From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson
The High Holy Day season continues after Yom Kippur with Sukkot this first week in October, and it concludes with Simchat Torah on October 11th.
We dressed in our finest, gathered together in synagogue, heard the shofar call us to wake from our slumber, and felt Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur lift last year's mistakes and regrets from our shoulders and psyches so we could start anew.
We start anew in recognition of the abundance (harvest) we enjoy despite the fragility (the sukkah is temporary and airy) of life, and our situations in life.
And from there, we finish reading last year's cycle of the Torah and begin it again. Just like every year before this one, through the opening words of Genesis, we read new meaning into the coming-into-being of the universe and our place in it.
This year, as I've mentioned throughout the High Holy Days, in addition to studying counseling at OSU-Cascades, I am studying mussar. Mussar is the Jewish discipline of character development.
The way mussar practice works is that one studies Jewish texts around a particular character trait: generosity, greed, humility, pride, unconditional love, tough love, etc. In addition to study, one creates simple daily exercises practicing some aspect of the trait.
For instance, if I am working on generosity, I may have a daily exercise of giving away a dollar. If I am working on patience, my daily exercise might be practicing a yoga pose that is not particularly comfortable and holding it for a minute or two - or five.
Over time, the idea is that one begins feeling more authentic and effective in daily life because he or she is paying attention to his or her behavior on a regular basis. We are nicer and more generous when we pay attention. In fact, I imagine most of our regrets stem from apathy rather than ill-will.
It is my hope that as I share my mussar learning with you this year, and offer a mussar practice group next year, we will begin to see a transformation in our congregation.
What sort of transformation am I looking for? As it is, we know we support Temple Beth Tikvah because we want to share Jewish social, intellectual, and ritual experience. We feel just ever so slightly different and want Temple Beth Tikvah to be the haven in which being Jewish is normal.
I'd like us to get more out of being a congregation. I'd like it if being part of Temple Beth Tikvah actually made us better people living more fulfilling lives. I'd like it if we examined the qualities of our characters that make us similar to one another and those that make us unique. I'd like it if we supported one another in the sort of personal growth one can't get at school or work, or even in a therapist's office.
Synagogue should be the place in which we have conversations about what makes a person a good person. Fellow congregants should have shared language to talk about growth and development as a lifelong process. We should practice together, celebrate each other's successes, and understand each other's pain.
We talk a great deal about being a warm and loving community. It's true, we are...for many of us. But not for all of us. Some of us aren't yet integrated into TBT's demographic patterns. And our demographic patterns sometimes feel like multiple congregations within the one. Young families. Empty nesters. Social. Religious. Educational. Tikkun Olam.
Our challenges are similar to synagogues all over the world in this day and age. And mussar practices seem to be making a difference in the manner in which people relate to one another in congregations, and feel relevance between Judaism and the rest of their lives.
During the week of Simchat Torah, look for an email link to a venture called "Our Rabbi's Ramblings." Every Monday, I will offer a brief teaching and a prompt for personal reflection or practice. Consider it digital spiritual education.
Transformation is a slow process. Nothing will seem different overnight or even because of a passive adult learning experiment. But you have to begin somewhere.
"Finding our Connections" is introducing us to the best practices in building community through improved communications. We are learning to listen to each other's stories, and in early November we'll be working on broaching difficult conversations.
Adult Learning is kicking off a psycho-educational first offering on Monday evenings, October 30th - November 13th, called "Daring Greatly." How do we fully show up in life and life situations?
Over time, and through deliberate offerings, I believe we will further develop into a synagogue that is even more relevant than we are now in an ever-changing world. Temple Beth Tikvah is ours to define and mold into what we want it to be. I vote for TBT to be meaningful and purposeful in the lives of our members!