Thursday, August 31, 2017

Elul 9/August 31

The Need for Refuge

To do the work of repair of our relationships and true renewal of our lives, we need to be willing to vulnerable. We need to acknowledge where we haven’t been our best selves in our relationships with others and with God. In order to show this vulnerability, we need to believe that we are loved and wanted in spite of our mistakes and failings.

The holy Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria of Tzefat, 16th century) taught that the name of the month of Elul is an acronym for אִנָּה לְיָדוֹ וְשַׂמְתִּי לְךָ -deliver into his hand, I shall establish for you (Exodus 21:13). This verse speaks of the “cities of refuge” established in Biblical times as places where a person who killed another unintentionally might find sanctuary from the wrath of his unintended victim’s family.

The Ari taught that the entire month of Elul is a a refuge in time that allows us to expose our vulnerability to ourselves, to own our feelings and mistakes, without fear of judgement or shame. Seeing this month of High Holy Day inner preparation as a refuge is the affirmation that God, or the deepest part of reality, is one of understanding and forgiveness, and that we can trust the process of self introspection and repair of our lives and ourselves.

(Rabbi K’vod Wieder)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Elul 8/August 30

After months of only the occasional workout, I recently started lifting weights again. On that first day back at the gym I picked up the same weights I had always used, and felt myself strain to finish a set that was easy a year ago. I had gleefully returned to working out, only to feel uncomfortable and frustrated. Then, as bad as I felt working out, the day after was even worse. My sore muscles screamed as I attempted an everyday task, and I almost did not want to return to the gym. Why would I do something, if the effects were so unpleasant? After months of lack of use, I needed to build up the strength I once had. I had pushed my muscles without giving them the proper preparation.
I imagine Elul like a month-long warm up after a year of inactivity for our t’shuvah muscles. If we were to simply dive right into the High Holy Days without any preparation, it would be like trying to run a marathon after months of just taking a short walk around the block. We would be miserable, and we would never want to participate. Therefore, we take these weeks leading up to the Days of Awe to ease ourselves into the practice of t’shuvah. We stretch our minds around the difficult task of self reflection; warm up our tongue to say: “I’m sorry.” We push ourselves a little further each day, strengthening our t’shuvah muscles, so they are able to carry the weight of our repentance into the new year.

(Rabbi Sarah DePaolo)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Elul 7/August 29

Reflecting on our lives, our mistakes and how to do better can be difficult. Let’s remember our faults – all the times we messed up… who wants to do that – focus in on our mistakes? Fortunately, we have a good role model when it comes to imperfections. For while it is true that the Torah teaches us that God is perfect and just (Deut. 32:4), the Torah also teaches us that God regrets, God loses God’s temper, and God kvetches… often – and far more than you would expect.  It’s no wonder that Jewish mystics envisioned a broken, shattered God for a broken world and the broken, imperfect people that live within it. Fully aware of our weakness and our flaws, they had the audacity to suggest that we, with our imperfect lives, have the capacity to heal the world, heal God, and heal ourselves in the process. And that healing begins with reflection, for how can we repair all that needs to be repaired if we fail to recognize that which is bent or broken.

(Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Elul 6/August 28

The 1st of Tishrei we will welcome the new Jewish Year.  The Hebrew word Rosh means "Head" in English.  The Hebrew word "Shana" means "Year" in English.  However, you may know that Hebrew is made up of three letter roots.  And the root of the word "Shana" literally means "change."

This spiritual period of time gives us an opportunity to fix that which is broken and find new ways of doing things.  When we "change" our "heads," our thinking, our approaches to issues, relationships and challenges in our lives then the new year becomes sweet.  This time of year gives us the chance to look at things anew, recalculate and reexamine so as to make good choices that bring us happiness and satisfaction.  Rosh Hashanah is the season of changing the way we think about lives.

May this New Year bring us goodness, blessing and health as we all "Change our Heads."

(Rabbi Richard Steinberg)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Elul 5/August 27

It is often claimed that for every two Jews there are three opinions. Some doubt this assertion, arguing that for three opinions you only need one Jew!
When it comes to Jewish identity, there are an infinite number of viewpoints. Some emphasize peoplehood in their connection to Judaism. For others, it is a cultural, ethnic or spiritual matter. To many, it’s a link with the State of Israel. For most, it is some combination of all of the above.  Today there are Jews who describe themselves as Secular, Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative or Orthodox. Some regard themselves as “bagels and lox” Jews. But it seems to me that what really counts is just one question: Is being Jewish important to you? Or to put it another way, are you a serious Jew?

(Rabbi Gersh Zylberman)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Elul 3 and 4/August 25 and 26

In respect for Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, we will not be sending you an Elul thought tomorrow so that you can be at rest from your email and other social media. So please enjoy both of these thoughts today!

Shabbat Shalom!

