Elul Kavvanot 5779/2018

As we approach the High Holidays, we will be posting reflections several times a week via email and social media (Facebook and Twitter). When each reflection is posted, it will also be added to the full collection on this page.
Day 1: Reflections for the Month of Introspection
Day 2: Sing Your Way into the New Year 
Day 3: Hayom harat olam, Today the world was created 
Day 4: Doing T'shuvah Alone 
Day 5: Shaping our Best Selves 
Day 6: Something New All Year-round 
Day 7: Tiku va-hodesh shofar, Sound the shofar at the new moon!
Day 8: “The More You Heal, the More You Feel”
Day 9 : Shehechiyanu 
Day 10: Into the Unknown
Day 11: Shoot for the moon - land among the stars! 
Day 12: Saying "Sorry"
Day 13: The Eve of Rosh Hashanah
Day 14: "The Closer"
Day 15: Embracing the Broken Vessels
Day 16:  What's on Your Playlist?  
Day 17: What We Cal Learn from Elul 
Day 18: Heshbon ha-Nefesh, Weighing Our Deeds
Day 19: An Elul Total Fitness Regime

Reflections for the Month of Introspection

Rabbi Neil Zuckerman

Dear PAS Community,

Yesterday we celebrated Rosh Hodesh Elul, the beginning of the new month preceding the High Holidays. I am struck once again at how leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our calendar gives us a whole season dedicated to the theme of teshuvah, the process of repentance and introspection. We Jews are supposed to be engaged in this process at all times, but especially at this time of the year.

This is the time for a 30-day heshbon ha-nefesh, a personal inventory in order to identify shortcomings that need to be made up, failures that need to be atoned for, patterns that need to be broken, and relationships that need to be healed.

To help the PAS community on this journey, we will be sending out a short reflection from someone on the staff each weekday. It might be a thought about repentance, a song, a memory of Rosh Hashanah, or a prayer. We hope you will appreciate our words and benefit from our teachings. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or read them on our website.

May we be blessed to take these days leading up to the High Holidays as an opportunity to shape our destiny. May we use these days to consider who we can be when we are the best version of ourselves, and may we resolve to be whole again. We look forward to being on this journey with you, together.

Wishing you all a meaningful and productive month of Elul!

Rabbi Neil Zuckerman

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Sing Your Way into the New Year

Josh Rosenberg
Principal Music Educator

“I will sing and chant praise to the Lord. O Lord, hear my voice when I call, be gracious to me and answer me.” (Psalm 27:6-7)

During Elul, we prepare our minds and hearts for the High Holidays. Our daily prayers are enhanced: we say Psalm 27 and penitential prayers to ready our hearts to seek and grant forgiveness, and we blow the shofar to shake our thoughts into awareness of the calls yet to come.

The voice of the shofar is warming up — what about yours? On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we have the chance to sing meaningful texts to beautiful melodies that we have likely not experienced for an entire year—but only if we are ready to sing them! In this preparatory month, immerse yourself in the sounds of the High Holidays. Sing along to to our PAS album Moments of Awe and to the album that accompanies last year’s Mahzor for Young Families. Keep an ear out for the album that will accompany this year’s Mahzor for Youth, soon to be released!

I wish you a year full of love, joy, and singing in 5779!

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Hayom harat olam, Today the world was created 

Ellen Alt

In addition to being Yom Ha-din, the Day of Judgment, and Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, Rosh Hashanah is the Birthday of the World, the anniversary of Creation. The artwork reproduced here has seven overlapping squares – one for each day of Creation. The text in the background is the Hebrew and English of the Creation story from the Torah, in ever diminishing calligraphy. Each day has a collage element symbolizing that day except for Shabbat, which is a meditation representing rest.

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Doing T'shuvah Alone

Arielle Green
Cantorial Intern

About three years ago, I spent the High Holidays on the Galápagos Islands. It was the last place I thought I would be on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, but there I was, in an amazing study abroad experience, but one of the only Jews within hundreds of miles of the mainland. When Kol Nidrei arrived, I wasn’t sure what to do. All I had was a mahzor app on my phone and a couple of recordings of cantors singing Kol Nidrei. I decided to walk down to the beach, and I created my own Kol Nidrei service with my app. While sitting among the sea lions, in the most picturesque environment imaginable, I listened to the recordings and chanted my own versions of the prayers. It was the first time I was truly alone for the holidays. Being alone gave me the opportunity to feel the importance of being alone. When we spend our High Holiday services in a room full of people, it is easy to forget that the act of t’shuvah, repentance, can be a lonely one. While we emphasize the importance of community in our faith, we can also realign ourselves spiritually and emotionally into our communities after meaningful personal experiences.

