I snapped this shot after I realized I’d be sitting in the driveway at Temple Isaiah for a while. Eventually I made it by the flock to teach my Sunday morning Intro class.
When you see the letters z”l after a person’s name, it means “may their memory be for a blessing.” The wish seems almost unnecessary here: Nelson Mandela was a blessing in life to his country and to the world, and his memory will certainly be for a blessing as well.
He did not seem to make his choices out of fear, no matter how legitimate the reasons for fear. If more of us could learn that one thing from him, our world would be a better place.
I know what it’s like. I’ve been there: Unhappy Thanksgiving.
The details are private and personal, but the larger picture: the family gathering that is more painful than fun, the lonely Thanksgiving far from people you love, the holiday when there is an empty chair at the table – I’ve been to all those Thanksgivings, and they were miserable.
One of the blessings I count today is that this year is a good year for me: I’m surrounded by family, in a happy home, with food on the table, and the turkey is paid for. I have what I need, and more.
Not all years were like that. And I know, for someone reading this, this year isn’t like that. I’m truly sorry that you are having an Unhappy Thanksgiving this year. If I had a magic wand, I would heal all the hunger, and the loneliness, and the poverty, and the broken hearts – but I have no magic wand.
All I can tell you is that this is just one day. If the sun is shining, take a walk. If you can identify a blessing, give thanks for it. Gratitude is often the beginning of something good, weirdly enough.
But know that I know you are there, and I’ve been there. I wish you better years ahead.
When I wrote “more tomorrow” I forgot that I’m moving on the 19th. (Now you are wondering, how can a person forget something like that? But writing does that for me, one reason I took the NaBloPoMo challenge to write my way through November.)
Who knows what insomnia may bring, but for now, this is it. I’m hoping for a good night’s sleep, because I know I need it.
By the time you read this, I’ll already be in motion.
Happy autumn, y'all! We've made it through the marathon of the Jewish fall holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah all come tumbling one right after the other) and visits from both our families. The picture I have in my head for an ideal October involves space to breathe as the days grow shorter and the Florida heat and humidity approach marginally acceptable levels.
OK, yesterday I talked about the heart of Sukkot: it’s about hospitality, welcoming guests, being a guest, sharing food, being outdoors with other Jews and with friends and neighbors.
And I am pretty sure that someone was thinking, yes, but that’s not really Sukkot. You want the terminology and stuff, right? So now we’ll talk about that.
WHAT IS SUKKOT? Sukkot [soo-COAT] is the plural of Sukkah [soo-KAH], which is the Hebrew name of the little booth we build for the holiday. You may also encounter the Yiddish pronunciations, [SOOK-us] and [SOOK-uh]. It’s also the Jewish harvest holiday that follows the High Holy Days.
WHEN IS SUKKOT? Sukkot is a fall harvest holiday. It begins on 15 Tishrei, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It lasts for eight days (seven days in Israel). It will begin on the evening of Sept 18, 2013. On the first two days and the last day of Sukkot observant Jews do no work.
WHY DO WE DO THIS? Sukkot started as a harvest holiday. Nowadays it is a chance to foster our relationships with friends and family. Remember, we just spent the last six weeks mending our relationships — now it’s time to enjoy those improved relationships! The little sukkahs also remind us of our temporary dwellings in the wilderness, and of the impermanence of most possessions. The observance of Sukkot is commanded in Leviticus 23:40-43.
HOW DO WE OBSERVE SUKKOT? Sukkot is unique in that we actually build the place where we celebrate it fresh every year. A sukkah (soo-KAH) is a little shed built to very precise directions, open on one side with a very flimsy roof of branches or reeds. We build it outside and eat meals in it. Some people actually sleep in their sukkah. Many Jews entertain guests in the sukkah, and in Israel, many restaurants also have them for customers to enjoy. It’s customary to decorate the sukkah with hangings, artwork, and home-made decorations.
WHAT IS A LULAV? Observant Jews also “wave the lulav.” It’s a bouquet of palm, willow, and myrtle, held alongside an etrog (citron) and waved to all the compass points, with a blessing. If you want to learn about waving a lulav and etrog, you can find more information here.
ARE THERE ANY MOVIES ABOUT SUKKOT? Yes! There’s a very funny Israeli film Ushpizin which is set in a very traditional community in Jerusalem during Sukkot. Ushpizin [oosh-pee-ZEEN] or [ush-PEE-zin] are visitors to the sukkah.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A SUKKAH? Most synagogues build a sukkah. Calling them to ask about activities in the sukkah is a great way to learn about your local synagogues. Even if it is not practical to have a sukkah at home, however, you can do some similar activities:
- Go on a picnic with family or friends.
- Get out in nature! Go for a hike!
- Invite friends over that you haven’t seen for a while.
- Reach out to someone you think might become a friend.
- Reach out to someone who seems lonely.
- Get to know your neighbors.
- Reconnect with someone you’ve been meaning to call.
- Rejoice in the natural world, however you best do that!
Sukkot is a great time to practice the mitzvah (commandment) of Hachnasat Orchim, Hospitality. Whether you spend this Sukkot as a guest or as a host or (best of all!) a little of both, I hope that you are able to spend some time with friendly people, enjoying the fall weather!
