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I’m reading ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande; a really beautiful book that asks serious questions and offers penetrating insights into living, aging, and dying. Beyond Gawande’s words — certainly worthy of a drash or two — there’s another layer of context provided by this season: the month of Elul, a hint of coolness in the early morning, the long summer days slowly yielding to earlier evenings.
Our tradition’s teachings about Teshuva — returning — challenge us to to take a personal inventory. The words in the machzor get straights to the point: What am I — ינא המ ? What is my life about — ?ינא ממ
Personal bit of checking in: our daughter is far away, starting 11th grade in Israel, spending the holidays at another table. We’re thrilled, of course. And we miss her. And it’s a great comfort to have our son home for the holidays. When he comes home the dog and cat seem overwhelmed with excitement — or is that really just us projecting our emotions onto the four-legged animals in the family?
Paul Taylor, one of the giants in the world of modern dance, passed away today? Why do I know about him? I live with a modern dancer. Taylor visited to UCLA way back when Sharona studied there. His faded signature adorns a framed photo of the man. I notice the passing of favorite performers, poets, play-wrights, statesmen. In a word: mortality.
The choir sings Leonard Cohen’s ‘Who By Fire,’ an unsparing and arresting commentary on the traditional Untane Tokef — a lifetime ago, when I was a student in LA or New York, conversations about aging, about decrepitude (fancy term for ‘falling apart’)…all of this was a million miles away, frankly, alien territory. And now the words are all too real.
Turns out that perspective is everything. Years ago, during Rubinstein part 1, I started using the word kehilla a lot. That push was about the depth and power of intentional community. All these years later I still believe that the secret sauce that makes CSI special is the way people can strengthen each other in difficult times, in the way people celebrate together, in the possibilities of sharing spiritual journeys as an extended family.
Joni Mitchell, years ago, penned lyrics that captured an intense sense of being alone throughout a life — between the forceps and the stone. In a sense she is right, of course. No matter how close our friend or partner is, they can’t 100% understand the moment we experience. But real kehilla encourages each of us to stretch beyond ourselves, to listen, to share, to learn. This is what has driven me since I came to Macon in 1993. And the power of these ideas is what continues to make our shul and our kehilla a sacred place, brimming with magic.