,  isolation,  grief and  use of gratitude,  reframing,  measuring improvement, setbacks and comebacks,  laughter, love, faith,  G-d, and community  from my prior  experience to our current  experiences.  How fitting that our  Synagogue is named  The Community  Synagogue. Purpose to Give,  Community,  and Deep Gratitude to G-d  and every person who has  held my hand and touched  my heart. That is what remains  sustaining and that is what I  pray for in my future.  We turn, to each other. L’shana Tovah.


Elul 26
Reflection by Holly Simon



L’Shanah Tovah. I’m Holly Simon. I just entered ninth grade. My school already has its first COVID case, so I and many other students are temporarily all-online learners. Also, the sick student was in one of my in-person classes, so I could be infected. As of now, I’m quarantining and hoping to get tested soon.

This student may have been doing everything right, but I know that COVID-19 can be spread through carelessness. When people act carelessly around coronavirus, they endanger themselves and their communities. When people don’t care about the effects of their actions, others get hurt. The pandemic has reminded me of that.

When someone doesn’t care about how they and their actions affect others, people end up hurting. For example- young generations are inheriting a planet plagued by climate change. Minority groups suffer in a country whose ideal is that of freedom. Those demonized by society for their race, gender, religion, class, or sexual orientation are silenced. All because too many people comfortable in power didn’t and don’t care about other human beings.

The global response to this pandemic shows that our world can accomplish great things if only we care about one another. We can fight coronavirus. Similarly, we can fight climate change, and we can fight oppression and hatred. Everyone must fight to make the world better, and everyone must realize that love is the only power stronger than hate. L’Shanah Tovah. This year, let’s all care about each other and our world.


Elul 25
Reflection by Kim Gazda


 

What a year this has been. We sure have had a lot to reflect on. It's been a head-spinning few months of a pandemic, racial strife and climate change. It has felt downright biblical. My initial reflection on a macro-level as a Jewish communal professional at UJA was true pride. When New York State shut down, the Jewish Community stepped up. Although we never take it for granted, we're relieved to know we can rely on people's generosity so that when a global pandemic comes along and upends life as we know it we are able to respond effectively without missing a beat. 

Here on Long Island we helped the food pantries at our JCCs increase capacity so they could handle a massive surge in demands. We also provided funds to those JCCs to prepare and deliver kosher meals to seniors. We made emergency cash grants to help struggling families put food on the table and pay the rent when they suffered job loss. We helped healthcare facilities track down the PPE they needed to protect our frontline heroes. Through the worst of the Covid-19 quarantine we helped New Yorkers who were grappling with isolation, fear and anxiety. We even made sure that every Jew in New York who lost his or her life to the virus could be buried with dignity whether or not their family could afford it or if they didn’t have families. 

It doesn't take a crisis to show how important it is to come together as a community but it does make it crystal clear. This period of time has underscored for me the importance of our Jewish community and our leadership. Collectively we have all experienced a pandemic. We were all knocked down on some level. As we begin to get up, we can help each other along the way. Understanding that some have taken a harder hit and need more help and understanding. I pray we will have a stronger appreciation for our Jewish community and for our greater Port Washington community. 

One day our children and grandchildren will ask, “what was it like living through that crazy historic time period?” I will say I learned to appreciate what I had and what could be lost so quickly. I will tell them that we all had to find our voice and reflect on what we were contributing to society as the needle moved a bit when it came to racial inequalities and that this was a time when we listened, heard and spoke out for justice things started to change for the better and we helped make that happen. 

Wishing you and yours a safe, healthy and happy New Year. Shana Tova.


Elul 24
Reflection by Michael Angel


 

Hello, My name is Michael Angel. I am a Port Washington resident and member of the community synagogue. Like everyone around us, my life has been turned upside down by the Covid pandemic. It’s the times in our life that are most challenging that force us to make the most difficult decisions. We have been forced to learn new ways to navigate our family, friends, and neighbors.

I learned very quickly when the pandemic began that each individual person has their own story and concerns. Some reactions are very personal, like being fearful for a friend, family member or themselves. Some are most concerned with how their children will be affected, some are more worried about their elderly parent. Others have broader concern for their community or country. How will this effect education, business, or our economy? This made me realize that our communities- Temple, Port Washington and country need to act with more empathy and understanding.

What I have learned, is that there is no RIGHT or WRONG. Every individual is acting on their best personal judgement. The hard part is not for us to have an opinion on what we believe is best, but is for us to understand that each unique point of view is valid, and to respect and accept these other viewpoints. Think about why others around you feel differently, think about how they are similar, but most importantly accept and respect their opinions in a civilized and peaceful manner.

It is the ability to objectively hear different perspectives that will allow our community to collaborate our efforts and manage this pandemic. Because while it may be an old saying, it is correct… we are strongest if we work together, that begins with understanding, empathy, and respect.


Elul 23
Reflection by Cantor Franco



I’m standing right now in an empty sanctuary, in our empty sanctuary. For me, it’s not so different. I actually spend a lot of time in the empty sanctuary. Whether it’s waiting for people to come, rehearsing, playing the piano, or setting the Torah, my work brings me in here by myself often. But one of the things I love at this time of the year is to stand on the bima after our maintenance crew has set up all of the empty chairs and to look out into the sea of chairs and imagine what it’s going to be like when those chairs are full. Of course, this year it’s a little different. The room is empty, and the wall happens to be open but there’s no chairs. And there won’t be people, but that doesn’t mean the Holidays aren’t meaningful and don’t come on time (just like we always say they do). Not early, not late, but right on time.

So, what does it mean to be a house of prayer for all peoples? Is it the doors are open? That we will do our best to meet you where you are? G-d does G-d’s best to meet you where you are? Some people come in happiness and some come in sadness. Some come in sickness and some are here celebrating good health. But whatever it is, the doors are always open, and it is truly ki veiti beit Adonai, a house of prayer for all people.

