2009 / 5769

2009 / 5769

Dear Friends,

Throughout the month of Elul, it has been our honor to share Jewels of Elul with you. What an incredible year. What incredible contributors with over 200,000 people reading the Jewels online and in the printed books.

I want to thank our sponsors for their most generous support of the project and our online partners for getting the word out. Thanks to their cooperation, we were able to make the past 29 days of Elul count in a very unique way.

If you were intrigued or inspired by even one of the Jewels, please consider supporting the work of Jewish Family Service by clicking HERE.

Shana Tova, to a sweet and joyous New Year…we hope to see you again in 5771.

Craig Taubman


Elul 29
An Eye By Any Other Name
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
“An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. The injury one inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him.” (Leviticus 24:20)These are harsh words that are quite direct. In the United States, this legal principle still holds true with the death penalty. If you kill someone, you could be killed by the state as punishment. Some societies still practice “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth” in the literal sense. However, the rabbis quickly denounced the practice of removing an eye from someone who had poked out the eye of another. They said that this wasn’t what was intended at all – many factors had to be taken into account when determining punishment and restitution. After all, an eye might be worth something different to someone whose occupation was based on sight.

Restitution is fundamental to doing teshuva. It’s not enough to say you’re sorry. We are obligated to try and make whole a person we have hurt.

But what if the person is dead? I believe in cosmic restitution. And the concept of “an eye for an eye” gives us guidance. If physical restitution is impossible, one can still make restitution out to the universe; to make whole – or at least a little more whole – the damage we have done.

In the Richard Attenborough movie Gandhi, a Hindu nationalist confesses to Gandhi that he murdered a Muslim child. He is full of remorse and guilt. Gandhi tells him that the only way to repent – though it cannot undo the murder – is to adopt a Muslim child orphaned by the violence, and raise him to be an observant Muslim adult.

And the universe can be made a bit more whole.

Sharon Kleinbaum is the Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, the largest LGBT synagogue in the world. www.cbst.org


Elul 28
Clever’s Offer
Father Greg Boyle
“Clever” seems eager to begin at Homeboy Silkscreen and, at 22 years old, he has assured me he is ready to retire his jersey from the barrio. He moves with me easily through the factory, shaking hands with those printing shirts or catching them as they are spit through the conveyor-belt dryer. Until he turns a corner and sees “Travieso,” a 24-year-old from an enemy ‘hood. They stare at their feet. They mumble. They do not shake hands. I will discover sometime later that the hatred they hold for each other is profundo. This is a personal pedo, and the breach is beyond repair. This much I sense in the moment.

“Look,” I tell them, “if you can’t hang working together – I gotta grip of homies who would love to have this jale.” They say nothing, so that’s that.

Some months later, “Travieso” finds himself surrounded in an alley, greatly outnumbered by members of an enemy gang, who beat him badly. While he is lying there, they kick his head until he is lifeless. At White Memorial Hospital, he is declared brain dead. The doctors will wait 48 hours to secure a “flat read,” then they can officially declare him “deceased.”

During those first 24 hours, I am in my office late at night, and the phone rings. It’s “Clever.” “Hey,” he begins awkwardly, “that’s messed up ’bout what happened to “Travieso.”

“Yeah, it is,” I say.

Clever asks, “Can I give him my blood?”

This offer sucks the breathable air out of the atmosphere for both of us. Clever punctures the quiet with great resolve and unprotected tears.

“He was…not…my enemy. He was my friend. We…worked together.”

Father Greg Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit offering alternatives to gang violence. www.homeboy-industries.org


Elul 27
Everything In Its Right Place
Ruth Andrew Ellenson
For a long time, I thought that things – people, experiences, relationships, my self – could be fixed. I’ve since come to believe that while improvement, transformation and growth are possible, and even desirable, fixing something is not. To fix something implies that you can make it what it once was – restore it to its original state, unblemished – as if it had never been broken. It’s a mistake, this logic: a misguided notion, an unattainable and even undesirable goal that kills potential.

To want to fix things is honorable; it implies a sense of justice and fairness in the world, to right a wrong, to cure a disease.

But I think in the focus we place on fixing, we lose sight of the potential of the cracks. When something cracks open like an egg – be it an object, or our hearts – the messiness is evident, even overwhelming at first. Everywhere we look, there are shards that must be pieced back together – millions of tiny pieces seemingly too innumerable to count.

But we have more power than we think. We can change our perspective. We can look at what has been broken, and we can figure out how to put the pieces back together to create something new and potentially much, much better – even if we don’t recognize immediately what the transformation has given us.

With a little grace, and a second glance, we can hopefully discover that by relaxing our need to fix things, everything will settle into its proper place.

