I Bring My Loved Ones With Me into the New Year – A Personal Reflection

As Rosh Hashanah approaches this evening, I think of my mother, father and grandparents who are no longer alive.

Like my mother before me, I bake her special “Israeli Honey Cake” – with a whole lemon and orange, for a sweet New Year. I set my table with the beautiful festival table cloth she lovingly embroidered. I learn some new text, just as she did, for Torah study was part of the very fabric of her being.

Like my father before me, I craft my sermons and prepare my Machzor – my High Holy Day prayer book. I phone congregants who are sick or in need of a visit, because my father  instilled within me the importance of being there for one’s congregants at all times. I read a new book, for reading and studying was an integral part of who he was, even after his eyesight failed due to complications from diabetes.

Like my grandparents before me, I prepare as best as I can for these High Holy Days, trying to touch base with all my family near and far. My grandparents taught me the blessing of family and so much more.

Like all who came before me, I pray that this New Year, 5775 will see a world that realizes a time of peace and harmony. My parents and grandparents strongly believed in tikkun olam – the value of repairing the world. I learned from them that each one of us must do our part to make this world a safe place for all who dwell upon it. We must use our voices, our hands and our hearts. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, when we take part in social justice we are “praying with our feet.”

As we prepare to enter 5775, I carry my loved ones in my heart. May they continue to inspire me, to guide me and to do my part to make this world a better place.

Making Connections – A Blessing for the High Holy Days

Some time last year, I received a “Friend Request” on Facebook from someone I had not seen in over 30 years.

I had been Audrey’s and Don’s religious school teacher at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts while I was a student at Boston University and for the next two years following my graduation. I had not seen them since I left Boston to attend rabbinical school.

Facebook Friend Request
Facebook Friend Request

I was delighted that Audrey tracked me down! We had some mutual friends in common and she had seen some of my postings on Facebook. I’ve since re-connected with her parents and brother, Don, as well.

This is not an unusual story. I’m sure many of us can share similar stories where we’ve reconnected with friends from our distant past. Friendships from long ago have been renewed and refreshed. And as my mother (of blessed memory) used to say: “What a m’chayeh!” What a great joy!

Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, begin next Wednesday evening (September 24, 2014).

Making connections is what the upcoming High Holy Days are all about: connecting with our innermost selves, connecting with our Jewish community and connecting with God.

There are times the High Holy Days arrive and we feel as if they are distant strangers. How do we make those connections so we feel renewed, refreshed and revitalized?

In a manner of speaking, we make those connections the same way we do on Facebook: by being part of a larger community. The more connected you are, the more connections you will make and the deeper and more meaningful those connections will be.

We are taught in our tradition: Al tiros min hatzibur – Do not separate yourself from your community (Pirke Avot 2:5).

Traditionally, in the Jewish world, a “community” is defined as 10 people. This concept is known as a minyan. Why? Because a group of 10 people has the power to persuade others to make decisions. If you are in the synagogue and not feeling moved by prayer, the voices of others around you can lift your spirits. There is great power, strength and fortitude in community.

When we study in chevruta, in partnership with others, we inspire each other by sharing our questions, our insights and our own thought processes.  And, as the old UJA Federation slogan said: “There is no commUnity without “U.”

As we approach the High Holy Days this year, I offer this blessing:

May you find your place & space in your Jewish community.

May the connections you build be strong and vital.

May these connections enrich your spirit and nourish your soul.

May you hear the innermost voices of your heart.

May you feel touched by the hearts and hands of those around you.

May you touch the lives of others in meaningful ways.

May you hear and feel God’s presence in your life.

Shana Tova U’m’tukah – A New Year Filled with the Blessings of Health, Joy, Contentment and Peace!

 

 

 

Judith’s Blueberry Bramble Coffee Cake

rabbisharonsobel:

This recipe is one of my favorite coffee cakes from my mother’s recipe collections. My mother died four-and-a-half years ago. I think of her every time I make it. The cookbook still has her handwritten notes on it, lots of food stains and lots of wonderful memories. Everyone loves this recipe. Note: if using frozen blueberries, do not defrost before folding them into the batter.

Originally posted on My Nana's Kitchen:

Blueberry CakeThis blog is in honour of my Nana and back in July I was really happy to share my first recipe of her’s, Nana’s Date Squares. When I eat at restaurants, bakeries, friends, or even other members of my family’s, I always love to see people serving their family recipes. I feel that it’s a great way of keeping our loved ones with us, and brings out a sense of pride about oneself and the dish. This recipe comes from my family friend Sharon’s mother and it’s delicious, hope you enjoy!

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9/11 – Nizkor – Let Us Remember

9/11.

Two numbers that will always carry heavy significance for those of us who remember.

How can we ever forget that dread-filled day when the United States was subject to multiple acts of terrorism?

We will not forget – we will remember: Nizkor – Let us remember.