What’s going to follow is a little video I put together. The song is called “My House” written by Noah Aronson, performed by myself and - through the miracle of technology - also with our Cantorial Intern Kevin McKenzie who right now is living in Israel, learning remotely and joining us via Zoom and other virtual platforms. And of course, on piano our talented accompanist, Vladimir.


Elul 22
Reflection by Sandy Cobden
 

2020 has battered me.  And, it also has taught me a valuable lesson.

But, first, a bit about the battering:  In late January, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Years ago, I had had a previous, unrelated bout of breast cancer that was fairly easy as cancers go.  This one is not.  It is tougher, more of a fight, and one I could possibly lose.  As I began chemo in the midst of the pandemic, I thought a lot about the possibility of dying—either from cancer or Covid.  I updated my will and made sure to review my financial affairs.  I held my family close and told them often of my love.  And, then, I lost my job due to a restructuring, putting me in the same pool as many other Americans.  Already scared, I felt demoralized and depressed and even more stressed, as I said goodbye to people I had worked with for many years.  But, the hard knocks didn’t end there.  My beloved stepfather of 30 years, the only parent I had left on my side, was diagnosed with terminal cancer as the pandemic’s early lockdown set in.  He was in Texas. My sister, step-sister and I are all on the east coast and we couldn’t figure out how to get him to us.  He died in a lovely hospice facility in Dallas, with our love and goodbyes whispered to him by telephone.

I tell you this personal tale of misfortune not to seek your pity but to let you know what I have learned during it.  In amidst the sorrow and stress were moments of real joy, laughter, love and comfort.  And, I have learned to look for them, particularly when life got hard.  To appreciate them, especially when I felt knocked to my knees.  And, to use them to balance the hardships I was facing.  

I found that laughter, joy and love were always there, sometimes in unexpected places:  On the night my family shaved my head before chemo could take my hair, we had what turned into a hilarious time.  It turns out that we all had a few bad haircuts.  We also discovered that I do not work a Mohawk well.   A colleague gave me a Justice Ginsberg action figure for inspiration and strength. I took it to every chemo treatment I had, as I drew hope not only from RBG’s example of surviving cancer 4 times but from my friend’s kindness and support in giving it to me.  I have sat out on my back deck many days learning to bird watch and appreciating the natural world that is so much bigger than me.  My beloved sister has called me every day, just to check in, to tell me by her action how much she loves me.  And, I have spent many moments with my husband and daughters, watching sitcoms, reading side by side, walking our dog, discussing politics, and laughing over big, little, light and dark things.

So, as I head toward the High Holidays after this time of hardships, this is my take away.  God gave us all one life.  And, only God knows exactly how long that life will be. When the world darkens around us, it is easy to focus on the darkness.  We see it, feel it and can be overwhelmed by it.  But, if we look carefully, that is never all there is.  In the darkness are spots of light.   We need to search for them, head toward them and hold onto them with everything we got.  In our one life, we get to choose what we focus on and what we remember most.  Let it be the joy, the laughter and, most importantly, the love.


Elul 21
Reflection by Larry Tarica



I am honored to be asked to share some of my thoughts about the pandemic.  I live a life of blessing, with health, family and security, and so please know that I am very nervous to speak in this time that is devastating to so many others. 

The pandemic has raised for me the age-old conflicts that I see in the Torah. We are taught to balance justice with compassion, and as I study the text, I almost always seem to come down on the side of compassion. Likewise, the pandemic has raised a similar conflict - that between personal liberty and collective responsibility. As the pandemic rages, again, I find myself coming down on one side of this balance. It seems to me that only in a world, in which we take care of each other, can we expect to be taken care of ourselves, both physically and spiritually. 

I am grateful for so many people working hard and literally risking their own lives to help the rest of us survive this tragedy. It is my hope, as we begin this time of reflection, that when we find ourselves only thinking of ourselves, we will be able to grow and turn to others and partner for a better world, even if that means personal sacrifices.

As I look forward and wonder what I have learned this year and what I would like to be better for myself, my community, and my country, it strikes me that we are living in the most fractured time I can remember in my life. This saddens me deeply. 

And so, I pray for myself, and for others, to do more sincere open-minded listening, to truly want to understand the lives and hopes of people who are different from me, particularly those who disagree with me, and to develop even more true and heartfelt empathy for all of our fellows in pain and suffering, regardless of their cause. It is my hope that from pain can come understanding and grace, and I pray that we become more unified in feeling responsible for one other.

May you and your families all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may you be sealed for goodness and health for the coming year.

L’Shana Tovah


Elul 20
Reflection by Student Cantor Kevin McKenzie
 

For my Elul Reflection, I have been thinking back to all the Jewish Holidays throughout the year and how different they were from years past. I also began thinking about how timeless these Traditions are, and what ways we can relate to them during this pandemic.

For Example, The High Holidays are a time to reflect on the good and the bad, as well as appreciate what we have. I have been reflecting one of the sweetest things technology has given us, the ability to live somewhat comfortably while in isolation in each of our homes, despite this pandemic. Thinking back to the Black Plague I think how lucky we are that we have the technology to identify what is going on and do our best to avoid getting sick. But also the HHDs remind us of the gravitas mentioned in the Un’taneh Tokef Prayer which speaks of the subject of who will live and who will die. It specifically mentions the words “who by plague (Dever)…” These are all things we are dealing with daily, and the HHDs give us the chance to voice all of this.

Now also Imagine Sukkot, changing how we view the world again, A brief moment for us to experience the world differently than we have been for months on end. A moment to recognize the impermanence of our normal lives. We will get to see the stars, and although we won’t be able to invite many people over, this can be a great moment to appreciate what we do have, like our homes, families, and  G-d willing our health.