Ruth Andrew Ellenson received the National Jewish Book Award for editing “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt.” www.guiltguide.com


Elul 26
Dream The Possible Dream
Danielle Berrin
I remember the day. It was September 9, a Tuesday, when he left me. One minute we were gallivanting on Laguna Beach like movie stars in 1930s swimsuits – and then, the screen went dark and I awoke in a Kafka novel.“I’m done, Dani,” he said, as my hand trembled beneath his. And then he kissed me goodbye. I couldn’t help but watch him walk away, despite the pain, and then I slept for 13 hours.

Our break-up wasn’t just the end of love; it was the loss of a dream. I mourned the wedding we’d never have, our unborn babies with his curly blonde hair and piercing green eyes, and the antique rocking chairs we’d have on our country house patio, in which we’d spend the twilight of our lives talking about literature and life and the miracle of universal health care. 

My dream was so powerful, it brought us back together.But I couldn’t forgive him for leaving. “If you loved me, how could you?” I’d fuss. I held regular princess tantrums to punish him. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’d happen again; our trust had been shattered and I knew he was capable of giving up.

As we moved forward, his kisses reassured me. His willingness to try again renewed my faith in the possible.

Forgiveness is your heart letting go. It’s finding freedom in fixing what’s broken, or even believing that you can. And sometimes, it doesn’t happen in a swift moment; it’s something you do over and over, every day.

Danielle Berrin writes for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Her blog can be found at www.jewishjournal.com/hollywoodjew


Elul 25
A Load Off My Chest
David Broza
Anger and unresolved conflicts can be the source of heavy loads that weigh on our chests and on our subconscious. The effects of unresolved issues with loved ones, with partners or even with neighbors often go unnoticed until we are confronted. The confrontation is not always the result of a crisis; it can come from a moment of accomplishment and triumph that awakens the need to resolve past anger and disappointments, and bring forth forgiveness.

Twenty-five years ago, I had a major success in Israel with an album called Haisha Sheiti. The euphoria also brought with it conflict and distrust, mostly due to inexperience. The result was a breakup of relationships with a few players key to this success. None of us know exactly what happened. That’s the essence, the truth of it all. But after a long period of dis-communication, maturity prompted me to extend an invitation to many of these players who had long been estranged. The occasion was the gala event marking the 25th anniversary of our success which was to take place in Tel Aviv’s grand Mann Auditorium.

One particular partner asked me over to his house to meet his family. The intimacy of that meeting led us to sit down and try to catch up with each other. What reappeared was the old affection and trust.

Before we parted, our eyes locked and the inevitable question came up, “What happened 25 years ago that caused this long rift?”

There was a blank space. It was a moment of forgiveness. Now with a little less of a load in my soul, I can confront new dreams.

David Broza is a multi-platinum Israeli singer-songwriter and a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. www.davidbroza.net


Elul 24
The Ascending Spiral
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
“We forgive not because we believe that what was done was unimportant, but because we are prepared to put aside our anger long enough to hear words which reflect remorse and regret, long enough to begin to believe that people have the potential to grow.”

~Rabbi Charles Klein, Mahzor Lev Shalem, the new Conservative Mahzor

When we feel that we have been wronged, the impulse to distance ourselves, quickly, from the source of that insult is great, because the insult wounded our sense of self-worth. We wish to “write those people off,” in order to rid our lives of the suggestion that we were not worthy of greater respect. In flight from a challenge to our self-esteem, we distance ourselves, mistakenly, from our own power. At that point, we are in the greatest danger of becoming an agent of hurt and suffering in the lives of others.

If we cannot recognize our own power, then we cannot measure the impact of our words and deeds on others. We become desensitized to our ability to inflict the very sort of wound from which we struggle to recover. Our empathy, that quality which brings us closest to the Divine, is hobbled.

Intrinsic to the process of forgiving others is the renewal of our sense of agency. In forgiving one who has harmed us, we connect our personal power to that of God and Torah. In doing so, a downward spiral reverses to ascent and we not only recover the personhood we sought to preserve through flight, but we set in motion a far-reaching process that has the power to affect many lives and to soothe many sorrows.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is the Executive Vice President of The Rabbinical Assembly. www.rabbinicalassembly.org


Elul 23
He Made Me Jewish
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo
The blackboard brush didn’t hit me, but it was close. It crashed through the large window behind me. I got up. No one in the classroom said a word. The teacher, who taught us Latin and Greek, had thrown the eraser at me. And he knew he was in trouble. Several weeks earlier, I had decided to ride my bicycle to school on Saturday morning, but I refrained from turning on my headlight in the early morning hours. I was stopped by a policeman who said that if I wanted to observe the Jewish day of rest, I should walk to school and not put lives in danger. So I arrived very late, sat down and opened my book. But I did not write, for it was Shabbath! My Dutch Literature teacher, the Con-rector of this non-Jewish gymnasium, asked me why I didn’t pick up my pen. I told him, and he smiled. Once he recognized my sincerity about Shabbath, he convinced my father to allow me to go to synagogue instead of school.

