Dear TEE community,

One of the benefits of our location at the JCC is the access we have to outdoor space. Watching the light fade as we celebrate Shabbat, hearing the birds call (sometimes, it seems, in response to our songs), listening to the rustle of trees glowing in the early evening sun — all these experiences and more serve to transform our prayer experience. The profound significance of our connection to the natural world around us is embedded in numerous Jewish observances, especially the holidays.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates creation, imagined as the birthday of the world. This year, we have extended our New Year observances with “Rosh Hashanah in the Woods,” an opportunity to honor and explore the significance of nature as part of our Jewish spirituality. Our gathering will include both active and contemplative options for all ages and abilities (see our website for further details).

This kind of earth-based Jewish practice is also an opportunity to understand the High Holidays in a different way. Experiencing ourselves as part of a sacred creation, in which the holy is present within and all around us, divine power is not hierarchical or judgmental but nourishing and creative. In the words of Rabbi Jill Hammer, “…the cosmos is not just a space we live in. It is part of our very bodies—and we are part of it.”[1]

In this context, the season’s process of teshuvah, returning and renewal, involves recognizing and remembering ourselves as interwoven with the world around us. It is a process of healing, described by medieval mystics as tikkun, repair. Many of us are familiar with the term tikkun olam, “world repair,” as a term for social justice. And it does mean that. But it also encompasses the concepts of tikkun ha-nefesh and tikkun ha-guf – repair of the soul and of the body. In Jewish tradition, all these levels of healing are interconnected and part of what we seek in our holiday observances.

Last but not least, earth-based Jewish practice encourages us to experience the joy of being part of a process of life and growth. An early Hasidic teacher, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, imagined all living things as having a life force, combining with our own in the form of song. He taught: “Remember: Joy is not merely incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital.” Our tradition is profoundly optimistic about our ability to heal and grow, the focus of this season, as a joyful process of reclaiming our authentic selves.

Whether you choose to join us indoors or outdoors (or both), I hope that this holiday season will be an opportunity for you to experience joy, as well as providing time and space for connection and reflection. I look forward to celebrating with you as we renew ourselves and our community.

L’shanah tovah umetukah – wishing you a happy and sweet New Year,

Rabbi Drorah Setel

[1] Rabbi Jill Hammer, “The Sacred Whole of Creation: Sefer Y’tzirah and Jewish Eco-theology,” in Rabbi Andrue J Kahn, ed., The Sacred Earth: Jewish Perspectives on Our Planet, CCAR, 2023