Imagine the Candles on Chanukah, where the Maccabees were resilient in the face of a mighty enemy. That is EXACTLY what we are dealing with now. While every country may not be dealing with this virus effectively, our lights are still shining and we are fighting to find a cure so we can go back to our daily lives. 

Heck, even the counting of the Omer! My friends were telling me that they were counting the Omer at the beginning of this plague in order to know what day it was! 

Last, but by FAR not least, the importance of Z’chor/Sh’mor Shabbat. (remembering, keeping/guarding) To remember once a week that we need a break. We NEED a change. Otherwise the weeks can blend from one into the next and become insufferable. Keep Shabbat in some way. Guard it. Hold the preciousness of this time in our weeks. I have been able to keep Shabbat and at the same time, from the comfort of my own home, I can connect with people around the globe. I’ve spent my Pesach at a virtual table in Australia, I’ve spent Shabbat and with friends stateside, and I’ve spent Havdalah with people all around the world thanks to Netzer Olami, the Global Progressive Jewish Youth Movement.

Yes, these times are strange, new, and difficult. But thanks to the timelessness of Jewish Traditions, I know I can make it through, and I will have a completely new perspective on the world because of these experiences.


Elul 19
Reflection by Eric Caslow
 

I would like to tell you a family story about the pandemic. It is the story of a young toddler who watched his pregnant mother and a month later his grandmother succumb to the pandemic. No, it is not the COVID 19 pandemic of 2020, but the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and the young toddler was my father in law. Fortunately, this story has a positive ending after such a tragic beginning. Vincent’s (my father in law) mother’s family raised the child in a loving home on a farm in Woodbine New Jersey. This was a Jewish experimental community built on the concept of Jewish ownership and farming of the land. This Jewish community welcomed and embraced this young boy while his soul was healing. The Torah commands us to repair the world and I believe this is an example of a community fulfilling its duty. Vincent went on to live a full and good life until his 96th year while married to his loving wife, Bertha, for 72 years. The year 2020, the time of the COVID 19 pandemic, has also brought out the good in our Port Washington community and our Community Synagogue family.

The beginning of the spread of the COVID 19 virus was so frightening. We didn’t fully understand how the virus spread. Our hospitals were overflowing with sick people. The medical community was at great risk of infection while learning how to treat COVID patients on the go. We live in uncertain times- our young adults have left for college with unclear paths forward. Port Washington schools are re-opening with new models of education that are untested. We look forward longingly for normalcy, however we can feel more centered when we reach out to each other and to our community. We, the Jewish people, are survivors and I believe that we will look back at the year 2020 as a difficult test that we have passed.


Elul 18
Reflection by Jonathan Haas



I'm Dr. Jon Haas, Chairman of Radiation Oncology at NYU Winthrop Hospital and also a congregant at The Community Synagogue. I'm going to talk about how Judaism helped me shepherd my department through the Covid pandemic. 

Several years ago, I was in Israel for the B’nai Mitzvah of my twins Daniel and Remi. Our hotel in Jerusalem was walking distance from the Western Wall. I am one of the youngest Chairs at NYU Winthrop Hospital responsible for 85 people and thousands of cancer patients. It can sometimes feel like an overwhelming responsibility. During the 3 days in Jerusalem, I would jog as I am a runner to the Western Wall by myself, walk to the left portion of the wall and selfishly so I thought asked for one thing as I placed my hand against the stones on that wall. I didn’t ask for prosperity. I didn’t ask for happiness or health. I prayed to G-D for the strength to be a good leader and Chairman for my Radiation Oncology Department. I prayed for strength to navigate through the toughest of times. I didn’t think much about those times with my hand on the wall until March of this year. Covid exploded into NYU Winthrop like an avalanche and it happened almost instantaneously. I had terrified staff, scared sick cancer patients, and no playbook as none existed for this problem. Everyone looked to me to tell them what to do and how to get through this. Internally, I also was scared. Not so much of the virus but rather how to shepherd staff and immunocompromised patients through our jobs and our patients daily treatments each lasting up to 2 months with hundreds of sick Covid patients all around us and more coming in daily. I then had the epiphany that helped. I saw in my mind’s eye my hand on the wall in Jerusalem and felt strength like I never felt before. Countless Jews before me had also been to that wall for strength. Most had to get through tougher things than I was now going through.. My pulse slowed, my breathing normalized-I knew I could do this and my Department and patients would be fine. My faith in Judaism and the Wall holding my hand (as opposed to my hand holding the wall) to guide me would carry all of us. We designed screening protocols at our entrances, we triaged each cancer patient to see who needed to start treatments and who could be pushed off a few months, we figured out how to irradiate and cohort Covid positive patients at the end of the day with skeletal staff in PPE. We redesigned radiation protocols to accelerate treatments and minimize time coming to the hospital. I sent out regular clear updates to my staff, including frontline hero shopping discounts (one good thing that came out of this) and got through the pandemic with only 7 staff testing positive (none very sick) and no patients lost to the disease. We are fully prepared for a second wave and I have no doubts about my ability to lead, the vision of my hand on the Western Wall, that Wall embracing me, and the strength from my faith in Judaism in my mind at all times.


Elul 17
Reflection by Cantor Franco with Nefesh Mountain



We have been lucky enough to host Nefesh Mountain at our synagogue several times. Their unique Jewish Bluegrass music is soulful and inspiring. This song, "A Song for the Doubting" is a message for our time.
"This is a song for the doubting, this is a song for the scared.
This is a song for the thoughts that keep us up at night.
These are the times for the restless and these are the times that stand still..."