However, now that I, the Shabbath observer, was missing my Saturday morning classes in Latin and Greek, the Latin teacher wished to take revenge and threw the blackboard brush at me.

I told the Con-rector what had happened. He accompanied me to the classroom, saw the broken window, and fired the Latin teacher in front of all of us.

I became an instant hero in the gymnasium and decided then and there that I, a 15-year-old kid, the child of a mixed marriage, would become a Jew. And so I did. This is the only time I have forgiven an anti-Semite, and for good reason.

He had successfully helped me to become Jewish!

<font >Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy, Beth Midrash of Avraham Avinu, in Israel. www.cardozoschool.org


Elul 22
Stories For My Grandma
Tobin Belzer
My grandma’s spirit died long before she did.

To say that her grandchildren were devoted to her doesn’t begin to describe it. Once a week, for more than 10 years, my sister and cousins gathered at her house for dinner. Before I moved home to Los Angeles and joined that weekly pilgrimage, I called from Boston every week to amuse her with anecdotes about my days as a graduate student. While actually living my life, I would simultaneously compose a story about it to entertain her.

As her world grew smaller, hearing about her family’s lives became a substitute for her own. She spent her days sitting and reading in her living room, doing crossword puzzles and talking to her children and grandchildren.

After awhile, she stopped doing anything but sitting. We tried to summon up her spirit with our stories, but we could barely engage her. It was heartbreaking to watch her vivacity slip away. She lived like that for almost a year: alive but not living.

She’d had enough, and the fierceness of our love for her could not change that. To see her like that was a reminder that her life had not been easy.

In the years since my grandma died, I find myself longing for a time when my stories for her helped to give shape and meaning to her life, and to mine. So I’ve continued to think of my life as a narrative I’m writing for her.

That’s how I’m keeping her spirit alive.

Tobin Belzer is a sociologist of American Jewry at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/


Elul 21
Allow God To Change Your Mind
Pastor Rick Warren
Imagine riding in a speedboat on a lake with an automatic pilot set to go east. If you decide to reverse and head west, you have two possible ways to change the boat’s direction. One way is to grab the steering wheel and physically force it to head in the opposite direction. By sheer willpower you could overcome the autopilot, but you would feel constant resistance. Your arms would eventually tire of the stress, you’d let go of the steering wheel, and the boat would instantly head back east, the way it was internally programmed.This is what happens when you try to change your life with willpower: You say, “I’ll force myself to eat less, exercise more, quit being disorganized and late.”

Yes, willpower can produce short-term change, but it creates constant internal stress because you haven’t dealt with the root cause. The change doesn’t feel natural, so eventually you give up and quickly revert to your old patterns.

There is a better, easier way: Change your autopilot. “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)

This mental shift is called repentance, which in Greek literally means, “to change your mind.” You repent whenever you change the way you think by adopting how God thinks – about yourself, sin, God, other people, life, your future the whole beautiful
speedboat ride.

Pastor Rick Warren is Pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA and the author of “The Purpose Driven Life.” www.rickwarren.com


Elul 20
Call A Spade A Spade
Gina Nahai
I’m not sure I know how to forgive; I certainly haven’t had much practice at it. For forgiveness to be a possibility, there must first be a recognition – by the victim, the perpetrator, the people around them – that a wrong has been committed. But I come from a culture where women have few rights. What to them feels like a violation is usually considered standard behavior by everyone else. Women are oppressed by society and religion, by men, and by women older than themselves. They suffer the injustice silently, or whisper about it to each other. Sometimes, they may scream it out loud, but they’re crying in the wind. There’s no acknowledgement, no apology, no need really, to forgive.

That’s how I grew up and why I never gave much thought to forgiving anything or anyone. I could tell when an offense had been committed, but I didn’t learn to identify it publicly. I wasn’t even allowed to defend myself for fear that it would be construed as bad behavior. So I kept the anger close to my heart and went on. I think that’s what you call “holding a grudge.” It’s what the powerless do – what they resort to in the absence of any form of restitution.

I’ve had to teach myself, to train my aptitude for self-defense, to call a spade a spade and demand acknowledgement of it. Once that’s done, I have no trouble forgiving; in the absence of it, I may forget, but I won’t forgive.