Elul 3/August 25
Asking to see more clearly
Life without Teshuva is like being condemned to dwell in Plato’s allegorical Cave... It is to perceive the world under a mechanism that makes me believe that the shadows and echoes projected on the wall of my ego they are the reality.  
The month of Elul reminds me that sometimes all I can see is that wall; reflections but not real objects. I ask for the courage to recognize that there might be areas of my life in which I sit in the shadow. Teshuva is the tool I use to light these dark areas, to see life more clearly and to go beyond the limits of my very small cave. Sometimes there is light, everything looks so clear and it feels wonderful! And I would like to think that the cave is behind me and I have left forever. But then I see a shadow and I try to ignore it, and another, Ignore it! and another one... I realize this isn’t a one-time action, and I live in-between.  But I love those moments outside, I feel closer to a better version of myself and there resides the strength to leave the cave countless times and to return again and again to the land of my soul.
(Rabbi Nico Socolovsky)

Elul 4/August 26
The expression “shouting into the wind” connotes the act of trying to communicate, fruitlessly. When someone shouts into the wind, the idea is that no one can hear you and you are wasting time and energy to no avail. It is similar to "talking to a brick wall."  Why bother doing it?

We do it - or should do it - because if enough people do it enough, the situation changes.  Perhaps the wind that threatens to drown us out dies down.  Perhaps enough people join us and our message is amplified over the noise.  

Our trouble is that we believe that we are powerless against the wind, or that we can only be successful when the time is right.  The truth is that we have far more power than we give ourselves credit.  Imagine how much we could change if we actually spoke up, said “yes”, or acknowledged that “this is my responsibility.”

Elul is our time to reflect on what is most important to us and to start shouting.  Don’t be afraid - there will always be wind; but anything worth shouting about is worth shouting into the wind.

(Rabbi Alan Litwak)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Elul 2/August 24

For my birthday today, my husband Matt and I are giving me a very strange gift, we are taking our daughter Dahvi to college! (We’re in Washington, DC as this is posted.) Where did the past 18 years go? I guess you can say this is the gift of new beginnings. It is a new beginning for Dahvi as she moves on to the next chapter of her life. New city, new roommates, new school, new expectations and new goals. This is also a new beginning for the rest of the family. New schedules for three instead of four, new shopping lists for three instead of four, and new realizations knowing that we can’t always know where she is and what she’s doing. This new beginning is most importantly about trust. Matt and I have to trust that Dahvi will use the lessons we’ve taught her over the last 18 years to make good choices for herself. Most important of all, Dahvi has to trust in herself that she can and will succeed. The road may not always be easily navigated and we’ve never taught our children that life is easy. Rather, through hard work, determination and patience, you can accomplish anything.
Every year we receive the gift of new beginnings. We have to trust that we’ve learned many lessons over the past year and that we’ve grown in ways that will lead us to new adventures and blessings. Embrace your new beginnings. It’s ok to be a little scared or worried, but have faith in the road ahead.

(Rabbi Heidi Cohen)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Elul Thoughts 5777-Elul 1/August 24

The Hebrew month of Elul is the last month of the Jewish year. As such, it is considered a month of spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days. Special meditations are added to the daily service for some, known as S’lichot, or penitentiary prayers. (*The Saturday before Rosh Hashanah is also known as S’lichot, and it is used as a night of contemplation and study.) For several years, a group of Reform rabbis and educators has collaborated on a series of Elul Thoughts, shared with our congregations in a daily email, and accompanied by a daily Tweet. This year we are highlighting colleagues from the Orange County Reform Community. We are happy to share them with you.

This year’s Elul Thoughts include contributions from:

  • April Akiva R.J.E, Director of Religious School Education, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
  • Rabbi Heidi Cohen, Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana, CA
  • Rabbi Sarah DePaolo, Shir HaMa’alot, Irvine, CA
  • Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein, Founding Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
  • Rabbi Rachel Kort, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Aliso Viejo, CA
  • Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Temple Sinai, Atlanta, GA
  • Rabbi Eric Linder, Congregation Children of Israel, Athens, GA
  • Rabbi Alan E. Litwak, Temple Sinai, North Miami Beach, FL
  • Cantor David Reinwald, Temple Beth Sholom, Santa Ana, CA
  • Cantorial Soloist Jenna Sagan, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
  • Rabbi Nico Socolovsky, Temple Beth Tikvah, Fullerton, CA
  • Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Shir Hama’alot, Irvine, CA
  • Rabbi Daniel Treiser, Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater, FL
  • Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, TX
  • Rabbi Kvod Wieder, Temple Beth El of South Orange County, Aliso Viejo, CA
  • Rabbi David N. Young, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA
  • Rabbi Gersh Zylberman, Temple Bat Yahm, Newport Beach, CA

 You can follow any of us on Facebook or Twitter.

If you have missed any of these daily emails or want to go back and remember something from earlier in Elul, feel free to read them all at

Elul 1/August 23
We have come once again to that sacred time on the Jewish calendar where it is appropriate to take stock of the many blessings in our lives and to offer our thanksgiving to God.

When reflecting upon the blessing for this particular day I realized how apparent it is that we as a congregation have much for which we should be thankful. We are thankful for our successes.

We are thankful for our leadership, for professionals and for our lay leaders, for those who gave up a lunch or a dinner or missed a game or a gathering with family or friends to help make the Jewish world thrive.

We count our blessings that we had much joy since last year- some of us got married, some had children, some had children who became Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Some of us assembled here became grandparents for the first, second, third, or more time. Some of us found new employment and some of us retired.

We count our blessings that the tragic events that touched our lives were made a bit more manageable because of the presence of community. We are thankful, O God, what when we needed them most, we were blessed to never walk darkened paths in solitude.

Indeed, on this first day of Elul, we acknowledge just a few of the many ways in which God has blessed us since this time last year. May we be blessed with abundance in the next as well.
(Rabbi Brad Levenberg)