I hear these words from people all the time. I hear these words in my head too. How can it be Elul/September already? Time is flying. Time is moving so slowly. I am unsure. I am scared. I am struggling. I am ready for "normal". I am grateful. I am happy. I am...

Elul gives us the opportunity to start fresh and to own our "I am". What will your song be this year?

 


Elul 16
Reflection by Cantor Franco with Daniel Cainer



The Elul Reflection that I would like to share with you today comes from a project called 40 Holy Days which was created by American singer-songwriter Craig Taubman. It’s a series of videos and reflections on the season of Elul. The particular one I would like to share with you today is by a British singer-songwriter named Daniel Cainer who I actually had the pleasure of meeting randomly in baggage claim at the airport following the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial last year. The piece I chose is called “On Yom Kippur”. It’s a song that speaks about somebody coming to Yom Kippur with a little bit of cynicism in their heart, a little bit of doubt in what G-d has to offer them, and where they can find G-d. Given the situation this particular year, many of us are questioning where do we find G-d and how do we find meaning in this particular time. Here is “On Yom Kippur” by Daniel Cainer and I hope you enjoy. 


Elul 15
Reflection by Maggie Hand
 

I have been asked to reflect on the question,  “What has this plague helped me to understand that I/the Jewish community/our country/the world needs to turn from or to?”

I have asked myself this question each and every day. My family is faced with the plague (pandemic) and in addition a terminal illness which will take from us my husband’s younger brother way too soon, and at the same time his wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

My daily questions are G-d, why have you forsaken us at this time of need, or G-d, please help us get through this tragic time and give us the faith to heal our family.

I am, at times, wracked with guilt for doubting G-d’s care and I,  at the same time ask G-d for his care. What have I learned, we are humans who think, who care and who look for healing, and a need to place blame.

The books of learning teach us that we enter Elul, we are back to back in our relationships. But by the end of Elul we are hopefully face to face in our relationships. During this month,  it is our responsibility to turn towards our loved ones in empathy and compassion.

What have I learned, it is ok to have both feelings, for after a tragedy, life goes on and in that continued life, we will look to G-d for comfort and as with Moses, we will also be mad at G-d. But I know our faith in G-d will win because our community is with us in helping/allowing us to be close to G-d.

Even though, we may feel G-d has abandoned us, we never feel our community, our Kehillah Kedosha has abandoned us, it  will always be there, it will never abandon us and it will help us to realize that G-d hasn’t abandoned us either.

At this Rosh Hashanah during the pandemic, the prayer who will love and who will die has taken on new meaning, not only for me, but also for my community, our country and the world.

Shabbat Shalom


Elul 14
Reflection by Cantor Franco & Rabbi Sank Ross
 

Cantor Claire Franco
The custom of reading Ps 27 during the month of Elul is relatively new, about 200 years old. The first half of the Psalm speaks assurance, the psalmist describes an enemy in the distance. Verse four reveals to us the central word of the psalm “achat--one”. “One thing have I desired of Adonai, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of Adonai all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of Adonai, and to dwell in your temple.” 

Rabbi Jade Sank Ross
This Elul in particular, this is such a fitting message. We, right now, are not only yearning to feel God’s presence--yearning for God, we are also yearning to come close to each other. And so this Elul, we hope that you will feel the closeness of those around you, to feel present in every moment, with God and with each other.


Elul 13
Reflection by Rabbinic Intern Jill Rubin

Judaism has always been about community for me, and I decided to pursue the rabbinate because I deeply value creating relationships and connecting with people over a shared love of Jewish tradition. So when the world started to shut down in March and my classes and work went virtual, I wondered how I would sustain my craving for community and relationship. How would I be able to do my job effectively if I could not connect in the way that I so desired? 

More than anything, this plague has helped me to understand that Jewish community can exist in ways that I never thought possible. I have witnessed the true beauty and power in thoughtful online communities. I have learned from my classmates and my mentors how to foster hope and resilience even when we cannot physically be together. With remarkable resilience, we have learned to adapt while still holding on to our key values of communal responsibility and meaningful relationships. 

It is my hope that during this month of Elul, as we engage in heshbon nefesh, an accounting of our souls, we can also engage in a process of national reflection and reconciliation in order to make our country a safer and more equitable place for all people. The virus has exposed a great deal of inequalities in our society that were simply beyond where many of us dared to look. This time of year is about looking within ourselves, and about seeing ourselves in others. It is about harnessing the power of empathy for fellow Jews and for fellow human beings. We have learned over the past few months that we are far more connected than we can imagine, that our actions have consequences not only for ourselves and our families, but for the entire world. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us: “All life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This plague has not only reinforced my love of community, but it has also helped me to understand the vital significance of both personal and communal reflection during this month of Elul. How will we improve ourselves and our world in the year to come?


Elul 12
Reflection by Jesse Epstein
 

(shofar blast)

During the month of Elul, we hear the sound of the Shofar every weekday.  The sound of these deep blasts carries far, and may be heard throughout the neighborhood.  In ancient times, the sound of the Shofar was used to mark time and send messages to all the members of a community - for example, the Shofar was sounded six times leading up to Shabbat each week, with each blast letting everyone in the community know that Shabbat was approaching and that everyone needed to finish up their work, cook their dinner, and light the candles.  These days, the messages of the shofar are more important than ever.  In a time during which it is dangerous to be around others, we can rely on the amplifying blast of the Shofar to extend our physical presence to others in our community, letting them know that we are here to listen, and to support one another.

