While we are enjoying the dog days of summer, we are also in Elul - the final month of the Jewish calendar, and one of traditional personal reflection.
One American synagogue has decided to mark these weeks by issuing a coded question on Twitter: WDSCU2D? Congregation Temple Israel in Omaha's question, asked in the lead up to Rosh Hashanah implores the Jewish world to ask itself: “What does the shofar call you to do?”
In that spirit, and in considerably more than 140 characters, here are three things the shofar calls me to do this year:
1.Move away from “pediatric Judaism”
WDSCU2D reminds me that typically, when I see the shofar being raised from its perch, ready to be blown during high holidays, I race downstairs to the “children’s services” to retrieve my kids to hear it. The shofar, after all, is really all about the kids -- or is it? Some contemporary Jewish leaders are bemoaning what they call “pediatric Judaism,” the notion that Jewish learning and practice is something children do until they take “early retirement” from Judaism -- often at Bar or Bat Mitzvah age. By the time many Jews are adults, they often cease to think of Judaism as playing a role in their own lives -- until they have their own kids, when the cycle continues.
This year, I’m going to take more personal pleasure in Jewish practice. While I will never tire of peeking through my own hands to watch my children’s tiny fingers cover their eyes while saying the blessing over the candles, or help them plaster our sukkah walls with tiny stickers from their personal collection, this year I will attempt to add a more inward-focused meaning and texture to our Jewish life. For when the kids grow up, what Judaism will be left for the adults to mark and celebrate?
2.Look forward, back and across, rather than “up”
This year, I am humbled to be one of the first women ever to lead Rosh Hashanah services. As a volunteer prayer leader, I have been spending hours getting the cadence and tunes, Hebrew inflection and phrasing and emphasis just right. My recurring dream about high-school musical performance anxiety is shifting to dreams where I have forgotten to learn the proper syllable breaks in the Mourner’s Kaddish.
As a Jew who takes Jewish literacy seriously, but who doesn’t believe in God in any conventional way (although Arthur Green’s Radical Judaism comes close to capturing my own perspective), I don’t have a typical reference point. Instead of looking upward to the sky (“avinu she ba’shamayim” -- our father who is in the heavens) when I pray, I metaphorically look back, across and forward.
This year, as I lead Musaf service for the first time, I will look back at my ancestors. I shall try to honor their communal struggles as Jews in an inhospitable world, clinging to tradition while negotiating modernity, integration and new adopted communities in Canada.
I will look across at my fellow worshippers, hoping I am dignifying each unique role and contribution each person makes to the community. And I will look forward, hoping I am giving my children the right combination of particularist and universal values to create interesting and interested, caring and knowledgeable, and humane Jewish adults.
3.Use voice, rather than exit or blind loyalty
Putting individuals together -- even like-minded ones -- in any political, religious or social organization can create natural friction as people attempt to negotiate differences in values and direction. Since economist Albert O. Hirschman wrote his influential 1970 treatise about how individuals function within organizations, I have taken to heart the desire to use voice -- to attempt to change organizations and communities from within -- rather than either blindly follow the status quo, or to exit altogether.
Last year, in my synagogue I helped direct attention to broadening the ritual role of women to be equal to that of men. This year I am trying to open up the conversation around gay and lesbian Jews in our community -- whether by helping recraft the language in our JCC’s mission statement or by helping host Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s visit to our synagogue, while urging my community to think more deeply about ethical eating.
I don’t always succeed, but today is not the last chance for success. Time can make communities more brittle and policies seem more natural and obvious, but thoughtful and well-planned exposure to new ideas can also eventually help people be more open to new directions. As I have found, the key is perseverance and patience rather than passport burning or passing on the chance for another conversation, another chance to trade perspectives.
What does the shofar call you to do? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet your responses to @WDSCU2D. (They also encourage you to send in a photo of your response.)
While you’re at it, copy me on twitter @sucharov. I am always ready to be inspired and exposed to new ideas – all the more so with the shofar sounding as background music.
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