1. 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!



  2. denatrugman:

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


  3. 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,


  4. 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”

  5. 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.


  6. 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. 


  7. A stunningly moving TED talk by Andrew Solomon. Watch til the end.



    Over time, as the thinking mind begins to settle [through the practice of meditation], we’ll start to see our patterns and habits far more clearly. This can be a painful experience. I can’t overestimate the importance of accepting ourselves exactly as we are right now, not as we wish we were or think we ought to be. By cultivating nonjudgmental openness to ourselves and to whatever arises, to our surprise and delight we will find ourselves genuinely welcoming the never-pin-downable quality of life, experiencing it as a friend, a teacher, and a support, and no longer as an enemy.

    — Pema Chödrön, in Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

  9. All my friends would sleep until the hour when kings arise and then head to their studies, but I would be up from the crack of dawn working with cold hands on disgusting leather.

    From “The Fishpond,” based on B. Taanit 24a in Ruth Calderon’s A Bride For One Night: Talmud Tales

    Ruth Calderon will be speaking at Hebrew College’s 89th Commencement on Sunday. This line from her new volume seems particularly timely upon having completed my first year of rabbinical school. (And because today is the 15th anniversary of my becoming a Bat Mitzvah!)

    Its simplicity and humility struck me with the realization that I am incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to study. Even the basic access to books and education is something truly to be cherished.

    Though learning a sizable body of knowledge can at times feel otherwise, it is quite obviously a gift. What a refreshing way to approach my studies. Thank you, Ruth!


  10. A semester’s worth of Talmud in four minutes (Baba Metzia 58b).