The blast of the shofar not only carries itself throughout space, but it also carries itself through time.  These sounds - Tekiah, Shevarim, and Teruah, are the same sounds that our ancestors have been hearing for thousands of years.  Every day during the month of Elul, when we hear these sounds, we can think of Jews throughout history, in every land we've ever lived in, coming together as a community in good times and in bad to make noise and call to the heavens.  We will soon be sounding the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah as we celebrate the start of year 5781, and then sounding it again on Yom Kippur as we reflect on our misdeeds and transgressions.  The concept of noise is all-encompassing - it can express the most joyous of joys and the most sorrow of sorrows, and can be used as a powerful tool to make social change.  In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, we listen to this noise as it carries us every day through different emotions and the social justice we pursue.

We sound the Shofar to wake up our inner souls, in preparation for a new beginning.  We listen to these blasts as we remember those who came before us, and to connect audibly with others in our community.

(shofar blast)


Elul 11
Reflection by April Furst

 

The last 6 months have brought us many challenges which have created anxiety in a world that is in limbo.  During this time of uncertainty, many of us have experienced tremendous loss.  Catastrophe has reared its ugly head.  It feels as if 2020 has gone full speed ahead into a path of destruction.  We have faced illness, death, job loss, financial insecurities, a pause in our education system, racial injustices, immigration emergencies, a political crisis and even a tropical storm.

The gift this pandemic has bestowed upon me is that I learned, now more than ever, that we are all responsible for one another, and that we need to love thy neighbor as thyself.  For me, the root to transformative action on these themes came in the form of becoming a better listener.  I’ve invested in deeper dialogue and accurately hearing what another person or group of people are truly trying to express. This has helped me to respond positively, especially at a micro level.  While I cannot change the whole world, I can champion for those in my world: my family, my friends, my community, my synagogue.

I’d like to share some of the blessings bestowed upon me amid this crisis.  I’ll start with my family.  Unfortunately, we have not been with my parents since Thanksgiving.  This has been very hard on all of us, especially my father whose sense of time and space are affected by a chronic illness.  I heard him to the core, when he talked about missing his daughters and grandchildren. I tried desperately to think of a way we could be together.  We couldn’t make it work.  They are in Florida, we are in all New York.  My parents have pre-existing conditions and are vulnerable.  Hearing his fierce longing for us, I planned #operation pop-pop and each day he is greeted by my sister or me or one of his grandchildren.  He’s seeing our faces and hearing our voices, even though sometimes all we see is his ear.  

My older daughter has been a passionate champion of the Black Lives Matter movement.  I have listened to her respond to racial injustice. I have seen what a force she has become in fighting for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion for all people.  Each night, I check her Instagram and I listen to what she is teaching her followers.  I have promised her that every day I will either learn, donate or take action.  

One of my personal casualties of COVID-19 was losing out on the opportunity to visit my younger daughter in Israel. I had studied in Tel Aviv 33 years before her planned study abroad and was looking forward to the shared experience.  Having her home was a bonus I’m not sure I’ll ever have again.  Together, we listened to inspirational stories of our local heroes, daily updates from Governor Cuomo and the nightly 7:00 noise in celebration of our champions.  I listened to her, and she listened to me.  I heard her bravely set boundaries she was comfortable with, even if they weren’t the same as her friends. I took notice when her voice rung in my ears while we marched together and then listened to Black leaders in our community who spoke their truth.  

I have learned so much from my friends and my community.  Through texts, phone calls, Facetime, lawn signs, rainbows in windows, Facebook and more, the grace and comfort that was expressed are boosts that I hope to carry with me beyond the end of this plague. These ways of communicating brought me peace and calm in the absence of face to face, in person interactions. They also directed me to the ways I wanted to invest my time and energy.

Last, but not least, my synagogue. Leaders from the Community Synagogue guided me through the struggles of feeling isolated.  Shabbat services brought structure and routine to my week, when other days seemed to blur into each other.  Listening to the wisdom of our clergy helped me stay present and mindful.  I hope supporting friends and fellow congregants by typing a comment during a zoom shiva, service, bar mitzvah or cooking class let them know that I was with them.  When Cantor Franco asked me to make a sign for a video she was making, how could she have known that that very day I needed to declare, “I have a voice?”  That was bashert.

I wish everyone good health and love during the month of Elul.  I hope that you too can take something meaningful and positive from this time of reflection.  


Elul 10
Reflection by Karen Seltzer
 

When the pandemic suddenly closed everything down in March, the novelty of zooming, zoomtails and zoom dinners was fun. We had social events with friends and family from Port Washington and across the country. We quickly realized that we needed those connections to loved ones however we could have them- and we realized that we are fortunate to have internet and computers with cameras that allow us to do this.  Truly, this new way of connecting kept us going- but, we also quickly realized that it wasn’t enough. 

 These past few months, so many lives have been impacted by this virus- jobs lost, people isolated from family and friends, school & routines interrupted, many people feel helpless and unable to take care of tasks that used to be thought to be mundane.  I found strength in being able to help- so many people needed so much. And, then, the heightened awareness of how different communities were impacted so differently. First, there was a lot of discussion about “the movement” Black Lives Matter, Racism, Race Equity, Racial Justice- and, quickly, it became apparent that discussion isn’t enough. We must look within ourselves,  examine our values, our beliefs, our biases and figure out how each of us can make our world more responsive to, and inclusive of others- no matter their skin color, their religious beliefs, their socio-economic place in the world, their educational background, and so many other factors.  We have to truly accept and celebrate our uniqueness and differences.  That, to me, is our biggest challenge if we truly want to live a life of tikkun olam


Elul 9
Reflection by Matt Scheckner
 

A few words come to mind when looking at the pandemic through the prism of our faith. Unity is the first word that comes to mind. I don’t recall a time when the world has been unified as it is now all going through a common experience. The common denominator for all of us is this plague has been an equalizer. The virus does not recognize race, creed, religion, class or wealth. That doesn’t mean the playing field is level, as our first responders and those on the front lines -- primarily African Americans and Latinos -- have paid the heaviest price, but COVID-19 has united the world in an unexpected and unimaginable way. Along that pathway, it has reminded us all of what is important, and what is not. What we can live with, and what we can live without. 

