2014 / 5774

A Final Jewel from Craig Taubman

Dear Friends,

Thank you for being a part of our 10th year of Jewels of Elul. Hundreds of thousands of people accessed this years Jewels on our new App, online at the Jewels website, The Huffington Post or the dozens of other websites that hosted our content.

My sincere thanks to the 29 contributors who READ MORE

Elul 29: The Homecoming by Nomi Freeman

I was very close to my father, and his sudden passing was unexpected. A brief illness, a mistaken diagnosis. The lack of closure made it more difficult.

I did what I should not have done, but I didn’t know it then. After a month, I stood by his resting place and asked to see him READ MORE

Elul 28: Bar Mitzvah Redo by Brian Elliot

At 12, I was a certified black sheep. Between my effeminate antics and my avowed nerdiness, I was desperate for a social miracle. Naturally, I looked to my upcoming bar mitzvah as a life raft: the bridge to fitting in. Around that time, strange things started appearing around my house. One day, a book called READ MORE

Elul 27: Lone State by Tova Mirvis

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I set out for Monk’s Pond to do my own tashlich. It’s a short hike from Kripalu, the yoga retreat center in the Berkshires where I have come alone on this, the first New Year of my divorce.

At Monk’s Pond, a sign marks the water as a READ MORE

Elul 26: Day to Day by Roger Fishman

My parents’ marriage was a classic disaster. Often it felt like bombs were shaking our house, and the only safe sanctuary from the verbal shrapnel was under my bed or holding onto my golden retriever, Reggie.

Then divorce happened, and the resulting peace treaty left broken glass everywhere. Inside and outside. In the home and READ MORE

Elul 25: Like a Man! by Dan Fost

I’m almost shocked at how little I remember of my bar mitzvah. I don’t recall my Haftorah reading, what the rabbi said, or what music played at the reception. I learned Hebrew, but I’ve forgotten all of it. Every Hanukkah, I look up the letters on the dreidel.

My bar mitzvah was supposed to be READ MORE

Elul 24: Coming of Age by Mayim Bialik

I thought I had come of age several times over by the time I reached my 30s. After all, I had become a bat mitzvah, learning to read Torah and Haftorah and reciting prayers and speeches about my entry into adulthood as a Jew. I had gone through Confirmation at 16, taking part in a READ MORE

Elul 23: To Turn, To Change and To Grow by J. Rolando Matalon

In 1972, around the time I turned 16, we woke up one morning to an extra-large headline: “16 TERRORISTS DIE DURING FRUSTRATED ESCAPE FROM NAVY BASE IN TRELEW.” During the morning break at school, everyone was talking about it. Right before class, the teacher pulled me aside and said, “I overheard you and your classmates. READ MORE

Elul 22: Going Back by Shawn Landres

“Why would you go back?” asked my Austro-Hungarian-born grandmother in 1994, when I announced I would be spending the summer in the former Czechoslovakia. She had never looked behind her after fleeing Bratislava (my mother’s birthplace) in 1940, first to Italy, then traveling across continents to Sydney, then Los Angeles, where I was born.


Elul 21: Bubbles by Phyllis A. Sommer

I lived in a beautiful bubble. A perfect little world. Sure, there’s lots of bad stuff out there. Sure, people are dying, they’re sick, and they have terrible problems. But, I lived in a beautiful perfect bubble: healthy family, four gorgeous children.

Then, my bubble burst. Actually, it didn’t just burst. It exploded into thousands READ MORE

Elul 20: People Plan, God Laughs by Jhos Singer

My 55 years on this planet can be neatly divided into two periods: Before Parenthood (B.P.) and Since Parenthood (S.P.). Everything I, as a gender queer feminist, knew, believed, and thought about both God and childrearing B.P. could be summarized as:

My God was not patriarchal, punitive, a rage-aholic, or snarky. I would be a READ MORE

Elul 19: Significance by Ken Chasen and Micah Chasen

Sometimes, reading from the Torah at a bar mitzvah only becomes a Jewish boy’s coming of age moment once he steps off the bimah, and the Torah keeps on speaking in unanticipated ways. Each of us read Parshat Lech L’cha, separated by thirty-two years. Each of us was surrounded by four generations of loving family, READ MORE

Elul 18: A Mosque of Inclusion by M. Hasna Maznavi

As a young girl growing up in California’s largest mosque, I always felt welcomed and included. Women were on the Board, my sister was president of the youth group, men and women of all cultures prayed together in the same space.

Once I left home and began exploring mosques outside Southern California, I realized many READ MORE

Elul 17: Turning Back by Arna Poupko Fisher

Why is it that, when I catch my mother’s face looking back at me in a passing window reflection, I am filled with a sense of completion, oneness, and calm? While I fully promote (and paraphrase) Woody Allen’s famous “Annie Hall” quip about relationships – “life is like a shark, it has to constantly move READ MORE

Elul 16: Returning to Struggle by Bradley Solmsen

We are people who return. Each year we return to the beginning of the Torah and (re)-cycle our calendar, and each week Shabbat returns to us.

There are places each of us returns to. As a people we left the land of Israel, went on a long, challenging journey, and then returned a different people.


