By Rabbi Debra Bennet
The month of Elul is all about preparation. As we quickly approach the High Holy Days, we get ourselves ready for a time of reflection, repentance, and connection with the Divine. This period of readying ourselves is an essential part of our High Holy Day observance. However, a few recent events have made me even more aware of how, alongside our preparation, we must be open to the possibility of spontaneous events that create true moments of connection and meaning.
Following the tragic shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin earlier this month, I joined with clergy, government representatives, and individuals of all different faiths and beliefs to mourn with the local Sikh community through a candlelight vigil. We came to show our support and to provide comfort to the congregation as they struggled with this horrific event. As we stood beneath the starry night, candles in hand, the members of the Sikh community discussed their reactions, their thoughts and their sense of absolute shock. They were grateful for the presence of all who had come, reiterating again and again the comfort it provided. But something remarkable happened that evening. More than the support we could give to them was the strength that they gave to each of us. Through the tenants of their religion, a religion emphasizing respect and appreciation for all faiths, they provided us with a true example of responding to tragedy with dignity. The community focused upon retaining a sense of hope and a sense of the goodness of others even in the face of this horrific event. They spoke of the gift we had brought them, but I left having discovered this incredible gift that they had given to us.
This past Shabbat, I gathered with a group of Israeli and American teenagers who are part of a program through the local JCC called “Crossing Borders.” For two years, these teens have been communicating via the internet and exploring the reality of Jewish life in Israel and in America. Last Monday, they met for the first time. On Saturday night, we came together to discuss some “hot topics” that affect the lives of Jews everywhere. I was enthusiastic for the evening to begin, knowing what great conversations would unfold as the night progressed. But, what came to have the most meaning was something that happened before these conversations even began. As we davened Mincha and read from the Torah, the Israelis came up for the aliyot. After the first aliyah was completed, the young Israeli who had read the blessing shared that this night was the first time he had ever participated in the mitzvah of blessing the Torah. Two other Israelis said the same. So on that evening, three Israelis stood at the Torah and recited the Torah blessings for the first time in their lives. As we sang the words of the Shehechianu, I glanced at their faces and the faces of their friends who sat in the pews before them. Feelings of wonder filled the room as we relished in this holy, yet unexpected moment.
Preparation enriches our lives and enriches this season in so many ways. But, as we focus on our process of getting ready, let us remember to remain open to the moments for which we may not have prepared and could not have expected. For in those times, we so often find a link to others and a link to the Divine.