Gina Nahai’s novels have been translated into 18 languages. She is the author of “Caspian Rain” and a professor of creative writing at USC. www.ginabnahai.com


Elul 19
A Collective Healing
Rabbi Michael Lerner
As Americans have become increasingly psychologically sophisticated, it becomes much easier for people, Jews and non-Jews, to say, “I’m sorry.” But Teshuva requires more than recognizing that we may have hurt someone – it requires an actual change in behavior, not just as individuals but as a community. The brilliance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that we can challenge the individualism of American society with the Jewish focus on our collective responsibility for each other. Hence, we repent not just for our personal sins but for the sins of the entire community of which we are part. Many people in my congregation have come to the recognition that as American Jews, we have some real collective responsibility for the role that some Jews have played in encouraging an ethos of materialism and selfishness, not only in the obvious case of Bernie Madoff, but in the design of misguided policies that led to the economic meltdown. Similarly, the recovery plan targeted the needs of banks and investment companies while short-changing the unemployed and people made homeless by the mortgage crisis. Western societies remain committed to unlimited (and, inevitably, environmentally destructive) “growth” – and too many in our community remain transfixed by the desire to accumulate wealth and power without regard to social and environmental consequences.

These challenges, to heed God’s call to return to our mission of healing and repair (Tikkun), make this season not only personally important, but important to the future of humanity.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is Editor of Tikkun and Rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco and Berkeley, CA. www.beyttikkun.org.


Elul 18
A Great Loss
Mannon Kaplan
A great loss, what is it? Is it 9-11? A Tsunami that kills thousands? The Holocaust, which killed millions? As mind-boggling as these are, they are not “up close and personal.” A great loss is when one loses a parent, spouse, child or close friend. Their memory will live on with you, but your everyday interaction will not. The loss of your spouse, best friend, lover and confidant is a “Great Loss.”When it happened to me, it created a big emptiness in my life. I experienced emotions that I had never felt prior to that “Great Loss.” Despair, loneliness and anger appeared first, and then a feeling of having no direction; then a reality that if I was going to continue to live, I must find a new purpose. My life was never going to be the same, and only I could control what would lie ahead.

I realized that my “Great Loss” was unique to me. People before me and many more to come would experience their own personal “Great Loss.” My life since that “Day” has taught me that we are not really prepared to help others with their “Great Loss” until we can learn from our own.

My life is full and rich, and I have no regrets. I have learned more about life, people, and myself since my “Great Loss” and have been able to be of comfort to others who are now experiencing their “Great Loss.”

Mannon Kaplan is the managing partner of Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co., LLP. www.millerkaplan.com


Elul 17
The Gateway To Love
David Gregory
As Jews, we are obligated to honor our parents in the way we honor God. The idea reflects a simple truth: without them, we wouldn’t be here.Such an obligation, however, is not always easily met.

I have struggled with my parents as I make sense of my childhood and what I think could have and should have been different.

At times, my relationship with them has been badly strained.

What has brought me back is my commitment to what God expects of me and what it takes to become a giving person. Forgiveness and acceptance – however difficult – are the gateway to love. Without love, resentment can reign; worse, it can become a weapon used unwittingly against the people we care about most.

I am moved daily when saying the bedtime shema. We forgive others and ask that we, too, will be forgiven. We make that expression of the heart to experience peace while we sleep.

Teshuva, repentance, and moving forward are about conquering our desire for punishment or retribution. It is how we honor each other and in so doing, honor God.

David Gregory is the moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” www.mtp.msnbc.com


Elul 16
Until Our Last Breath
Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman
As a spiritual caregiver to elders, I have often wondered if it is ever too late for forgiveness. Sam and his son and daughter-in-law, Irv and Deborah, taught me that forgiveness is possible until we draw our very last breath.

In the 30 years Deborah and Irv had been married, Sam never gave Deborah a break. Imperious and harshly critical, Sam never acknowledged Deborah as a loving wife and mother. He never thanked her for shopping for him, for taking him to the doctor, or for remembering his birthdays. Now 95 and still crusty but oysgemitchet (worn out), Sam lay dying in the hospital.

Deborah and Irv were at Sam’s bedside when I arrived. I offered Sam an opportunity to say Viddui, the traditional Jewish deathbed confessional prayer. “You know I don’t believe in God, Rabbi,” Sam replied. I said, “Sam, I think this prayer is really an opportunity to talk to one another as much as to God. Maybe there are things that you, Irv, and Deborah would like to say in this last part of your lives together.”

Deborah went first. “Pop, I love you, I always have.” Irv stroked Sam’s hair and said, “Pop, I love you. I’m going to really miss you.” With tears in his eyes, Sam turned to Deborah: “You know, I’ve been really hard on you. You have been good to me. I love you.” Deborah, crying now, too, replied, “I know you do, Pop. I forgive you.”

Together, we recited the Shema.

Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman is the Director of Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. www.hiddur.org


Elul 15
It Is Never Too Late
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
What if the injured party is dead? How, then, do you repent?

