In the Jewish calendar, this November corresponds to the month Cheshvan, also known as Mar Cheshvan or bitter Cheshvan. This is because after the frenetic pace of Tishrei with Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in rapid succession, Cheshvan is an entire month without holidays. Rather than being a bitter time, many of us nowadays probably welcome the respite!
While the Jewish calendar is on hiatus this month, November is rich with civic and civil observances: Election Day, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving. While certainly not intended, this interspersal of Jewish and civil occasions allows us to reflect on our dual identities as Americans and Jews, each in turn.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul!
Much of our attention has been turned, recently, to our celebration of the Jewish holidays in the month of Tishri, which came a little “later than usual.” However, it is appropriate that we now turn our attention to a special little holiday that is distinctly American.
The holiday of Thanksgiving has many parallels to our Jewish festival of Sukkoth, which we celebrate at the end of the harvest season in the land of Israel. However, it may have other origins in some Protestant customs of establishing special days of thanksgiving when certain historic and momentous events take place in any given year. It happened that the pilgrims had a peaceful encounter with the Native Americans after sailing to Plymouth Rock and, therefore, Thanskgiving Day was declared. Since Thanksgiving happens close to harvest time, many of the harvest associations became connected to it.
In America today it represent the special occasion in which all Americans can lend their voice of thanksgiving to God for giving us a successful year of harvest and sustenance. With its distinctly American flavor, the holiday may be observed by religions of all variety. Historically, it took a little time for it to become a national holiday. I believe the first president to declare it as such was Abraham Lincoln. Since then, it has functioned as a great unifying moment for most all Americans to take stock of our many blessings and voice our gratitude heavenward, even though there are some who, for religious reasons, choose not to observe it.
Another fascinating item related to Thanksgiving is the name that is given to the great bird which we use for our feast. Some languages give it the name "Peru," thinking that it stems from that country. Most likely, these languages are more accurate in their claim of the bird's new world Meso-American origin. In English, the word "turkey" comes from the understanding that somehow, the country Turkey was involved in its breeding, production and importation. For those who don't speak Hebrew, the Hebrew term for the bird is “hodu,” which is also the name of the country India. The root of the word “hodu” is the same root as the word for thankfulness. So it is logical that the name of the bird is related to the Thansgiving holiday (or India)!
Perhaps you'll have occasion to bring up this interesting factoid at your family celebration! Whether or not you do, allow me and Beth to wish all of you a relaxing and restful Thanksgiving holiday, infused with a sense of gratitude to God for all of our many blessings. We are truly fortunate to be citizens of a remarkable country.
The Tishrei Holiday Cycle: All Our Limbs
You've heard of the whole body workout... How about the whole spiritual body workout! There is a place in our prayer book each Shabbat when we pray that God help us maintain and thrive in the past and in the present, sustaining us in body from all manner of plague and threat, and therefore, Kol Atzmatai, all of my limbs and every fiber shall give blessing to God and say 'who is like unto you.' The Tishrei cycle of holidays seems to be focused on this whole spiritual body workout!
Rosh Hashanah is not so much the birth of the world. Our rabbis teach that it's the anniversary of the birth of creation. It celebrates, not the birth of the world per se, but the birth of humanity and of human consciousness. On the one hand it requires physical actions–cleaning and cooking for the holiday; eating a festive meal and tasting the sweetness of the apple and honey; gathering our families, sometimes from far away, to celebrate with us; and the mitzvah of actually listening to the shofar with a focus on its historical Biblical associations– but also, listening with a feeling of our own regrets, resolve and sense of potential for the coming year. This is the quintessential celebration of mind and heart.
If Rosh Hashanah focuses on spiritual mindfulness, Yom Kippur carries this forward in a physical way, but by suppression of the physical. We are not intimate in marriage, we do not eat or drink, wash or apply lotions (unless these things a medically called for) for the entire day. Temporarily, we are all mind/all spirit. Our sages liken it to, in a sense, mimicking an angelic existence... until Yom Kippur ends at the moment we eat and drink, and of course, first begin to build the sukkah.