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Shaping our Best Selves

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove

Glorious as my sabbatical was, its most enduring gifts are actually its most quotidian: taking my children to school every morning, reading and writing, sitting in the bleachers at school events, sharing a glass of wine with my wife. It is these everyday experiences, among others, that I seek to maintain now that I am firmly back in the saddle. How can I, I wonder, continue to live like a mensch even as my life resumes a frenetic pace with the dawn of a new year?

Perhaps the power and promise of this month of Elul and the coming High Holy Days is not so much in seeking awe-inducing revolutions but in identifying the small yet significant course corrections needed in our lives: making the phone calls we should be making more often, resuming the good habits that we have let lapse, restoring the relationships that have atrophied. We all have a “best self” who has become unfamiliar to us in the year gone by. These holy days call on us to identify that person whom we seek to be but are not, and then close the gap. And we don’t have to wait for the year ahead to begin. The month of Elul offers us the chance to get a head start.

Ki hineh ka-homer, “We are like clay . . .” teaches the mahzor - the High Holy Day prayer book. Though our substance remains the same, the shape of our lives can transform if we are bold enough to take the necessary steps. May it be our best selves who open the door to welcome the new year.

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Something New All Year-round

Jamie Diamond
Director of Young Family Education

The start of the Jewish year and the start of the school year bring a lot of hustle and bustle. Amid the busyness, with Rosh Hashanah right around the corner it’s a good time to think about new beginnings. It’s a custom to try a new fruit on Rosh Hashanah. I love the idea of trying new things as it pushes us outside our comfort zones. This isn’t always easy for people, especially children. During the year we sometimes get bogged down by our routines, so I think it would be a fun project to make the Rosh Hashanah experience of trying something new last all year long. Consider picking one new thing to try each month. It can range from trying a new food to exploring a new part of the city. Family members can take turns suggesting what to try, and individuals could do something new with a different friend every month. The possibilities are endless, and the excitement and challenge of new beginnings will stay with you all year long. Shanah tovah!

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Tiku va-hodesh shofar, Sound the shofar at the new moon!

Rabbi Rachel Salston
Ritual Director

As a Jew who prays regularly in the synagogue, one becomes aware of the patterns of the year. Every month on the Shabbat before Rosh Ḥodesh, after we read from the Torah but before we put it away, the Cantor dramatically announces that “Rosh Ḥodesh ______ yihyeh b’yom ____ haba aleinu v’al kol Yisrael l’tovah.” “The new month of _____ will begin on ______. May it hold blessing for us and for all the people Israel.” On the last Shabbat of Elul, one would expect to hear “The new month of Tishrei and the new year of 5779 will begin on Sunday night.” But we don’t hear any such thing.

One theory is that we do not announce the month of Tishrei and the new year so as to confuse whatever demonic forces may be listening for the announcement, so that evil does not befall us at the beginning of the new year. Instead of announcing the new month verbally just a week or so before Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar every weekday morning during Elul. The alert that Rosh Hashanah is coming is thus extended to an entire month. Instead of just one moment in shul on a Shabbat that reminds you, “Oh, right, a new month is starting; I’ll come to minyan and sing Hallel,” we are reminded for a full month to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and for the new year.

As I am awakened to my first full year as Ritual Director at PAS, I think about all the patterns of services and Jewish practice that we will experience together in the coming year. I’m so excited to help facilitate these sacred moments for all of you. (I’d love to see you on a Rosh Ḥodesh or at any other weekday minyan throughout the year!)

May we be awakened for a year of good.

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“The More You Heal, the More You Feel”

Jessie Lavintman
Assistant Director, Congregational School

“The more you heal, the more you feel,” says my mom, Missy Lavintman. To me, her words are a perfect mantra for Elul. As we reflect and prepare ourselves for the coming year, it is important to honor whatever feelings arise. If we recognize our feelings as a sign of growth, acknowledging these signals from our deep selves, we can let them guide us to wholeness and alignment with our most authentic selves. My prayer for Elul is that it be a time of immense self and collective healing.