My grandmother was a take-charge Jewish woman, a business executive in the 1930s long before such things were common. She was a committed Jew with no patience for traditions she thought meaningless. She was a Zionist when Zionists were hard to find. Devoted to her family but also to her family business, she hired housekeepers to help with her children when Jewish mothers did not do such things.

In the last year of her life, I was a rabbinical student, overwhelmed with work, concerned with my own family and – inevitably – with myself. I kept telling myself: Call Bama (which is what her grandchildren called her). She had not been well, although none of her illnesses seemed life threatening. I didn’t call her, and she died suddenly. And I have been asking myself for 35 years: Why didn’t I call?

The challenge at the Holidays is sometimes not the big sins – violence, evil thoughts, and lewd associations – but the smaller ones: unwilling and unintentional sins.

How do I repent at this season for the sins against my grandmother? How do I move forward?

To some extent, I don’t because I can’t. The sin stays with me.

But I can do this: I set aside some time to reflect about her life and her accomplishments, about her love for her family, and about how much of what I have become derives from who she was.

And I think about those who are important in my life whom I have been neglecting. And I call them.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is President of the Union for Reform Judaism. www.urj.org


Elul 14
My Tale Of Two Cities
Rob Kutner
When I first moved to Los Angeles, we didn’t exactly hit it off. I found the city too driven by appearance and dominated by one industry. You wasted your life in traffic, and no one made connections more lasting than “So… we should really…” “Yeah, totally.”

So after relocating to New York City, I joined the ranks of the “L.A.-haters.”

Then, a few things dawned on me: New York would be more driven by appearance, if appearances weren’t covered up much of the year. And as for industry domination, unlike Wall Street, at least Hollywood wasn’t triggering a global calamity. That is, until one of my screenplays gets made.

New York is easier socially – too easy. Everyone is in your face, sometimes literally. (On the subway, you’re lucky if it’s just your face.) It’s a city of 8 million Jewish mothers – 7,999,999 more than I need.

I can’t entirely forgive L.A. for its traffic, because true teshuvah requires a chance to redeem the sin. And the city has had opportunities to put in real public transportation but has missed the ball worse than Charlie Brown with a legful of novocaine.

But now that I’ve moved back, I see L.A. with fresh eyes. I enjoy the breathing space and think of the long commute as an opportunity to enjoy the beauty – natural, personal, surgical. So L.A., I hereby forgive you for my initial criticisms and ask your forgiveness for my rush to voice them. Because, I see the highest form of forgiveness as a two-way street – even if it happens to be jammed in both directions.

Rob Kutner is a writer for “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” and the creator of New York’s hottest Purim spiel, “The Shushan Channel.” www.robkutner.com


Elul 13
The Path Within
Noah benShea
This is a season when we are compelled to turn and look at ourselves, even as we learn that sometimes the only thing worse than a bad mirror is a good one.

In pursuit of forgiveness, most of us turn to God. Most of us also think of forgiveness as a vertical line, an up-and-down exchange, between us and Heaven. But while the first five Commandments are between God and Humankind, the second five Commandments are between us and each other. Consequently, to God – who certainly created the world out of love not compulsion for who could have compelled God to do anything – forgiveness is a horizontal line and is premised on our being forgiving to others. However, our ability to be other-forgiving requires us to be self-forgiving. This first-stage healing is neither vertical nor horizontal, but an inner journey.

So, for any of us seeking forgiveness, here is the map: Take the inner path to self-forgiveness, which allows you access to the horizontal path of other-forgiving, which leads you vertically to Divine forgiveness.

It is a process; forgiveness is not ahead of you but within you. On that journey, you are ground zero; you are the starting point, and the way ahead is the path within. Bon voyage!

Noah benShea is the international best-selling author of 22 books translated into 18 languages, including the famed “Jacob the Baker” series. www.noahbenshea.com


Elul 12
Hide And Seek
Aliza Kline
“Ready or not…here I come!” As the mother of three girls, this is a familiar refrain in my household. When we play, I think about my own childhood experiences…the anxiety of being the “hider,” the search beginning before I was “ready.”

The chagim are coming, ready or not. Every year, I remember to get ready a little too late, sometimes not until halfway through the liturgy on Rosh Hashana. I need to schedule a reminder on my Google calendar, “Don’t forget to prepare your soul for the New Year!”As the director of a mikveh, I’d prefer a splash of water. Of course, there’s tashlich – tossing crumbs into water, symbolically casting away sins. But that often feels like taking inventory of my shortcomings. I don’t feel transformed afterward; in fact, sometimes I feel rotten.

Rabbi Dan Judson taught me about a Kurdish tradition of full-body tashlich, throwing your whole self into water. Given my job, this is especially appealing.

