Dear TEE community,

As we gather for the holidays this year we have much to be grateful for, including the successful move to our new home, which has given us the flexibility to meet outdoors in beautiful surroundings. Our ability to be aware of and appreciate nature is particularly apt at this season. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world while Yom Kippur encourages us to re-create ourselves in such a way as to nurture and heal the wider world as well.

This Rosh Hashanah begins a Shmita (sabbatical) year in the Jewish calendar. Just as the weekly sabbath gives us time for rest and renewal, the observance of Shmita every seven years was meant to provide a similar respite for the land and the agrarian society of our ancestors. Contemporary Jews have begun to consider the values embodied in the practice of Shmita, asking how we might live in such a way as to incorporate the balanced rhythm of production and dormancy necessary to sustain life on earth.

Our holiday observances are intended to provide an opportunity for the time and stillness we need to reflect on these essential questions. The liturgy at this time of year frequently uses the metaphor of gates and doors opening, encouraging us to imagine new possibilities and draw on the strengths of our open hearts and minds. My deepest wish for all of us at this season is that our time together allows such openings in our lives, both as individuals and as a community.

We come together while still in the midst of a pandemic which has had a profound impact on all of us. Losses related to death and illness have been compounded by numerous other absences of relationship and routine. Among the many deprivations it exacted was that of community and connection. Whether in person or online, I hope that this season provides all of us with an awareness of the deep, enduring ties we share.

The pandemic made many of us realize how many things we take for granted, from the ability to buy food to sitting by the death bed of a loved one. As we emerge from lockdown, our Jewish spiritual traditions can serve to remind us of how extraordinary even the most everyday aspects of our lives actually are. The Rosh Hashanah shofar service begins with the call: “Wake up you sleepers from your slumber!” Our Jewish practice reminds us to be fully present in our lives, caring for ourselves, others, and the world around us with intention.

May our holiday observances deepen our appreciation of the miraculous nature of creation, reinforce the resiliency we have discovered within ourselves during the pandemic, open us to new paths of healing and growth, and reconnect us to each other and the joy of Jewish community.

Wishing all of us a year of sweetness and health,

Rabbi Drorah Setel