Jewish “days” start at sundown, because in Genesis 1 it says, over and over, “It was evening, and it was morning.” This is something that takes some getting used to, if you don’t grow up with it: the day begins when the sun dips below the horizon. The fact that you’ve been up for hours has nothing to do with it.
Jewish living is like that, tilted 90 or 270 degrees from Western secular life. The day begins at sundown. The year begins in the fall. (Also in the middle of winter and in the springtime.) Sunday is yom rishon, the first day of the week (and it begins on Saturday night.) The whole thing is cockeyed.
There is no doubt about it, we are a stiff necked people, as the God of Israel comments to Moses in Exodus 32:9. Only a stiff necked people could insist on their own cockeyed timetable for thousands of years of diaspora, tripping over other people’s holidays and calendars and clocks and whatnot. Ask anyone who asked for Rosh HaShanah off this week: it’s a nuisance. Yet we stick out our stiff necks and insist on it year after year after year, annoying our bosses, confusing our neighbors, and making some paranoid types certain that we are Up to Something, an international conspiracy, perhaps.
Why not accomodate? Why not assimilate? Why not go with the flow, for crying out loud?
We stick with it because time is sacred. The traditional story is that the day begins at sundown because Genesis says so. But we could as well read it the opposite direction: we have that story to explain, to remind us, to keep stepping to that Jewish drummer: it was evening, it was morning, it was the first day. The creation story doesn’t tell us “how the world was made,” it tells us how to look at the world. It’s easy to say, the day begins when I get up in the morning — then the world revolves around my state of consciousness. It’s easy to say, the day begins at midnight, because the government and mutual agreement say so. But Genesis says, “It was evening, it was morning,” to throw us off balance, to say, “Stop! Look! Think! PAY ATTENTION!”
Pay attention, because some years, like this year, Rosh HaShanah is “early.” Mind you, it always comes on the first day of Tishrei, but if you usually live on the Gregorian calendar, this year 1 Tishrei comes on the evening of 4 September, which is unusually early in September. Pay attention, because while in the “regular” world it is 2013, in the Jewish world, it is about to be 5774.
Notice the passage of time. Notice the cycle of seasons. Notice when the sun goes down and comes up, and that will require you to take your eyes off the computer screen, off the TV, off your own navel, and out to the horizon. Live out of step with the ordinary, so that you will step lively. Pay attention.
Pay attention, because as Chaim Stern z”l wrote for Gates of Prayer: ”Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing; let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder: How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it! Blessed is the Eternal One, the holy God!”
What a nice surprise!
I’d never heard of the Sunshine Award until this blog received a nomination for it earlier this week from writer, editor, and history researcher Serendipity Chronicles. According to SC:
The Sunshine Award honors writers who are working to “light up the dark corners” of readers’ minds. It’s a true writer’s honor – a high five given from one scribe to another not just in appreciation of his or her written work, but in recognition of how challenging it can be to put that work out there for all to see – and to keep putting it out there even when the writing Muse is off on a vacation cruise.
Most importantly, it’s an affirmation of the world view that showing kindness is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Thank you to Serendipity Chronicles for nominating me – how very kind of you to give me this encouragement!
Perhaps the best prize is the opportunity to nominate other wordpress blogs for the Sunshine Award. My nominees are:
Rules for Nominees of the Sunshine Awards
- Thank the person who gave you the award in your blog post.
- Include your own responses to the Q&A below.
- Pass on the award to 10 – 12 deserving and inspiring bloggers, give them the good news, and link to their blogs.
Q&A for Sunshine Award Nominees (replace the existing answers provided by Serendipity Chronicles and include the updated Q&A as part of your own post in which you accept the award):
- Favorite color? Chnges constantly.
- Favorite animal? Poodle.
- Favorite number? Five.
- Favorite nonalcoholic drink? Lemonade.
- Favorite alcoholic drink? Guinness.
- Facebook or Twitter? Twitter
- My Passions? My spouse, my sons, teaching.
- Giving or Receiving Gifts? Both equally.
- Elul is the name of the last of 12 months in the Jewish Calendar.
- Elul is not mentioned in the Bible.
- Most years it begins in August of the secular calendar. In 2013, it begins at sundown on August 6.
- Traditionally, it is a time for looking back over the year past, taking stock, and making apologies and amends for mistakes and wrongs.
- For religiously observant Jews, it is a time for teshuvah (click the link for more about teshuvah.)
- Both of these forms of retrospection are a preparation for the High Holy Days.
- During Elul many synagogues sound a blast on the shofar [ram's horn] at morning services. The sound of the shofar is said to awake the sleeping soul.
- Many observant Jews also recite Psalm 27 every day from 1 Elul through Hoshana Rabbah, the end of Sukkot.
- Selichot, special services of penitential prayers, are offered during Elul.
- Many Jews visit the graves of relatives or friends during Elul. It is a form of respect for the dead, and also a reminder that our lives are finite (a theme of the High Holy Days.)
- A greeting for Elul is “K’tiva chatimah tovah” – “May you be written and sealed for good.” This is a reference to one of the major metaphors of the High Holy Days, the Book of Life.
- For more about Elul, check out this article by Rabbi Reuven Hammer.