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Mara Bernstein
Director of Synagogue Programming and Adult Education

One of my favorite Rosh Hashanah traditions is the eating of a new fruit during the festive meal on the second night. This custom has a relatively functional origin: incorporating something new into the second night gives us a reason to recite the shehechiyanu blessing once again.

For me, this practice represents the essence of the yamim nora’im, the Days of Awe. Each year we undertake the same process of repentance, prayer, and tzedakah. We say the same words in the mahzor, we may even stand in the same spot in the synagogue year after year. Things can begin to feel monotonous, even in this holy time. But eating the new fruit reminds us that during this time we have the opportunity to examine our lives and make changes – perhaps create a habit, learn a new skill, or start a new tradition. Or even just try a fruit we’ve never tasted before! May we enter the new year with sweetness and appreciation of all the potential ahead. We have been brought to this moment, and it is truly a blessing.

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Into the Unknown

Rabbi Ethan Witkovsky

For some, the first step into the unknown is thrilling;
they see the promise of something wonderful.
For others, it is scary;
they see the potential for danger.
Both views have merit as we approach the New Year.

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Shoot for the moon - land among the stars!

Jennifer Stern Granowitz
Director, Congregational School

The cyclical nature of the Jewish holidays is one of the things I like best about our religion. While there are many biblical, historical, and agricultural reasons for why certain holidays occur at specific times of the year, there also seem to be modern rationales that make this cycle meaningful for us today.

At the end of the summer, a time when we find ourselves out of our usual routine for one reason or another, we have the month of Elul to ease us back into regular life and give us time to get ready for the High Holidays.

The month of Elul is an opportunity to reflect and decide what routines we want to continue or take up again and what new habits we want to begin (not to mention those we want to break). We have the chance to get ready gradually for the "Days of Awe" when we will bring our best selves together in community to set forth our best intentions. And even if our new year's resolutions are too big, and we shoot for the moon, worst-case scenario, we land among the stars.

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Saying “Sorry”

Rebecca Cushman
Adult Education Coordinator

As we daven Selihot, prayers of repentance, we acknowledge what we have done wrong and ask for forgiveness. “Forgive us, our Parent, for we have sinned; pardon us, our Ruler, for we have transgressed.” Acknowledging wrongdoing to ourselves is difficult; asking others for forgiveness is hard for everyone. It can feel overwhelming. Doubting whether one deserves forgiveness and finding the strength to forgive others can weigh heavily on a person’s mind. If these feelings arise for you, remember that you are human and worthy of forgiveness. And remind yourself that people around you likely have the same self-doubts. Just as you hope for their forgiveness, you can extend your forgiveness to them. We all deserve new beginnings. While we must acknowledge and apologize for what we have done wrong, we never have to apologize for being our human, fallible selves.

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 The Eve of Rosh Hashanah

Rachel Singer
Assistant Director of the Congregational School

As the High Holidays approach in all their glory and awe, I want to share the first lines of an aptly named poem: “The Eve of Rosh Hashanah” by Yehuda Amichai, one of Israel’s national poets. I see this poem as a modern interpretation of some of the themes in the prayers and readings we encounter in the service and I’m always moved by Amichai’s ability to serve as a bridge between ancient times and the present. I bless us all that the structures we build be filled with love. Shanah tovah!

The Eve of Rosh Hashanah / Yehuda Amichai
Translated by. Stephen Mitchell

At the house that’s being built,
a man makes a vow: not to do anything wrong in it, only to love.
Sins that were green last spring
dried out over the summer. Now they're whispering.

עֶרֶב רֹאשׁ הַשּׁנָה / יהודה עמיחי

לְיַד הַבַּיִת הַנִּבְנֶה
נִשְׁבָּע אָדָם לֹא לַעֲשׂוֹת בּוֹ עָוֶל
וְרַק לֶאֱהֹב בּוֹ.
חֲטָאִים שֶׁהָיוּ יְרֻקִים בָּאָבִיב
יָבְשׁוּ בַּקַּיִץ וְעַכְשָׁו לוֹחֲשִׁים.


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“The Closer”

Pam Schaner
Associate Director, PASECC

If there is one thing my family takes seriously, it’s cooking before Passover and Rosh Hashanah. From basting the brisket to setting the table, everyone in the house plays a critical part in preparing the meal (not excluding the dog, who acts as a real-life Roomba). While both holidays have myriad cherished recipes that have been passed down through the generations, crafting the kreplach before Rosh Hashanah requires the most coordination and teamwork. We all have assigned roles along the production line and I (humbly) feel that mine is most important. As “The Closer,” I am personally responsible for sealing each of the 200 or so individual kreplach.