Resilience is the second word that comes to mind and it is here that Jewish history provides inspiration. Over centuries, the Jews have suffered discrimination, indignity, ejection and mass extermination. Out of that suffering, the Jewish people have emerged stronger and our contributions to make the world a better place have established our influence as heavyweight, even though our small numbers would render us as the lightest of all weight classes. 

And perhaps as an outcome of that resilience comes our greatest asset as a people in dealing with this plague . . . Humor. As a people, Jews have an uncanny way to greet adversity with humor, to find a way to smile and as important make others smile even when death and despair is all around us. That will carry us through and even in this period of incredible darkness for the United States as we suffer the very real, tangible cost of the absence of leadership, we will survive and our ability to laugh and make others laugh is a non-medical vaccine, while we wait for the vaccine.


Elul 8
Reflection by Anna Berman
 

As I reflect during this holy time of our Jewish year I immediately think of my lifelong obsession with time – understanding it, appreciating it, along with my intense desire to slow it down. Perhaps I am not alone. But one thing I have learned and tried to embrace as our worlds dramatically changed 5 months ago is to slow down. We were so hurried, so rushed. Running from here to there often without taking a moment to appreciate the very beauty before our eyes. I think this applies both to the tangible (the trees, the sound of birds chirping, my children’s laughter) as well as the intangible (love, dedication to a greater good, the resilience of humanity during tough times). I have stopped more to look, listen, smell, feel and taste the immediate world around me and am blown away by its countless wonders. I truly see the time I have spent with my husband and children during these difficult times as a gift. And, I pray that this gratitude for what we have can make my family and the Jewish people stronger so that we can transcend above difficult times and yearn less for what we do not have and appreciate more what is in front of us. This constant re-focus on gratitude is the task I see before me that I think can help us most through the personal and global challenges that lie ahead.


Elul 7
Reflection by Kim Fine
 

Before 2020, I maybe said the word “quarantine” 3 or 4 times in my entire life.  This week I have said that word at least 10 times each day. Our family is currently quarantined for 2 weeks after returning to New York from our summer with family in Maryland which is on Governor Cuomo’s quarantine list. While not ideal, this has given me more time to be still and think about what I’ve learned over the past 6 months since our world changed…the perfect time to reflect during Elul. 

This plague has helped me to understand that we should turn away from our plans and expectations and instead, try to take things as they come, each day. We are constantly planning and thinking about what comes next. This pandemic has proven that we can’t always plan. We must be able to adapt to changes and accept the imperfections

This year-we have all struggled through fear, and loss. Some of us had loved ones who were sick who we could not be with and some experienced the worst pain of losing a loved one. Once school and work had closed, and holidays, family gatherings, celebrations and summer camps were cancelled, our family soon realized that while the disappointments were real, we could still look for the good during this unexpected time. This was a time to be together- time that we have never had before and may not have again. There were beautiful days spent with family this summer that would not have happened in any other year. We were able to celebrate Shabbat each week in more meaningful ways than we ever had. We were able to realize the importance of being together without distraction.  

My son’s bar mitzvah is this November. Another event that we thought we could plan for. With many unknowns for the fall, and most of our family members and many friends living out of state, planning has been extremely difficult. While it is hard to think of what was to be…we are trying to move forward with what still can be. It may not be a big party; we might not even have definite plans until shortly before that day as things are constantly changing. But…take away all of the expectations we once had, and he will still become a Bar Mitzvah on that day. It might look different but he will be surrounded by love and he will read from the Torah and achieve this milestone just like millions of other Jewish people before him who carried on with traditions no matter what was going on in the world around them. 

I read something that another mom said about her son’s recent “Zoom Bar Mitzvah” and very small family celebration during the pandemic. She said it was “Nothing that we planned but more amazing than we could have hoped for”. I will try to remember this as we go through the coming months and I think we should all keep this in mind as we pray for a happy and healthy new year.
L’ Shana Tova.


Elul 6
Reflection by Adam Gould


 

In early April my father, who was in a nursing home on Long Island, passed from the plague.

I’m grieving his loss with little closure.  There wasn’t Shiva.  I missed hearing people say “I’m sorry for your loss.”  I missed hearing all the funny and sad stories from his life.  He’d been sick for years.  

This has helped me understand how important grieving is.  Any major change in life contains a loss.  That loss has to be grieved.  The only way you’re going to be able to move on and let things go is if you let yourself feel the feelings that loss has brought up in you.  For me losing my father was painful and a relief.  I’m sad my father died but I’m also relieved his suffering has ended.  I have joyful and painful memories of my life with him.  

I have sad and angry feelings about the disease that afflicted him.  He spent ten plus years progressively getting worse.  That was extremely difficult for him but also for me.

It has raised a wide range of feelings in me over the past four months. I hate uncomfortable feelings.  I don’t like sitting with disappointment, sadness, fear.  I’ll do a lot to avoid sitting with those feelings and letting myself process those.

Grieving his loss will allow me to move on.  I will take things from my father’s memory that will help me be a better man.  I will also leave behind things that won’t help me.  In both cases, I need to move forward with acceptance and love for everything he taught me.


