1. So legit.


  2. Fantastic article by Rabbi Nancy Flam on the state of Jewish prayer and its potential as practice.


  3. Composed and produced by Noah Aronson (www.noaharonson.com)
    Vocals by Noah Aronson and Dena Trugman

    בְּרִיך רַחֲמָנָא מַלְכָּא דְעַלְמָא מָרֵיהּ דְהַאי פִּיתָּא
    Brich rachamana, malka d’alma, marei d’hai pita.

    Blessed are You, Source of Mercy, for You are the master of
    this bread.

    The words are an abbreviated blessing to say after eating a meal. It’s in Aramaic, based on a line in the Talmud


  4. Elul Days 7, 8, & 9 

    Elul, Day 7‎ - ז באלול‎

    On the seventh day of Elul, let me be the first to wish you mazel tov on completing the first week of our month-long journey.  I would love to hear what personal writing been most elucidating thus far, and if anyone has ideas or comments or questions that they would like to share, please send them my way.

    For some, it has also been one week of living in conversation with Psalm 27, the theme-psalm of this season of our year.  As we end our davenning, we say the words “Achat sha’alti m’eit Adonai, otah avakeish - There is just one thing I ask of my God, that I shall seek.”   And, what, you ask, is that one, small request?  The psalm continues, “that I can dwell in Your house all the days of my life, and behold the divine sweetness of the Holy One and contemplate God’s holy abode.”  It is not exactly a small ask.

    For those of us living outside the Book of Psalms, there might be more than one thing that we would ask this year of the Holy One of Blessing.  

    Formulate the one question or request that you would like to make for yourself this year.  Don’t be afraid to be as bold as the psalmist and ask for just what you need.  I encourage you to hold this question in your heart when you come to Psalm 27 in the liturgy or just to speak that request out loud in the morning.  

    Goodnight and good writing,

    Elul, Day 8‎ - ח באלול‎
    Hi Friends,
    For those of us in the States this day after Labor Day has become a day with great symbolic significance.  This is the day when we return, not in the teshuvah sense of the word, but more in the begrudgingly dragging ourselves back to the routines of daily life sense of the word.  In many ways this is a return to the same; not to the changed or transformed, but to the frustratingly fixed.  This is a type of return that we must flee.
    Though we might take some solace in the fact that now not every piece of correspondence we send will be met with an away message, during Elul we would be wise to aspire to maintain that summer-like distance from our habits and routines. How might we hold on to a sense of being away, and communicate that state of being to the world?
    For today’s piece of reflective writing, I invite you to write an away message/out-of-office reply for this season of the year.  Where are you?  What are you doing?  Who will you be upon your return?  Can we expect to hear from you?  

    Laila tov,

    Elul, Day 9‎ - ט באלול

    In the past few days I’ve heard from a few of you that, while you’ve been enjoying the daily emails, it’s been a struggle to make room (in both time and space) for the writing.  I felt like this was a moment to take advantage of the fact that we’re in a community to hear how others have incorporated a writing practice into their lives.  So, if you are (somewhat) regularly writing, please drop me a line and tell me how you are carving out space and time for it.  I’ll be happy to share some reflective best practices!

    In the second chapter of Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah, he lists a variety of paths towards penitence and return.  The list includes: giving generously, calling out in earnest to the Holy One, and distancing oneself from the transgression.  All of these seem advisable, if somewhat intuitive.  Yet, the final path is a surprise.  Maimonides writes of this final path,v’goleh mimkomo/ to exile oneself- exile, he argues, is a means of kaparah or atonement. It is a pretty remarkable thought, to consider a self-imposed exile as a means of achieving teshuvah.

    This line from Maimonides made me think of the many great novelists who have spoken about the transformative power of exile, and in particular to an article by the great Chilean writer, Roberto Bolano.  In it, he writes, “All literature carries exile within it, whether the writer has had to pick up and go at the age of twenty or has never left home.”  