Remember
Remember

I’m sure  each one of us has our own memories of where we were when we heard the unbelievable news of what happened. But rather than evoke images of the destruction and the horror, let us evoke memories of the PEOPLE:

  • those who died
  • those who were injured
  • those who were heroes
  • those whose lives were irrevocably changed.

This is our time for conjuring those memories – for giving life to our memories, because it is those memories which will help sustain and nurture us.

The author Philip Roth once wrote: “You mustn’t forget anything. To be alive, is to be made of memory – if a man’s not made of memory, he’s made of nothing.”

To be alive is to be made of memory. We remember our dead to show that we have grown up and arrived. It enables our loved ones to remain part of us, even though they have parted from us.   Our spiritual life does not only consist of reactions to the present and hopes for the future, but also what we can recall in our minds and hearts of what has been. This gives us a mechanism for coping with the pain, the loss and allowing ourselves to live our lives to the fullest.

If we were to attempt to crystallize the flood of memories, thoughts and feelings that now envelope us as we remember those events from that horrendous day 13 years ago, we realize that we best honor those who died, by affirming our own lives and how we choose to lead them.

Yesh Kochavim – There Are Stars, by Hannah Senesh

There are stars up aboveso far away we only see their light long, long after the star itself is gone. And so it is with people we have loved – their memories keep shining ever brightly though their time with us is done. But the stars that light up the darkest night, these are the lights that guide us. As we live our lives, these are the ways we remember.

Nizkor – We will always remember.

The Month of Elul as a Labyrinth

Around the corner from my house in Mt Sinai, New York is the Little Portion Friary.

This is a Franciscan community which is part of the Episcopal Society of St. Francis. The Friary itself is a residence for friars: Franciscan brothers who pray, live simply, study and work with others for peace and justice. Gracious hospitality is a hallmark of Franciscan life.

This particular friary sits on a lush and beautiful 63-acre piece of property. The brothers are known for the delicious bread they bake every Friday (their bakery runs on the “honor method”: rarely is someone there to take your payment. You take a loaf of bread and leave the payment in the box).

Bakery of the Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, New York
Bakery of the Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, New York

Behind the bakery and residence itself, are walking trails, a tranquil outdoor chapel, and picture-esque grounds.

One of the most interesting elements on the property is the labyrinth, which is open to public from 2:00 PM to dusk daily.

This labyrinth was designed by David Tolzmann of “The Labyrinth Company” (a division of Prism Environmental Group). It’s a seven-circuit labyrinth and is located on a peaceful hillside lawn rising up from the friary, surrounded by magnificent trees and simple gardens.

The labyrinth at Little Portion Friary, Mt Sinai, New York
The labyrinth at Little Portion Friary, Mt Sinai, New York

Labyrinths are not like mazes: once you begin to walk, the path always leads to the center. There is no right way to walk. The goal of walking the labyrinth is to help one find a sense of calm, meaning and peace in one’s life. By walking the labyrinth with purpose, keeping focused on the path, being intentional about staying centered on one’s body, and being open to the experience of the labyrinth itself, we are told that “walking the labyrinth helps to understand thoughts and feelings, soothes and calms one’s spirit.” It has been said that walking the labyrinth can even help one to problem solve. And, it can simply be fun or enjoyable.

As I walked the labyrinth with a friend on our evening walk the other day, it was a very peaceful and calming experience.

I realized that the labyrinth is similar to the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that immediately precedes the Yamim Nora’im – the Days of Awe (aka, the High Holy Days). We enter Elul deliberately, hoping to find purpose and meaning to our lives. We reflect on the year that is ending. We try to be intentional about staying focused on the path of renewal and t’shuvah – repentance.  And we are hopeful that the experience of this time of introspection, soul-searching and reflection will not just “sooth and calm our spirit”, but will lead us to spiritual fulfillment. We hope that when we reach the “center” – the High Holy Days themselves, we emerge from this time renewed, refreshed and recommitted to our Jewish community, to God and to the best of ourselves.

 

 

Crossroads-Preparing for the High Holy Days

When I drive to work every day, I have to cross through a dangerous intersection.  Unfortunately, at this busy crossroad, there’s only a two-way “stop” sign. I would feel much safer if the cars coming from all four directions had to stop.

As I stop, I peer over an incline to see if any cars are careening over the hill, I then look in the opposite direction. I check both ways a second and a third time to see if it’s safe and then I cross over to the other side.

Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road
Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road

Each time I need to cross over this intersection, I am a little anxious because the incline on the street perpendicular to me makes it difficult to see the cars approaching. I think:  “will a car  suddenly zoom over the hill, cross the road and hit me as I am in the middle of the crossroad?”

I am not usually a nervous driver. Yet this intersection leaves me feeling uncomfortable and unsure. I don’t feel safe until I am securely on the opposite side. And then my journey to continues.

I realize this crossroad that causes me agita is really a metaphor for our lives.

Each and every day, we travel along our own highway of life. Each of us – hopefully – does all that we can to ensure that we live our lives to the fullest and best of our abilities: we eat right, exercise, rest and do all of those other “good things.” But we never know what can come careening suddenly over the next incline: will it be an earthquake, like the one that just hit the greater San Francisco area yesterday morning? or illness? or something else for which we cannot possibly be prepared? What about our families, friends and loved ones?