It’s important to clarify what exactly we’re talking about here. Wikipedia describes Kreplach as “small dumplings filled with ground meat, usually boiled and served in chicken soup.” You can think of kreplach as Jewish wontons.

My grandmother prepares the meat filling in advance. Historically, it was also her job to prepare, knead, and roll out the dough but over time, my older brother (“The Muscle”) acquired this task. My youngest cousins switch off between using a cookie cutter to create the dough discs and rolling the meat-filling into small balls. My mom and aunt focus on meatball placement and then there’s me – The Closer. No one has ever been able to replicate my time-tested technique for sealing each kreplach, ensuring no meat escapes during the boiling process. If you get an empty kreplach in your soup, you can bet someone else sealed it!

For over 25 years, this culinary quest has been a top priority for my brother, my cousins, and me. It is a surreal experience that we and my grandmother long for throughout the year and no matter what changes in our lives, the process and the product remain largely the same (we now make a batch of gluten free kreplach). Keeping this family tradition alive is important to me for many reasons; not the least of which is that it’s delicious!

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Embracing the Broken Vessels

Rabbi Charlie Savenor
Director of Congregational Education

Beginning with Abraham and Moses, we find examples of Jewish leaders who struggle to make the pieces of their lives fit together. Our Jewish heroes are neither saints nor visions of perfection.

Moses makes it clear on several occasions that he does not want to the job of being God’s spokesperson. His primary reason for declining the responsibilities of leadership is his claim that “I am not a man of words.” We might have thought that God would want an eloquent speaker or someone who felt ready and confident that s/he could do everything that God wanted. But instead God chose Moses. Seeing himself as a broken vessel, Moses is hesitant and scared. God chose Moses for his humility and his wisdom and also precisely because he was imperfect. His fallibility never meant that he could not be a leader and change the world. The irony of the story is that God accepted Moses as he was. It was Moses who did not accept Moses.

We are like Moses and Abraham, Miriam and Sarah, and the rest of our biblical ancestors in that each of us, created in God’s image, has our own challenges. Some of us have problems speaking, others cannot see without glasses, some of us need extra time while learning, and so on.

Our tradition believes that God does not have problems with our imperfections, but accepts us for who we are. Being aware of this, we can liberate ourselves from our own expectations of perfection.

The High Holidays remind us that each one of us can make a unique contribution to our community and society at large if we simply accept ourselves, cracks and all.

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What’s on Your Playlist?

Cantor Rachel Brook

Every year, at the start of Elul, as Jewish people around the world begin to turn inward and reflect on the year past and the year to come, a friend and colleague of mine posts his annual “Songs of Elul Playlist” on social media. I love this tradition and have come to find great depth and meaning in surfing the playlist and discovering musical gems both new and familiar. The music on his playlist is often what we would consider to be “Jewish” music, but just as often it is music from a variety of traditions, all carrying the universal themes of loneliness, forgiveness, renewal, home, and love.

In her book The Jewish Book of Days, Rabbi Jill Hammer associates the new year with a planted seed waiting below ground. She writes:

On Rosh Hashanah, the new year, we reflect on the meaning and purpose of human life: How are we to act this year? What seeds are we meant to plant? As we reflect on the birth of the world, we reflect on the importance of letting our inner seed reach its potential in the limited time it has.

With this imagery in mind, I offer David Mallett’s “Garden Song,” first published in 1975 and covered by many great American folk musicians, as an addition to the Songs of Elul playlist.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground

Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumbling down

Pulling weeds and picking stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
Cause the time is close at hand

As we move through Elul towards new beginnings, I invite you to ask yourself: What seeds will I plant in this coming year? What do I want growing in my garden?

May all your seeds be blessed!

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What We Can Learn from Elul

Shayna Golkow
Rabbinical Intern
The name of the Hebrew month Elul, spelled alef-lamed-vav-lamed, is said to be an acronym for four different biblical phrases. Each one of them teaches us something about how to orient ourselves over the course of the month. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a legal code published in 1864, lists these four Elul acronyms:

• The first is from Exodus 21:13: “If he did not do it by design, but God causes it to come to hand, I will assign you a place to which he can flee.” If a person does wrong, even inadvertently, they can repent, and the month of Elul is an especially good time for that teshuvah (repentance).