So, this year, I will prepare for the chagim by blocking out an hour in my crazy schedule for an immersion. I will prepare slowly and thoughtfully, removing all obstacles between myself and the water. I will reflect on the stuff I’d like to release, ask forgiveness for repeating myself every year, and let myself sink in.

Maybe because it is so complete, maybe because it requires my whole self…
After this ritual, I know that I will be awake.

……… Open. 

……… ……… Ready.

Aliza Kline is the Executive Director of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center. www.mayyimhayyim.org


Elul 11
Returning To My Canvas
Rabbi Elie Spitz
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that we should live our lives as if painting a work of art. When I first read this as a new rabbinical school student, I felt troubled. Before beginning my studies, I had wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I was aware that my compulsive self-endangerment and lies had caused enormous pain to those closest to me. Now, out of the hospital and on the slow path of healing, I felt like damaged goods. My artwork had smudges. 

Years later, I read that infrared photographs of the Mona Lisa revealed that Leonardo da Vinci had repainted parts of his masterpiece. “Aha,” I thought, “we can repaint.”

Each relationship provides a canvas. Where we have failed our children or our life partners, we can repaint or fill in the canvas. Repair is often adding a bit more love, steadiness, or attention to make up for past conflict, neglect, or foolishness. Like a work of art, our relationships need the perspective of a full canvas, allowing us to appreciate the dark lines, drab patches, and the bright colors. These different moods and moments can be part of a coherent, attractive whole.

The meaning of the word teshuvah is “to return.” This is the season for teshuvah. We can re-envision, revise and augment the canvases of our lives. We can make them more whole, more holy, more evocative of an embracing smile with each act, with each stroke of color.

Elie Spitz is the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, CA (www.cbi18.org) and the author “Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World.” 


Elul 10
Facing Tragedy
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
The l6th of January, 2009, is the day when my three precious daughters and niece were killed by Israeli shells. I do not want anyone in this world to see what I have seen.

What I have lost will never come back. I need to go forward and be motivated literally by the spirit of what I lost, and to do them justice. I lost three precious daughters, but I am blessed with five other children and the future. I believe that life is like riding a bicycle, as Einstein says – “To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” I will keep moving.

And what about forgiveness? Is forgiveness necessary? When you forgive someone, you forgive and value yourself. Forgiveness is about letting go, completely and permanently.

Then there is the choice, the crossroads, the path of light or the path of darkness. I chose the first. Most people assume that this path, that of forgiveness, is difficult, but in the long run it is easier to forgive than to live with hatred or be consumed with revenge.Forgiveness helps you move forward, away from the pain of the past to the brightness of the future. Indeed, forgiveness opens the door to a future that will not repeat the old tragedies. Sometimes the beauty in forgiveness is to forgive when you do not know whom to forgive, when no one asks you for forgiveness.

Whatever the situation, to err is human, but to forgive is truly divine.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, M.D., M.P.H., is an Associate Professor in the Dala Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. www.daughtersforlife.com
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Elul 9
An Army Of Peace
Zeev Bielski
When I was a small child in Jerusalem, I would go shopping with my mother. We would see lots of people with numbers tattooed on their arms. When I asked my mother why these people had tattoos on their arms, she would not reply but would change the subject. Only later did I realize why I had no grandfather or grandmother on either my mother’s or my father’s side.My father, who was still serving in the Israeli Defense Forces reserves, told me he was sure that when I grew up, I would serve in an army of peace.

I joined the army. I was involved in a number of wars and saw some of my best friends pay with their lives for the right to live in the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish People.

When my son Eran was born, I looked at him during his Brit Millah, and I prayed for him and for us all that when he grew up, he would serve in an army of peace. Eran is now serving in an IDF combat unit. I hope and pray that perhaps his son will grow up and serve in an army of peace.

Throughout my life in public service, I have tried to adopt the way of the Rambam and to follow the path of the golden mean together with the path of action.

Let us all pray that, together, we shall be able to bring peace and security between ourselves and our neighbors.

Amen.

Zeev Bielski serves as a member of the Israeli Knesset. He is the Chairman of the Jewish Agency and a former mayor of Ra’anana.
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Elul 8
I Heart My Mom
Elisa Albert
I talk to my mom at least once a day. My peers (not to mention my partner!) think it’s a bit excessive. But I live far away, and I miss and love her dearly, counting her among my closest friends. Which isn’t quite what you’d expect, given the excruciating disintegration of what used to be our family. My list of grievances – with the way I was raised, and the way I wasn’t raised, more to the point – is long, indeed.For years, I had been resentful, angry, dismissive, and contemptuous: she and my father had messed up, and I never missed an opportunity to tell them so. “I’m glad she’s not my daughter,” said a friend of the family upon publication of my first novel, in which the main character eviscerates her neglectful, clueless family. My mother was apoplectic.

She always said that I’d understand how she felt about me when I had my own children, and I always rolled my eyes.