Elul 15: Sins of Past – Repaired by Asher Lopatin

In college I was the “big man on campus.” Well, not all of campus… just Hillel. One guy always bothered me. He wanted the glory of leading services on Friday nights (Kabbalat Shabbat) for the big crowd at Hillel, but he never showed up when we needed people at Hillel for services on Shabbat mornings. READ MORE

Elul 14: Going Viral by Duncan Sennett

This past November of 2013, I wrote my bar mitzvah d’var Torah about how the definition of traditional marriage has changed and advocated in favor of same sex marriage. It was uploaded on our synagogue’s website and, within two weeks, it had gone viral. I was invited to speak on Laurence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC. READ MORE

Elul 13: The Ultimate Return by Hannah Louise Denyer

The last thing they took out of me was the Hickman line: a tube that had been tunneled under my skin through my collarbone, embedding itself within the superior vena cava in the right atrium of my heart.

After tearing the labyrinthine-like line from my chest, they announced that I had been discharged. A few READ MORE

Elul 12: The Relationship Business by Greg Liberman

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, God of our fathers and mothers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel, and God of Leah.

So goes the start of the Avot v’Imahot section of the Amidah. After nearly a decade working for Spark Networks, JDate’s READ MORE

Elul 11: Answered Prayers by Elaine Hall

Our tradition dictates, “Be fruitful and multiply.” I can do neither. When we read of Hannah’s inability to give birth, I cry Hannah’s tears. On Rosh Hashanah, I am called to the bimah to hold the Torah, unaccustomed to women receiving this honor. My rabbi gently guides, “Hold it like a baby.” I pray, “If READ MORE

Elul 10: Age Reconciliation by Samara Wolpe

My “coming of age” moment was the day I stood in front of several thousand people, most of whom had known me since infancy, and gave a speech about why I was raising money for cancer.

As I faced the crowd of people, I felt a startling sense of déjà vu. I had stood on READ MORE

Elul 9: On Being Invited by Christopher Noxon

A few years ago, I went on a big group camping trip a week after a friend’s bar mitzvah. Not entirely satisfied with the traditional synagogue ceremony, we invented a coming of age ritual of our own – all it took was a bunch of guys, some shared wisdom, and a gorilla suit.


Elul 8: Fleeting Days by Amy Tobin

In retrospect, my bat mitzvah was about nothing less than life and death. But it’s not when I became an adult.

Girls at my synagogue did not read from the Torah. Instead, each girl led a service using a photocopied booklet based on a theme. The available themes didn’t do much for me, so I READ MORE

Elul 7: Looking Outward by Tannaz Sassooni

I know that I’m supposed to have angst about my bat mitzvah, but looking back on it, mainly what I see is a great party: a delicious Persian spread, flowing cocktails, and a buzzing dance floor. What I am angsty about is what was missing. Save for a few Hebrew school girlfriends, nearly everyone at READ MORE

Elul 6: Transformation by Mike Epstein

When I was first asked to write a piece regarding the “Art of Return,” I thought it would be easy. I would just write about my transformation from a weight of 453 pounds down to 196 pounds and the resurrection of my old life from before the weight gain. Then, it dawned on me that READ MORE

Elul 5: Daddy’s Pockets by Basya Schechter

My coming of age story became the title song from my first album, Daddy’s Pockets. The lyrics are sparse and intense. People often ask me what the words mean. I usually respond, “They mean whatever they mean to you.”

When I was a child in Boro Park, Brooklyn, every Shabbos my father and I would READ MORE

Elul 4: Becoming a Man by Moshe Kasher

In the book of Judges, we meet Samson. The ultimate Jewish man. His long flowing hair provided him with supernatural strength and turned him into a Jewish Superman. And let’s face it, the Jews don’t have many Supermen. My Samson was my father. Everyone’s is. But every Superman has a kryptonite. My kryptonite was shame. READ MORE

Elul 3: Vhat eez dees? by Maz Jobrani

Growing up, my family didn’t have any coming of age traditions. No bar mitzvahs, no crownings, no sacrifice of a chicken’s head, nothing. There was, however, one incident in college when I became a man.

My dad was very generous to us. A self-made millionaire back in Iran, he was able to bring a lot READ MORE

Elul 2: If I Knew Then… by Michael G. Santos

Foolish, bad decisions I made during a reckless transition out of my adolescence led to my arrest on August 11, 1987. Prison gates slammed and locked me inside cages and walls. For the next 9,500 days, I lived as a prisoner, frequently walking through puddles of blood that spilled from the violence inside.

Yet, during READ MORE

Elul 1: The Return Home by Afshine Emrani

1978-2014. My younger self awaits me in that old home. He stares at the future that would be me; I ponder the past that was him. We connect on a bridge made of yearning and nostalgia. Hesitantly, we embrace.

We fall to our knees and sob. I ask if he ever told dad about how READ MORE

Introduction by Rabbi David Wolpe

Freud wrote of a repetition compulsion. He thought that we reenact scenes or situations in our lives in an attempt to get a better result. Of course, if we ourselves have not changed, then the outcome will not change. So many of us go on making the same mistakes in new guises, wondering why things READ MORE

A Note from Craig

The word for “return” in Hebrew is Teshuva. Teshuva is often translated as “repentance” although it literally means “return.” The sages understood that to achieve real repentance, we must first return to our true or purest selves.

This is a collection of stories about people looking back. What do they know now that they wish READ MORE