    On the ninth day of Elul, write yourself into a different place.  I encourage you to consider how the act of writing is a means of departure from home and comfort.  Reflect on how the experience of exiling yourself onto the page might be a means of achieving atonement.  (This is particularly abstract, sorry!)


  5. Elul 6 - ו באלול

    Dear Chevre,

    Today, while hundreds and hundreds of freshmen piled into Tufts Hillel for bagels, smoked fish and a cappella, I stole away to my office for fifteen minutes of quiet and writing. This is Elul at its best; a refuge from the commotion of a busy life, the nervous energy of social interactions and the insane peppiness of college a cappella.

    While in my office I pulled the collection of poems The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich off my shelf and happened upon a pertinent piece. In the twentieth poem of her cycle of 21 Love Poems, she writes:

    That conversation we were
    always on the edge of having,
    runs on in my head.
    At night the Hudson trembles
    in New Jersey light.
    polluted water yet reflecting,
    even sometimes, the moon
    and I discern a woman I loved.
    Drowning in secrets,
    fear wound round her throat
    and choking her like hair.
    And this is she with whom I tried to speak,
    whose hurt, expressive head
    turning aside from pain,
    is dragged down deeper
    where it cannot hear me,
    and soon I shall know I was talking to my own soul.

    It seems to me that the month of Elul is all about “that conversation we were always on the verge of having.” The words that might set us in motion towards change and growth are always on the tip of our tongues. During this month of reflection, we take the courageous step of speaking them (or at least writing them!).

    Tonight, I encourage you to write down the words that might launch the conversation that you are always on the verge of having. How does it feel to express yourself? If you are so inclined, write down the entire exchange as a dialogue. And, though you may just be talking to your own soul, that might not be so far from the point.

    Happy writing!



  6. denatrugman:

    #elul #חשבוןנפש #jfk (at John F Kennedy Park)


  7. Elul 5 - ה באלול

    Shavuah tov, friends.

    My teacher, R’ Arthur Green, often quotes the teaching of R’ Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (the SHaLoH) on the significance of the order in which we blow shofar.

    We begin with the full blast of tekiah in a place of wholeness and sure footing. The three-part sound of shevarim demonstrates the fault lines that lie just below the surface, recognizable upon even a cursory examination. Digging deeper, peering into the depths of our souls, we must come to terms with our utter brokenness. It is this experience that is represented in the alarming and fragmentary call of teruah. Then, when we are completely broken down, we hear tekiah again; a reminder that this work is for the purpose of being rebuilt, of becoming a more whole individual.

    Each motzei Shabbos, as Shabbat goes out and we begin our week, I will invite us to focus in on the cycle of the sounding of the shofar.

    As we start this new week, I invite you to write that first blast of tekiah for yourself. Recall a moment of wholeness from this past year. What experience made you feel like your most full self? Sing the song of that moment!

    Laila tov,


  8. Daily Writing Prompts for Elul

    And… we’re back! School started off with a bang (well, a blast, technically) this week, and one of the best parts was the return of a daily Elul reflection writing group started by a friend and recent graduate, Rabbi Jordan Braunig, now a rabbi at Tufts University Hillel

    Elul is the Hebrew name of the month preceding the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Since Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, the whole month is used to prepare for these awe-full days, to take stock of the past year and check in. Are you living life in the best way possible? What would you change or tweak about yourself or your life given the chance of a fresh start at the beginning of a new year? 

    Jordan’s Elul prompts have been a staple of my heshbon nefesh (soul accounting) and a great way to jump start my daily writing practice, which tends to wane during the beautiful summer months that are so anomalous to Boston’s typical climate. Jordan’s prompts are so wonderful that I asked permission to share them. I will do my best to post daily, as he does, but for now, here are the first three to get you caught up:

    Elul, Day 1‎ - א באלול

    Hi Chevre,
    I am very excited to be embarking on this journey with all of you.  We have a fine collection of people who are interested in journaling their way right through those creaky, old Gates of Teshuvah.  Along the way, please feel free to share thoughts and writing with me (or suggestions for prompts!).