A few weeks after my son was born – days as full of elation and fear and tears and laughter and difficulty and amazement and apprehension as any I’ve ever experienced – I called her. She loved me this much? She had held and fed and bathed and dressed and cooed at me like this? She had felt my pain as her own? She had put all of herself into my wellbeing?

“I’m so sorry, Mom.”

She laughed. “I’ve been waiting years for this!”

Elisa Albert is the author of “The Book of Dahlia” and the editor of the forthcoming anthology, “Freud’s Blind Spot: Writers on Siblings.” www.elisaalbert.com


Elul 7
Two To Tango
Lori Palatnik
Twenty-five years ago, I was a young woman living and learning in Israel. To support myself, I started a private aerobics business. One of my clients for some reason got very upset with me, and she ended the class at her home. I did not think I had done anything wrong, but that was how it ended.

Months went by, and it was now erev Yom Kippur. That night would begin the holiest day of the year. I knew I needed to go into Yom Kippur having cleared up any mistakes or conflicts. Even though I felt this conflict was from her, I needed to resolve it. After all, “It takes two to tango.”

I was busy that day helping friends prepare their celebratory meals for before and after the fast. Back then, people did not have cell phones. So, from house to house, I kept trying to call the woman with whom I had the falling out.

Finally, I got through. I asked her forgiveness.

“Forgive you?” she replied. “Lori, I have been trying to find you all day. It is I who needs to ask forgiveness from you. I am begging you to forgive me.”

If I had stood on pride and not reached out for forgiveness, she never would have had the opportunity to make amends. Even if a person does not deserve to be forgiven, forgive anyway. If everyone did that, what a world it would be. 

Lori Palatnik is the Director of The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. You can see her weekly video blog, “Lori Almost Live,” on aish.com.


Elul 6
The Sublime Paradox
Raphael Cushnir
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1988. I’m traveling alone off the coast of Belize. After spending the day snorkeling, I’ve come down with a terrible infection. Racked with chills, barely coherent, I stumble across town to rouse the lone nurse from her holiday dinner. Grudgingly, she gives me some antibiotics, and I take to bed.

That night was perhaps the most important of my life. Twisted up in the sheets, raging with fever, I thought I was going to die. In those supposed last moments, I considered my life with deathbed candor. Having failed to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter after almost a decade of trying, I’d privately become convinced that my lack of success was well deserved. I believed that, deep inside, there was something wrong with me – a fatal flaw, an indefinable shortcoming.

Whenever that belief had arisen before, I’d fought it with all the resistance I could summon. Now, instead, I dove straight into wave after wave of enveloping hopelessness. It was excruciating, but there was also great relief in giving up the struggle. Maybe it was the semi-delirium that finally melted my defenses – I’ll never know. But when dawn broke and I was still breathing, the darkness inside me was lighter, too.

In the months and years that followed, I experienced both a personal and professional rebirth. I learned that letting go isn’t about closing doors, but opening them. With each door that opens within, we become more vulnerable. And the more vulnerable we become, in a sublime paradox, the more God graces us with spiritual power.

For information about Raphael Cushnir’s books, workshops, and private sessions, visit www.Cushnir.com.
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Elul 5
A Vote For Humility
Representative Henry A. Waxman
For all politicians, an election is a referendum on their responsiveness to constituents, their awareness of the needs of the community, and their pledge to do a good job in the future. For many Jews, the month of Elul sometimes feels like a similar campaign season to get voted in for another year in the “Book of Life.”

The undertaking is intensive. We are instructed to ask forgiveness, prepare for fasting, admit our failings, and promise to be more righteous. By being pressed to accept our humility, we are given an opportunity to rediscover our humanity.

The essence of being humble is the ability to see ourselves as equals with those around us. As Rabbi Hillel taught, “Do not judge another until you are in the same position.” (Ethics of Our Fathers, 2:5)

Humble people can celebrate their successes without being intoxicated by power. They seek to influence events even though they cannot control the outcome. They work to uplift others in need, not exploit their vulnerabilities. They view checks and balances on their actions as a help, not a hindrance.  Humility is a demanding virtue for which to strive. But unlike in elections, the good news is that at the High Holidays, everyone can emerge as a winner.

Henry A. Waxman is the U.S. Representative of California’s 30th District. www.waxman.house.gov


Elul 4
The Many Faces Of An Affair
Esther Perel
“Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

No aspect of a couple’s life elicits more fascination, or more fear, than an affair. Adultery unleashes a transgressive force that topples the established order and puts to lie our idea of the enduring transformative power of marriage. Infidelity humbles us. We are reminded that we don’t control destiny, let alone our partner.

“How could you do this to me? I hate you! I love you! Get out of here! Don’t leave me! How can I ever trust you again? How can I forgive you?”

