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."

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