So far, we have engaged primarily the mind, the heart and the hand. But soon the sukkah and the lulav and etrog will engage other limbs. We must inspect and eye the best etrog to buy, we bask in the colors of autumn by eating and being outdoors more. The lulav represents the eyes, lips, backbone nad heart. We make a blessing specifically for the act of sitting in the sukkah, highlighting, therein, the use of yet another important limb. Besides eating in the sukkah, the hearty practice yet another mitzvah–of sleeping in the sukkah. This is the only mitzvah, I think, that we do in a completely unconscious state of mind. Finally, at Simchat Torah, we celebrate the completion and beginning of Torah by dancing with our star–singing and dancing with our beloved Torah. So I ask you, what limb is not engaged as we bring in the first month of the New Year?
There are those who only practice the mindfulness of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I encourage you not to forget the emphasis on other limbs. God and Torah, in their age-old wisdom, know what's good for us and require the full body/mind workout for yearly spiritual reactivation. Please consider yourselves warmly invited for the complete do-over, as we welcome in our new Jewish Year, 5777!
Beth and I wish all our members and their families a Shana Tova! May all be written and sealed for life, health, blessing and vitality this coming year!
Shalom, Chaverim! As I write this, I am celebrating my birthday, and as you read it, you are anticipating or in the midst of the High Holiday season. Both are occasions for joy and festivity, as well as solemnity and introspection. This year, we are face with an added level of uncertainty, tinged with sadness, as we contemplate saying farewell to our Cantor of nearly a quarter century, Ralph Nussbaum.
It is, however, also an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us as a community to carefully review our policies and procedures. There may very well be changes that could be made to better reflect our current environment and the needs of our ever-changing (and hopefully growing) congregation. Currently identified issues include Religious School scheduling, weak service attendance, and inclusive social programming. These are real challenges that get to the heart of what it means to be a community.
Luckily, we have a Board of Directors and various committees which serve as contact points between membership and leadership. I encourage you to attend committee meetings (most times are published in the Weekly Update) and engage with board members (a list of whom can be found in this publication) to make your needs and opinions known. It is my sincere hope that all members will be open-minded and respectful of differing points of view. If we are patient with each other and the process, I am confident that we will come to solutions that are best for the East Northport Jewish Center as a whole.
As we navigate this challenging time, please be assured that the shul leadership is working very hard to make it as smooth as possible. Now, in closing, allow me to be among the first to wish all of you a sweet New Year, an easy fast, and a joyful Sukkot, Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah!
Shalom! This month, synagogue life at ENJC is waking up from its summer slumber. If you have been active this summer, I thank you for your help in making minyanim. Your support is truly appreciated by the shul leadership as well as the families who needed to say Kaddish. If you have been away, I look forward to reconnecting with you at one or more of our scheduled events.
Right after Labor Day, we have 2 B'nei Mitzvah on the schedule: Kevin Siegall on the 10th and Jack Maldavir on the 17th. We are extremely proud of these young men, and I am looking forward to celebrating with their families.
The week of the 11th, Religious School will be opening and our Youth Groups will be kicking off their programming. On the 16th, we will be having a Membership Open House. Come to Shabbat Evening Services and meet potential new members. On the 18th, the Men's Club will once again be sponsoring their anual Family Fun Day, including a cookout, games and opportunities to visit with fellow congregants. Finally, as we approach the end of the month, the High Holiday season commences with a Selichot program on the evening of the 24th. The following week, there will be several volunteer opportunities, as Men's Club and Sisterhood organize chair setup for High Holiday services and the Fundraising committee assembles Honey Baskets. (Don't forget to buy one for your friends!)
Look for details for all of these programs in the Bulletin and our Weekly Update. I'll see you in shul!