a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

3rd of Elul-Blog Round Up

Posted on: August 9, 2013

I Am My Beloved'sThere are so many great jewels of Elul that I couldn’t pick just one.

The first is from My Jewish Learning

The hebrew letters that spell out the name of the Jewish month that we have just entered – Elul – are described in the Talmud as an acronym for the phrase from Song of Songs: ‘Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li‘ – I am my beloved and my beloved in mine. Traditionally this has often been a time that rabbis have expounded on the invitation for us to use this month, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, to rediscover or recommit to a relationship with God. Like two lovers who may have become distanced, we yearn to be in stronger relationship with each other. Thinking about our relationship with God is no easy matter. In previous years as we’ve entered this month, I’ve contemplated the challenges that many of us have with accessing a sense of relationship with God, and suggested ways to begin a conversation.

But this year, my focus for myself, and for my congregation, are the relationships and connections that we make with other people. These may be more concrete that contemplating a relationship with God, but they are certainly no less challenging. And yet, as the scholar Brene Brown articulates so beautifully, “Connection is why we’re here. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Think about the kinds of experiences that make you feel good. A good meal out with friends consists of both the food and the company, but the food alone would be unlikely to satisfy us to the extent that the time spent in good company (without the food) could. When you invite people to your home, and the time flies by in conversation and you suddenly realize it is midnight… and you find yourself wondering why it took so long to get together. Relationship-making and connecting with others is at the heart of so much of what sustains us, both for pleasure and in the context of our professional lives.

It can also be a source of pain to us. And part of this is because it requires us to be vulnerable to truly open ourselves up to the possibilities of connecting more deeply with others. Once we’ve created a few ‘safe’ connections, we form cliques and groups, and might insulate ourselves from the vulnerability inherent in continuing to expand our connections.

I believe that the work of a spiritual community is to challenge ourselves to do more. Why? Because the benefits we will reap individually and communally can be enormous. When you can think of 20 people who will be there for you rather than 2, that is a wonderful experience. When you respond to the need of another ‘just because’ they are a part of your community, that comes with its own feel-good. We can feel less selfish, more expansive, more aware, more supported, more energized, and more inspired.  We can feel more alive.

And, perhaps, it is in fact in the spiritual practice of connection and relationship-building with each other that we actually experience a spiritual connection too. We discover, in fact, that God was there all along.

This month I will be posting thought-pieces on connecting on my personal blog and our congregation’s Facebook page. We are preparing to make this the focus of our community work over the High Holidays and beyond.  We will also be creating opportunities for meaningful connecting within the context of our worship services during the holiday period. My focus is on my congregation, because I believe that we have the opportunity to create a ‘community of practice‘ within the context of a congregation. But opportunities for connection exist in every place and every moment. Think of the connections you’ve made, however fleeting, talking with the woman on the bus, or the family playing on the beach next to you, or while waiting at the photocopier. Not every connection leads to more, but its a great way to start.

My friend and Rabbi, Lisa Grushcow posted the following on Facebook about Hallel from the blog The Wingnut Family

Anna’s thoughts on Elul

OK, getting back to Hallel – I did say I wanted to write about it. It was a few days ago, but hey, it’s still worth talking about!  If you’ve never taken the 15-20 minutes to do the Hallel at home, at the beginning of each new month, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s just a reading and singing of a few psalms, and there’s no time like the present to read Jewish writings. You can’t sing? That’s OK, I can’t either. You can sound terrible; God doesn’t mind. Alternatively, you can find an online Hallel that you like to listen to – or just read all the psalms and that has its merit too.

The psalms are all about praising God for the good things God has done for us. They’re old-fashioned (the bible is a bit earlier than hashtags for example, which I’m going to use for the first time today) and so some of the wording is a bit much. I don’t usually want to have my enemies be consumed as a brush fire, no matter how annoying their car horns were on the road today. However, praising God is a worthwhile task. Gratitude is essential and Hallel is one way to say “life is good” and to remind ourselves of this truth. During Elul, when people are looking at mistakes they’ve made, it’s often nice to just look at the good that God has done, and take that moment to rejoice.

Hallel has stuff for people who just aren’t in a positive mood as well, though. There have been many times I’ve sung Hallel angry, or sad, and been lifted by the words. Feeling hurt, I found a pleasure in reading “I will cut them off,” and realizing that I can make boundaries to create a healthier relationship. When lonely, I remember that “God makes a barren woman a joyful mother of children” and that so long as I do my part, happy relationships are likely to come my way. If I feel desperate about my job, I pound the table hard at “Ana hatzlakha na” (God, please help us prosper) and know that my work will not go unrecognized. And no matter how sad I feel, I find intense comfort in knowing that when I call out from the narrows, God answers with wide expanses of possibility and that above all, “I will not die, but will tell God stories.”

Hallel also reminds us of tasks that are important to remember during Elul – We hear about the gate of the righteous – and this is followed by a reminder that gratitude is good, that God answers prayers, that the foundation can be something that others have rejected, that it is essential to rejoice in the day God has given us. We know our job is to live, to tell of all that God has done for us, to rejoice, to accept what others might reject.

Also, to sing together with those we care for – because God is our strength and our song and finding strength through song is lovely. I wasn’t expecting to make Hallel a part of my regular observance – it sneaked up on me after a while – but I am thrilled that I do.

And finally, if asking for forgiveness is to hard, there’s this nifty app from G-d Cast.


1 Response to "3rd of Elul-Blog Round Up"

Thanks, Erika, for reminding me of a few things.

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