    What you will need for this practice:
    Pen or Pencil
    Ten to Fifteen Minutes
    Quiet Place
    Large Sack of Regrets
    Smidgen of Hope
    Belief in the Ultimate Redeemability of Your Soul

    Today’s prompt: 

    If Heschel is correct in describing Shabbat as a palace in time, then we might assert that Elul is more of a bus terminal in time.  Stretching out endlessly, with lots of horns blasting and a great deal of anxious waiting, Elul is where we gather before the journey really begins.  Instead of spending that waiting-time on sudoku or the latest Sue Grafton offering, I invite you to make a spiritual to-do list for this month.  What conversations do you need to have?  What books and texts do you want to read?  What shifts in your way of being would you like to make? 

    Elul, Day 2‎ - ב באלול‎

    Hi Friends,
    It’s been really nice to hear from so many of you, and please feel free to send me thoughts or a piece of your writing from time to time.
    In his book Orot HaTeshuvah, The Lights of Teshuvah, Rav Kook states that process of teshuvah is not about the usual suspects of guilt and sorrow and penitence, but is, instead, about a return to perfection that is our most natural state.  In the introduction to the work he makes the audacious statement that “teshuvah occupies the greatest portion of Torah and life.”  
    If I were asked what occupies the greatest portion of my life, I might say “email” or “logistics” or “procrastination.” If only the greatest portion of my life were devoted to self-betterment.  Yet, perhaps Rav Kook was saying that most of life (and Torah) is about recovering from missteps, righting our path, reawakening our best selves.  

    In light of the relatively small portion that teshuvah occupies in our daily lives, write about one potential doorway towards self-reformation, and just what it would take to push open that door.  How would it feel to enlarge the portion ofteshuvah in your life?

    Elul, Day 3‎ - ג באלול‎
    Hi Friends,
    Three days into Elul, and it’s starting to feel like, “alright, I’m fully introspected.  My deeds have officially been accounted.”   Indeed, the process of chesbon hanefesh has the potential of taking on the drudgery of regular, old accounting (no offense to any CPA’s or children of accountants out there).  
    For that reason, we are taught that Elul – אלול is, in fact, an acronym representing the line from Shir HaShirimani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am my beloved’s - my beloved is mine.  This teaching is a reminder that the soul searching we do this month is towards the greater end of self-care, intimacy with our selves, and, potentially, drawing closer to the Holy One of Blessing.  The work of Elul should be a labor of love.   So, why not take the opportunity to couch this work in the language of love.

    Write a love letter to some aspect of yourself that you want to celebrate.  Pick an attribute, and then don’t hold back; be gushy and sentimental and over-the-top.  Give the Song of Songs a run for its money, as you lay your love for yourself on thick.  


    Not feeling the love- write a break-up letter to some aspect of yourself that you’re ready to part with.  “Take a hike, hubris.”  “It’s not you, it’s me, materialism.”  “We need to talk, tactlessness”

  9. I write my own Torah. It’s called the Gnorah, an allusion to my nickname, Gary Gnu, the name of an obscure television antelope which I have never seen. The Gnorah is a very libertine version of the Old Testament, with lots of musical numbers, singing prophets, and horny eleven-year-old takes on biblical themes. Exodus becomes Sexodus, for instance. Henry Miller would be proud.

    From the essay, ‘The Mother Tongue Between Two Slices of Rye.’

    G-d bless Gary Shteyngart.


  10. Are you an exceptional high school or college student looking for a transformative weeklong interfaith experience this summer? Apply to participate in the Interfaith Youth Initiative at Brandeis University in Boston from July 31-August 7. More info and application here: http://bit.ly/1x7310W.