Elul 5
Reflection by Annette Jaffe
 

During Mi Sheberach I whisper the name of the friend or family member for whom I am praying maybe because I don’t know if I feel shy, or maybe nervous, but I seldom stand or speak aloud.   I've been a member of Community Synagogue for over 20 years, I turn down readings at the High Holidays, rarely come to events and scoot out of Oneg on the occasional Friday night when I’m there. Yet, when I received an invitation to reflect, and share, what this plague has helped me to understand, and what it has me thinking I would like for the world, for our country, the Jewish community and myself. I felt I wanted to really think about it, and maybe, just maybe,  actually speak up and I was grateful to be asked.  I wanted to participate because all of the me’s, the loving partner, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, colleague, employer, synagogue and planet member is learning and struggling and thinking about the role we each have as leaders and the responsibility that comes with all that is occurring in our big and small, private and public worlds right now.

The plague has me thinking about my responsibility as a leader and active participant in each of those roles. I am trying not to do anything that will prevent me from holding someone I love close.  I have not seen my children for months and don’t expect to see them soon. I don’t want to infect anyone.  I don’t want anyone to infect anyone. I want to respect people’s level of comfort and safety and have mine be respected as well. But I keep thinking, why is that only now, with the virus. Why don’t we, why don’t I, act in a way that doesn’t prevent me from holding someone I love close, or prevent me from holding my synagogue close, or my country close and at the same time live my life respecting other people while feeling they respect me.  Why are all of these differences keeping us so far apart from one another? I wonder, were there really fewer differences before…when was before? Were we all really closer or do I just want to think we were? 

And with all of the conflict, and negotiations I’ve had with my inner circle through this, I am keenly aware of how economically predatory the virus is. I have empty rooms and empty beds in my home, I can afford to run my air conditioner all day and I’m going to be okay if our clients don’t want tradespeople working in their homes. I can tell my office staff “Only do what you are comfortable doing” and tell them “I would never ask you to do anything I myself wouldn’t do”.  Well, that’s because, I don’t have to drive the bus, or be in the trauma center or hand you your coffee because I have to meet the rent, get food or answer to any higher calling. I can afford that moral stance. I am having a private, insulated pandemic experience and I say that even after my daughter’s best friend’s mother, a 50-year-old woman, who was so kind and generous to my daughter, died from COVID.   

Black Lives Matter is finally mattering because so many people who otherwise would be at school or work have the time yes, but also the courage to speak up. They are not whispering.  I am so grateful someone is banging the drum, and banging the drum and I find myself praying they keep on banging the drum and I think for all my liberal claims I’m first hearing it. So much  is coming forward as a result of the plague. It’s as if people have been imprisoned to be set free. I lost the pursuit of commerce and culture but my garden and Spanish are doing better than ever…. These decibel levels of these protests are a gift to me.

I write a check and join small, socially distant, intelligent conversations filled with commentary and complaints about term limits, Citizens United, the horrors of Australia burning and oceans becoming slick with oil and of course the value of real science. But my distance from real knowledge, my ability to really reach and connect with people who are truly different from me, and think really differently from me, is much more than 6 feet away.  

Discussions of returning to making our country great again, whether it be embroidered on a MAGA hat or longing for 2010 have me thinking great again for who exactly? I have always been respectful of and grateful to the police force but I am a white woman driving a Tesla on the North Shore of Long Island. I know to roll down all my windows, put my hands on the wheel and tell the police officer I’m going to get my registration out of my glove box and do not have a weapon if I’m pulled over… but really?  

What history do I think I have learned, what have I actually learned and what have I just blindly accepted, inherited? Can I even recall the Google feed I just parroted?  What do I really know?    And if I really knew…what would I think, feel, do or say aloud.  

I, like all of us, am a leader with responsibilities.  We have to lead and be responsible in our homes, offices and communities large and small, public and private. I have a responsibility to speak up against an injustice or in support of any kind of hero on any of the frontline. It is not enough to whisper from the upholstered pew of my well-appointed living room.

This divide, this abyss between me and so many people has me sad and some days I’m scared. Sometimes lately, if I make a call, maybe to get some help with an order or some small thing and the stranger on the other end has a script and says “Thank you for calling.  How are you today?”  I’ve taken to saying, not in a whisper “Well, given there’s a global pandemic, economic inequality, racial inequality, the environment is collapsing and not to start an argument but there’s a gangster in the White House I’m doing OK.  How are you?”

I want to say Mi Sheberach for my planet, my country, my town, my family and my synagogue and I want to be heard. I want to find my voice, take off any pre-COVID mask I may have worn, unplug my ears, open my mind and heart and work to find the courage to make my life a blessing. So, I’m not sure what’s next but here I am today.


Elul 4
Reflection by Stacey Lessans


 

Every year on the High Holidays, I look forward to Rabbi Z’s reciting of the poem about time – about a person who does not feel she has enough time as she goes through each stage of her life – with always something like homework, dating, or having young children getting in the way of feeling like she has time to be spiritual and present. This poem is always my annual reminder to actively try to slow down parts of my life.

Well, this year no reminder was needed, as in an unprecedented way we were all forced to slow our lives down. It’s been a tragic year in so many regards, yet the silver lining that so many can report is that of slowing our lives and having that time we so often wish for: not rushing out the door in the morning, or the whole family sitting for a meal together. That aspect has truly been a blessing.

As both a psychologist and a mom, what I have also seen with this slowing of time is that for many it hasn’t been all they imagined an abundance of time would feel like, but rather the extra time has been riddled with worry and anxiety. When we are caught up in worry, our thoughts and mood become negative and overwhelm the positivity that might be around us. Sadly, we see that this gift of abundance of time can be squandered if our heads are not in the right space: so let’s use the high holidays as a time to reflect and “reset” our mindset so as not to waste this unique opportunity.

How do we do this? One way is to try to compartmentalize our worry. A strategy that can be helpful is a designated, timed “worry-time” where we can think about and honor our fears and worries each day. Outside of that time, focus on the present and postpone thinking about the worries until the next designated compartmentalized time. Follow this worry time by a planned, happy, and mood-lifting distraction.

