The Refreshed, Reset Cup

My favorite cup of coffee each year is the one sipped the morning after Yom Kippur.  It’s not only holy for its absence from my life for the past 48 hours but because of the person who drinks it: me.  Me, who worked hard to reflect yesterday.  Me, who believes in my ability to stay on the up-and-up with those around me.  Refreshed, reset, sipping.

I drink today thinking of the waning hours of yesterday, as the sun was setting and the day was nearing its blessed end.  I was struck by all I still wanted to say.  In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I am always looking for fresh ideas to bring to my community.  And yet the purest of thoughts seem to arrive at the very end.  It’s the topsy turvy nature of this life of ours, the ever present reminder that life is not linear, and neither are ideas and their delivery.  So maybe this is my starting list for Rosh Hashanah / Yom Kippur speeches for 2023.  Or maybe this is an acknowledgement that tomorrow is never guaranteed so I’m collecting my thoughts today, reflections from the past ten days.

1: If you work your faith, your faith will work for you.  

I had a unique holiday, spending time in three different services over the course of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Regardless of denomination, I saw one thing in common – those that plow the fields of their faith all year long have an easier time connecting on the High Holidays than those who walk in the door one day a year.  Just like any relationship is enhanced from doing the work to get closer, so too is one’s relationship to their religious identity.   Judaism is a gift but we must work to unwrap it each day.

2: If we spend too much comparing to a ‘what has been’, we miss the chance to see ‘what is.’

I’ve been at GW Hillel long enough to see a long span of High Holidays.  I remember packed houses, long lines, and so many registrations that it made my head spin.  But many things change – Covid changed us, Jewish practice is evolving, and I’m looking inward to figure out what tweaks we need to make as an institution to continue to meet this moment in people’s lives.  

And yet – if I spent all day feeling at a loss for days that past, I would miss beautiful days before me.  Many are still in the room.  Stunning, modern, personal Torah was shared.  One student walked up to me and said: ‘Adena, thanks so much for making this space for us.’  Another alum noted, ‘I always feel a warm and welcoming feeling when I enter the presence of GW Hillel holidays.’  I was pushed to be present.

3: None of us should need permission to own our faith.

I am a mother, but not to my students.  They shouldn’t need to ask my permission to do anything and yet I found a number of times over the past days being asked for it anyway. You don’t have to know all the words to be a part of this space.  You don’t have to neglect your entire Yom Kippur practice if your relationship with eating means fasting isn’t an option.  You don’t have to feel the leader of the service is the one that creates the holiday for you – YOU alone can do that.  What would it mean if we could empower one another to make, own, and celebrate our Jewish choices?  What a radically different community we could be a part of.

4: Multifaith is enhanced faith. 

I will be vulnerable and honest in saying I often enter interfaith spaces with low expectations; will we all just meet at the lowest common denominator?  And yet the past days reminded me of how much one person of faith can enhance the experience of another.  I sat with a Catholic student who spoke of Agape, total and unconditional love for one’s fellow being.  I learned from a campus administrator about distance in faith, how G/d never moves so maybe you need to think about how you have.  Multifaith spaces can bring out the best in us, shedding new light on our practices that may feel tired.  

Here’s to a year of continued inspiration for speeches to come.

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