From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson
September means school and September means High Holy Days!!
I hope everyone has enjoyed a beautiful and fun-filled summer in Central Oregon and wherever our vacation travels have taken us.
Figuring out where to watch the eclipse and then watching it was an experience shared with family members and neighbors and strangers. I particularly enjoyed the sense of unity witnessing such a magnificent event together generated. We were all amazed. No matter how much we understand science and the workings of the universe, we could not help but marvel at the momentary blocking of the sun, the flash, the late morning experience of dusk and its light winds, the rarity of the occurrence...we were there to witness it and experience it.
As all things, not just the good ones, come to an end, so this summer wanes into another new school year and shortly afterward, the High Holy Day season.
The turning of seasons calls us to turn our attention to the gap between who we imagine ourselves to be and who we actually are in life. The High Holy Day work of Teshuvah, repentance and return, begins as we prepare to greet Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur during the second half of the month.
This year I have engaged in two new cycles of learning that are worth noting.
During the summer, I began studying in the Masters in Counseling program at OSU-Cascades. I am participating in a two-year (including summers) graduate program, working towards earning a license to practice as a therapist in the State of Oregon. My intention is to develop a part-time counseling practice to complement my part-time professional commitment to Temple Beth Tikvah. I hope to specialize in relationship, intimacy, and life transitions.
One task from the summer courses I took was to develop an affinity for a particular theoretical approach to counseling. Not surprisingly, I landed in what's known as an existential therapeutic orientation. The founders of this approach were Hegel and Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Buber, and Victor Frankl. While an ongoing search for meaning marks my rabbinate and will guide my work as a counselor, I have also discovered that another theoretical orientation co-pilots my journey. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy addresses thoughts, feelings, and actions. In addition to creating and choosing meaning in life, we can and ought to learn how to exercise control over how we think, feel, and act.
Also this summer, Temple Beth Tikvah supported me in attending a retreat and subsequent distance learning program in Jewish mindfulness and Mussar (Jewish character development) offered by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Throughout this year, I will meet monthly online with a teacher and five other rabbis to continue this course of study. Next year I will train a group of TBT members, and in the following year that group of trainees and I will begin implementing Jewish character development into our TBT program offerings.
Mussar (Jewish character development) literature begins in rabbinic times and is further developed in the Middle Ages in Jewish communities in Spain. In the late 19th century, the mainstream Rabbis of Eastern Europe refine and strongly encourage Mussar teachings and practices in response to the populism of Chasidism. Chasidism challenged the Jewish establishment by elevating the idea of cultivating an individual spirituality in contrast to the hierarchical structure of Yeshivah book learning. Mussar addresses less the amorphous nature of spirituality and focuses instead on individual development around character development. What are the traits we want to strengthen (generosity, learning,) and the traits we want to harness (indignation, self-absorption,) to be a good person?
Expect to learn about Mussar and Jewish mindfulness over the course of the next couple of years. I will write and speak about topics I am learning and practicing in sermons, newsletter articles, and adult learning offerings. Bring your curiosity and your questions. Your feedback will guide our communal journey of learning and practicing together.
I look forward to seeing everybody at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services and gatherings!