As I reflect on what I want for the Jewish people, our entire community, and myself, it is to turn away from anticipating the future (the worry) and to be more in the present. It is to be able to find ways to both honor the natural worry we have – we worry because we care about our health, our livelihoods, our children, their development and our world – yet also for us to be able to pause the worry and be present in our lives and enjoy this slowed pace of life without letting the worry overtake it. Worrying about things that we can’t control, while hard to stop doing, is a futile exercise. I pray that we all have the gift of some reprieve from the worry and chronic stress. While we wouldn’t wish for this situation, there may be parts of it, like more time, that we will surely miss when life returns to “normal.”  


Elul 3
Reflection by Sarah Shlafmitz
 

As COVID-19 and structural racism continue to plague our country it’s become apparent that both plagues intertwine and exacerbate the inequities in our country. Systemic racism has been the driving force behind the disproportionate rates of infections, hospitalization and death amongst Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities due to COVID-19.  Now, more than ever we need to turn to ourselves. We need to ask ourselves difficult questions and reflect on our personal values and privilege as white people.  We need to remember that white privilege does not mean that your life has not been hard. It simply means that your skin tone is not one of the causes of your struggles. Have people in the Jewish community struggled during this pandemic? Absolutely. Have they struggled due to the color of their skin? No. Is anti-Semitism still an issue in America? Yes. Are white Jews being murdered on a regular basis by people in power? No. It’s essential that we don’t fall into the trap of white fragility. We cannot have defensive reactions when our ideas about race and racism are challenged. Now is the time to carry forth that unity, energy, persistence and drive. We need to listen to the experiences of marginalized groups. It might be uncomfortable. You might want to say “I would never do or say that.” Don’t! Allow yourself to open your understanding to the plight of others without keeping your guard up. Jews know what the right thing to do is. Our community has experienced what happens when people follow the rule or law instead of doing what is right.  We must use our values to guide us.


Elul 2
Reflection by Evan Mallah
 



The entire pandemic has been an elongated period of Elul – a time to take stock, a call to return home, and an opportunity to remember.

While Shabbat is a weekly opportunity for peace and reflection, Elul is the “Shabbat” in our year. An opportunity to evaluate our actions and put them in alignment with our divine purpose – why am I here, and what can I do? How do I live a meaningful life?

The month leading up to the High Holidays allows us to engage a process of deepening our awareness.

Throughout the year, during each moment of every day, we are confronted with decisions, actions, and feelings – little by little we are consumed by the many, countless and never ending pressures of our lives, and as this process continues to unfold, often we lose our balance, the ability to put our moments in the broader context of our values. Sometimes we experience suffering, anxiety or despair – why didn’t I achieve that goal or satisfy that desire, why did that person hurt me, how could this happen to me, and why am I feeling such pain? With each moment of suffering, our body constricts and our heart starts to close, we experience less happiness and joy, and we become unable to help others.

Just as the wave of busy-ness threatens to overwhelm us, we are given a gift – time and space – to breathe, and to look deeply at our lives. How am I offering my spirit to the world? Am I nourishing and caring for myself? Am I reducing suffering in the world? 

During Elul, we turn back towards the truth, and remember what matters:

  • Life is very short; 

  • We control very little, almost nothing; and

  • Only love is eternal.

Simple bullet points, but often very painful to remember and near impossible to live.

During this pandemic, I find myself confronted by these truths at every turn – that my life is really very short and I shouldn’t waste a single minute, that I can’t control anything, and that Joy is found in giving love and offering compassion. Looking backwards and seeing my countless failures can be daunting. Time and again, my own fear, anxiety and anger prevented me from loving without qualification, stopped me from offering compassion to myself and others, particularly the people I care about the most. 

But every day that I wake up is an opportunity. Elul reminds me to stop, to let God back into my life, and to move forward in alignment with truth. And every year, the month before Rosh Hashanah frees me to feel alive, to open my heart and to try again. The eternal is present in each of us, including me, and we all deserve Joy. This year, I will love more courageously.


Elul 1
Reflection by Rabbi Sank Ross
 



This plague has helped me to understand that we must turn to grace. We all need more grace right about now, and we can, and must, give more grace.

We don’t often talk about grace in Judaism. So let me define it in Jewish terms. In Pirkei Avot, our ancient sage Rabbi Akiva declared: “Beloved is humanity, which was created in the image of God.” Each of us, created b’tzelem elohim, in God’s image, serves as living testimony of God’s unending love. And Grace is the unending, overflowing love that God breathed into us during creation. Grace is unearned, unconditional, boundless love. 

AND-- being created in God’s image, requires us to manifest God’s grace in the world. This is not an easy task--to love unconditionally, even when we might feel that love is undeserved. Luckily, on Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of a role model of grace, Hannah, whose name in Hebrew literally means “grace.” Hannah has every reason in the world to be hateful. She is barren, and snubbed for her infertility. Her husband is oblivious to her pain. And Eli, the high priest, embarrasses her terribly when he mistakes her for a drunk as she prays to God. 

Hannah should be angry with her family, with the leaders of her community, and most especially with God. And yet instead of abandoning those who have wronged her, Hannah not only maintains her grace and keeps faith in goodness--she offers to give her son to God: “If you will truly see Your servant’s affliction and remember me...and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Eternal all the days of his life” (Samuel 1:11). In spite of all the reasons she has to turn to cynicism and despair, Hannah teaches us that grace is all about faith and generosity. And giving, even to those who don’t seem to merit it, is how we too can embody grace in our time. 

What this pandemic has taught me is that we can embody grace by giving forgiveness to those who have wronged us, by giving dignity to the undignified, and by offering grace when it seems undeserved. For we are all created in the image of God.


 

Sun, November 29 2020 13 Kislev 5781