Dear TEE community,

The Jewish month of Elul begins this Saturday night, which means Rosh HaShanah is only a month away. Traditionally, Elul is a time for reflection and repairing relationships in preparation for the holiday season. While we may not wish to get up in the middle of the night to recite penitential poems, as is the Sephardi custom, there are still many ways to use this time to get ready for the coming observances.

First, and foremost, of course, is making teshuvah, the process of “returning” to our better selves and right relationships. It can be something as simple as scheduling time to take a walk or as complex as healing a longstanding emotional injury. Most of us do not commit terrible crimes against one another, and so the task of repair is usually straightforward, even if it not always easy. It might be calling a friend and letting them know you’d like to be back in touch or apologizing to a family member for a hasty word said in anger. Take a few minutes to think about the people in your life with whom you would like to feel authentically connected and what you can do to make that happen.

One of the nicest ways of letting people know you care about them at this time of year is the custom of sending New Year greetings. The practice of writing to family and friends before Rosh HaShanah dates back to the fifteenth century, although it wasn’t until the 1880s that technology made printed cards affordable for large numbers of Jews. Even a short note to tell someone you’re thinking about them makes a difference, especially in this age of electronic communication.

Traditionally, the shofar is blown every morning during the month of Elul. The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken us to awareness and appreciation of the miraculous gift of life. If you have a shofar, I’d like to encourage you to use this time to practice and participate in our holiday services! Even if you don’t own one, think about taking a minute or two each morning to ask yourself what you would like to be paying attention to in your life. Everyone will also have the opportunity to hear the shofar call during our Elul shabbat services.

It is also customary to read Psalm 27 daily. If you do not find that inspiring, you could substitute a reading or poem that has meaning for you at this time of year. One that I find myself turning to in this season is “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver, which ends with the line, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Our congregational Elul observances begin on Sunday with our Elul New Moon Circle, celebrating our animal companions. On Wednesday, we will begin our annual Elul classes, which will be held both in person and on Zoom, and our S’lichot service takes place on the evening of Saturday, September 17. I hope to see you at one or all of these events during the coming month.

May this season of reflection and return be one of renewal for all of us.

Rabbi Drorah Setel