The majority view is that affairs are always harmful and can never help a marriage; compassion for the betrayed comes easy, so too does dispensing detailed repair advice for the unfaithful to show remorse, to repent. I ask: Can we think of betrayal as well as growth? Can we explore the many meanings of an affair (different for the hurt partner and for the unfaithful) and imagine possibilities for repair and revitalization?

To reestablish trust and forgiveness, we need to be less categorical and more nuanced. We may not fully forgive, yet partially accept. We may feel guilty and remorseful for hurting our beloved, while we hold dear the freedom and renewal that the affair gave us.

Sometimes, it isn’t our partner we aim to leave, rather the person we have become. It is obvious today that many of us will have two, even three marriages in our adult lives. It’s just that some of us will do it with the same person.

Esther Perel is a couples therapist and author of “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.” www.estherperel.com


Elul 3
A Merciful Truth
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I was greatly privileged to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which assisted our relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. While we were frequently devastated by revelations of the gruesome atrocities perpetrated during those apartheid years, we were equally exhilarated by the magnanimity of the victims in their willingness to forgive their tormentors.Mrs. Betty Savage, a white South African, related how, one year, she and others had held a Christmas party at their golf club in Kingwilliamstown in the Eastern Cape. Whilst there, the clubhouse was attacked with hand grenades by one of the black liberation movements. Several of the guests were killed. Mrs. Savage suffered serious injuries that landed her in the ICU for several months. When she was discharged, she still had shrapnel in her body. She could not bathe, clothe, or feed herself. Her children had to help her do these things.

Amazingly, she said of the incident that had left her in this condition, “It has enriched my life.” She continued, “I would like to meet the perpetrator in a spirit of forgiveness. I would like to forgive him,” and then she added, “and I hope he forgives me.”

We should not really be surprised, for Mrs. Savage was created (as are all of us) in the image of the forgiving God – the God who forgave David his adultery, the God who forgave the persecutor Saul.

O God, make us who we are, those created in your image,
You the merciful, the forgiving One. Amen.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. www.tutufoundation-usa.org


Elul 2
Deathbeds, Stardom And Guilt
Vanessa Hidary
In my vengeful hours, I imagine all the men who I feel should beg for my forgiveness. I create dramatic scenarios. Either I’ve become a big star, or I’m on my deathbed, and the men wish they had valued me more when they had the chance.The hospital scene goes like this: I’m lying on a gurney hooked up to an IV with bandages covering my identity like in a soap opera. My long brown hair is fanned out on the pillow, so they know it’s me, and “he” (we can plug at least 4 men in here) comes to my bedside.

At this moment, he realizes how much he loves me. Will I EVER forgive him??? (If this ex-lover is Jewish, there’s usually a cousin of mine from Brooklyn praying by my bedside with a siddur. This evokes even harder pangs of guilt.)

The “star” scenario involves my looking beautiful and happy and doing an interview on David Letterman while the men watch from their miserable couches with their miserable wives. If the ex-lover is an artist, there’s a pathetic guitar or a crappy manuscript by his side, which he slams against the wall when we cut to a commercial.

If this all sounds sick to you, well, I’m sure you’ve had these thoughts before too. At least I’m admitting them. But after all this meticulous daydreaming, I usually end up feeling guilty. And then I need to forgive myself.

For my fantastic imagination;
For the sin of thinking of hospitals;
For loving men just too damn hard;
For being human.

Vanessa Hidary has been featured on “Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam” and in her own solo show, “Culture Bandit.” www.hebrewmamita.com


Elul 1
Nothing Left Unsaid
Rabbi Micah D. Greenstein
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I have officiated at more than 500 funerals and held the hands of many loved ones as they slipped away. All of my spiritual training, however, did not prepare me for the excruciating experience of my father’s life ending in my arms after his battle with cancer. The death of a parent is commonplace – 12 million Americans bury a parent every year. The world is a different place after a parent’s death, just as the world had been forever changed because of their life. Maybe that’s why the relationship between humanity and God is likened to a parent who has compassion for his children.

Teshuvah – the reconciliation that takes place during this month of Elul – has to reach in every direction. It has to reach upward between each individual and God – but it also has to reach outward between us and other people. After all, if we hasten to ask for reconciliation, we must also hasten to grant it.

Despite the agony of my father’s cancer, nothing was left unsaid. Beyond the “I love you’s,” I asked my dad to forgive me for not always being what he may have wanted me to be (which provided a rare moment of levity since I became a rabbi just like him).

My father’s brave battle with cancer taught me that to be ready to die, we have to be ready to live. Elul comes to remind us that to be ready for Rosh Hashanah, we have to be ready to forgive.

Micah D. Greenstein is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee. www.timemphis.org