How do we safely navigate these unforeseen obstacles that enter into the intersection of our paths on our life’s journey? Like the cars that come zipping over the hill, some things are simply out of our control.

The upcoming Ya’mim Nora’im - the High Holy Days, and the Hebrew month of Elul preceding them, help give us the tools so that we can chart our course and re-direct our life’s journey if we so need. We might not be able to control what happens, but we are able to approach our circumstances from a different perspective. We can find strength and support from within ourselves, from our community and from God.

The  month of Elul begins tomorrow. Traditionally, Elul is dedicated to studying and preparing for the necessary work of “repairing our souls”. But this is not a once-a-year endeavor. The High Holy Days make us stop and take notice of the frailty of life. They remind us that we are on a journey, and that if we take the time to transform ourselves throughout the year – through reflection, prayer, study, acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and repentance, we will be prepared to enter that “danger-filled metaphorical crossroad” of life.

There are many ways to use this upcoming month to begin to prepare. Here are just a few ideas to help begin this process:

  • Join with your congregational community for Shabbat worship and study. The power of community, prayer and music has the ability to nurture and transform one’s spirit and soul.
  • Subscribe to Craig Taubman’s “Jewels of Elul”. These are short, inspirational insights on the theme of the upcoming High Holy Days written by different people, both well-known and not-so-well known: Jewels of Elul
  • Do some preparatory background reading. A few suggestions:
  1. This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Alan Lew, Little, Brown and Co., 2003.
  2. Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013.
  3. Rosh Hashanah (or/and) Yom Kippur Inspiration, Contemplation, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Lights Publishing.
  4. Machzor: Challenge and Change: Preparing for the New Machzor and the High Holy Days: Volumes 1 and 2, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2014.

We each will encounter many crossroads in the journey of our own lives. The obstacles we encounter will seem less daunting and the more secure we will feel, the more prepared we are.

K’tivah v’chatimah tovah -May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. “

 

 

 

Light – and Hope – in a Time of Darkness

For the past few weeks, I have witnessed some glorious sunrises and sunsets on the Long Island Sound.

Sunrise over Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Sharon L. Sobel
Sunrise over Long Island Sound. Photo credit: Sharon L. Sobel

I always feel God’s presence during those moments, as I silently observe the sun, sky and  water paint the most awe-inspiring landscapes. I am deeply grateful and appreciative of the beauty that surrounds me on a daily basis.

And yet, I know that for some, the beauty that surrounds us is obscured by the pain of physical or mental illness that weighs like an albatross around their necks. The pain creates an impenetrable fog that is too heavy and thick to break through. And therefore, at times, we are unable to see or feel or be part of the world that surrounds us. We are unable to be present for family or friends. Or it takes every last ounce of our strength to do so. And sometimes, the pain and fog and illness win. We can no longer fight. We have no more energy and no more strength.

Robin Williams’ death this past week touches close to home for many of us. For some, mental illness is part of our own lives, our loved ones’ lives or our friends’ lives. And because it is not a physically visible illness like diabetes or cancer, we are afraid to talk about it.

But if we are going to make any sense of the death of Robin Williams, or anyone else who has died in the same manner, we MUST speak about mental illness. We must learn that it is a disease that is like cancer or leukaemia or  kidney disease or migraines. And like those other illnesses, sometimes, people are able to fight them and overcome them. And unfortunately, sometimes the illness wins. So we are left bereft and stunned and at a loss for words. And, we need to keep in mind, Robin Williams did not kill himself, it was his illness that killed him.

Depression and torment have been part of human nature since the beginning of time.  In the Hebrew Bible, King David wrote about his anguish in the Psalms:

“My heart is convulsed within me; terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling invade me; I am clothed with horror. O that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and find rest….” ((Psalm 55: 5-7)

Later on, David finds comfort and hope by reaching out to God:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come? My help comes from Adonai, Maker of Heaven and Earth. He will not let your foot slip, your Guardian will not sleep…”  (Psalm 121:1-3)

Judaism is a religion of hope and of light. We look for light when darkness comes our way. We find hope and light in the warm, loving embrace of family and friends who do not despair when we are in the depths of our own despair, who wrap their arms tight around us, even if we push them away. We find healing and wholeness in “lifting up our eyes” and hearts to God and community.

Sometimes, we find light and hope in someone’s silent presence. But we know that they are there – not leaving us alone. All it takes is one candle, one flame to dispel the darkness.

But sometimes, the flame does go out. And then, we need to find the strength to light a match anew…to create a new spark to dispel the darkness once again.

Every evening, there is a gorgeous sunset on the water and every morning – another gorgeous sunrise. With hope in our hearts, God in our lives, friends and family by our side, we can help each other to experience the beauty and joy of living each and every day.

Shabbat Shalom.

Food for Mind, Body and Spirit

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