Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Earth Etude for 3 Elul


On Yom Kippur when I was a little girl, my family didn’t always go to synagogue. We went to a place called High Rollaway, along M-82, a two-lane highway north of Grand Rapids, MI with beautiful fall foliage and views of the Muskegon River. There we would have a picnic lunch. Yes, really, a picnic on Yom Kippur. We would hike into the forest until we found the steps down to the river and we would sit and talk. There was a review of the past year, with the questions “What did you like? What didn’t you like? What was the best part? What would you have liked to change? What did you not get to do that you want to this year?”

We would look up at the leaves and appreciate the dappled sunlight through the maples’ fiery reds and the birches’ brilliant yellows, feeling the gentle breeze, hearing the birds sing and appreciating each other’s company. I loved these trips to a river that I thought was mine—having mastered it on overnight canoe trips. But wait, what about Avinu Malkenu and Kol Nidre? What about God? What about the Jewish community?

My parents were medical school researchers. My father worked for Dr. Barry Commoner, a biologist at Washington University in Saint Louis who coined the term “ecology.” That makes my father one of the first “ecologists.” He was passionate about Jewish ethics and saving the earth for the next generations. My father had a hard time reconciling what he knew about ecology and biology, with what he could see through a microscope, with what the Bible said about Creation. He wasn’t sure about God. But every year, on Yom Kippur we returned to High Rollaway to experience the beauty of Creation and recommit to preserving this place. He may not have been sure but I was. This was a very special place—a Makom filled with the presence of God. It was our own personal form of t’shuvah.

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the principal of Congregation Beth Israel in Andover, MA. She is also the president of Starpoint Consulting providing marketing strategy for technology companies. When she is not working she can be found outdoors in nature, hiking, biking, walking near the water with her husband. She blogs at the "Energizer Rabbi."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Earth Etude for 2 Elul

Teshuvah/return: the still small voice

What does it mean to return? Elijah the prophet, angered at the intransigence of the Jewish people, returns to the desert to complain to G!d. How can I be a prophet when my people won’t listen? The desert is sagebrush, stillness, silence. Then the whirlwind descends: a stinging of sand and dust. G!d, says the angel to Elijah, will not be in the whirlwind. G!d will be after, in the still small voice. When the dust clears, the landscape is different; the light is the amber and rose of sunrise.

After the whirlwind Irene has left, the neighbors gather in our front yard. A linden tree has fallen, shallow roots hemmed in too far by sidewalk to buttress it for the storm. We are vulnerable; we are alive. We offer each other, in still small voices, matches, ice, the majesty of trees.

In Elul, I, angered at my own intransigence, return to the desert to complain to G!d. How can I become good when I won’t even listen to myself? The whirlwind of guilt descends. G!d, says the angel patiently to me, will not be in the whirlwind. G!d will be after, in the still small voice. After Irene, my sister and I walk to Malibu beach. The tide is out; the water quiet. The marsh grass, waving, is starting to brown for winter. Teshuvah, says Rabbi Victor, was created before humans, because G!d knew we would have need of return. I remember that I am human. The great blue heron wades in the water, fishing and grooming his feathers, then standing very small and still.

Lisa J. Greber is nature chaplain intern at Ma'yan Tikvah.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Earth Etude for 1 Elul

Welcome to Elul

Elul. It is here. Now. Tonight. Tomorrow, the sound of the shofar will be heard for the first time since the end of Yom Kippur last year. We are once again on the countdown to the holiest day of the Jewish year, when we bare our souls before the Holy One of Blessing and ask for forgiveness as we try once again to begin anew.

Where are you tonight? Where am I? Where are we physically? Where are we spiritually? Where do we hope to go, in body and in spirit? What is our connection to the solid Earth beneath our feet? What is our connection to the Sun and the Moon and the stars? What is our connection to each other? What is our connection to the Infinite Source?

We may not know the answers right now. We may not know them tomorrow. But we can search. And as you travel through the days of Elul, this very special month, this time of reflection and preparation for the New Year, this time of more focused searching, Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope is here to travel with you. During the coming 29 days we will post each regular day on our new blog ….. an Earth Etude for Elul. Each of these short pieces has been written by a member or friend of Ma’yan Tikvah. Each deals with the issue of teshuvah – return to G!d – in a way that is personal, but also connected in some way to the Earth. Each represents the voice of a separate searching individual. They are written out of love for all of our beloveds, including our beloved Earth.

Rosh HaShanah is one month away. May these Earth Etudes for Elul give you strength, insight, guidance, inspiration, and a recognition that you are not alone on your journey toward spiritual and physical wholeness and connection to your loved ones, to the Universe, and to G!d.

Kol tuv v’nisia tovah – wishing you all the best on your journey,


Katy Z. Allen is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Ma'yan Tikvah.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Earth Etudes for Elul - coming soon!

Elul is a time of reflection and preparation for the New Year.

This year, we at Ma’yan Tikvah are putting together a series of divrei Earth – teachings that connect Earth and Torah – which we are calling “Earth Etudes for Elul,” one for each day of the month of Elul.

Please join us here for this month long journey, beginning Monday, August 29, 2011.