• The second Biblical phrase comes from Deuteronomy 30:6, “And Adonai your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children,” which again teaches us that Elul is a favorable time for teshuvah.

• The third Biblical phrase is a well-known line from Song of Songs 6:3: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, meaning "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine.” From this verse we learn that God is our beloved, and we must draw close to God with teshuvah and prayer.

• The fourth biblical phrase comes from Esther 9:22 and describes one of the laws of Purim, that we must give gifts “one to another and gifts to the poor.” Elul is a time for sharing generously with those in our community and giving generously to those in need.

Taken all together, I see these four verses as a way to understand God’s increased receptivity to relationship during the month of Elul. We have to put in the work to do teshuvah, evaluating how we can be better people in the coming year; we have to put in the work to articulate prayers to our beloved God; we have to put in the work to treat other people well and with generosity. If we are able to do that work, God will meet us halfway.

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Heshbon ha-Nefesh, Weighing Our Deeds

Marga Hirsch
Director, PAS Library and Publications Editor

The ongoing task of Elul and the Days of Awe is heshbon ha-nefesh, literally, taking a reckoning of our souls. We are instructed over and over to review how we lived our lives during the past year and to commit to doing better. The long lists of misdeeds that we recite again and again on Yom Kippur focus on all the ways in which our behavior has fallen short of honorable and we have missed the mark of our best intentions. What a heavy load!

When I talk about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with children, I remind them that when we think about how we have behaved in the past year, we must not only recognize the things we feel bad about, but also acknowledge the things we have done right, the decisions we are proud of, and the actions we hope to repeat and even improve. The same is true for adults!

As you tap your chest and think of all the ways you want to change in order to be a better person in the next year, also give yourself credit for the good you have done. Perhaps you invited a new neighbor for coffee, made phone calls in support of a cause that matters to you, patiently repeated explanations to your aging parent, responded calmly to a child’s insolence, or returned all your library books on time.

Ken yirbu, may your good deeds increase and multiply like the seeds of a pomegranate!

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An Elul Total Fitness Regime

Rabbi Neil Zuckerman

In December 2016, Jesse Itzler, a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” posted a picture on his Facebook page, challenging his followers to do 2017 repetitions of five exercises (burpees, sit-ups, push-ups, chair dips, and squats) during the month of January. The beauty of the challenge was that for every person who completed the challenge, Jesse would donate $100.00 of his own money, in their name, to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides a post-secondary education to the surviving children of fallen special operations service members. By the end of the month, Jesse and a couple other donors had contributed $30,000 to the organization.

Jesse’s followers (and I am one of them) wanted more. Now, each month Jesse posts to his Facebook group of 11,000 people, WeDoHardStuff, a new challenge that mixes physical workouts with spiritual, emotional, and relationship-oriented challenges, each month raising money for a different charity. To date, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised.

Last month, August 2018, the challenge went beyond the physical and included the following: Send handwritten “thank you” notes to four people whom you want to thank, or whom you look up to. In the course of doing your jumping jacks, push-ups, squats, burpees, running, and all the other physical challenges, stop. Reflect. Breathe. Express gratitude to those who have enabled you to grow, evolve, and arrive at the place in life where you currently find yourself.

Jesse’s challenge confirms something I have long believed: exercise is an extension of my spiritual life. By connecting gratitude to this monthly challenge, the work and discipline of escaping our comfort zone expands to include more than the physical. Our spiritual and emotional fitness is critical, as well.

Our tradition has always understood the importance of gratitude and the role it plays in our lives. The first words Jews say in the morning are “modeh ani,” I am grateful. Before we even get out of bed, before we go about the business of our lives and engaging with the world, we express gratitude simply for the fact that we are alive. “You have restored my soul with mercy,” we say. I am given the gift of another day. In the Amidah, a prayer we recite three times a day, we express gratitude for the miracles in our lives that are renewed on a daily basis. These daily pauses are there to provide us the opportunity to say “thank you.” As the physician and theologian Albert Schweitzer said, “Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.”

As the month of Elul draws to a close, accept Jesse’s challenge and train your body: do sprints, crunches, squats and chair dips. Fitness and stamina are important to our physical health and success. In the process, as you pursue these physical challenges, don’t forget his other challenge: pause and think about the many blessings in your life. Write four letters, to your parents, to a teacher, to a coach, or to a friend. Acknowledge the blessings and the goodness you have received that have made you the person you are.

I promise you, it is good for your total fitness.

Shanah tovah! Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.

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