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The Shabbat of Blessing, and an additional note

new-moon

New Moon signals Rosh Chodesh

Shabbat HaChodesh… This coming Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Elul – the beginning of the month of Elul. Elul is one of the months that has a two-day Rosh Chodesh; this year, Shabbat, September 3rd is the 30th day of Av and Sunday, September 4th is the first of Elul. Elul, of course, is the last month of the calendar year before Rosh Hashanah. This Rosh Hashanah, the year will change to 5777. But the months of the Hebrew year actually begin in the spring with Nisan, the month of Passover, so Elul is actually the sixth month of the year. If Shabbat is also Rosh Chodesh, it is called Shabbat HaChodesh.

The month of Elul… The word itself, “Elul,” comes from the Aramaic for “to search.” It is an appropriate name, considering the season we are about to enter. During Elul we begin searching our hearts, and looking back over our behavior during the past year. Elul is the month during which we begin the process of Teshuvah – Repentance – as we seek to repair the fissures that have occurred in our relationships with other people this past year. This of course should be an ongoing process for us all year-round! Nevertheless, it is during the Ten Days of Repentance, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, that we are specifically commanded to engage in this process. The month of Elul gives us a special opportunity to begin our soul-searching and seeking of rapprochement with other people.

Shabbat of Blessing… Shabbat Mevarchin, the “Shabbat of Blessing,” is the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. Last week was such a Shabbat. On Shabbat Mevarchin we recite the Birkat HaChodesh (Blessing of the Month). With this blessing we announce the day on which the new month will begin, and pray for peace and well-being during the coming month. The practice of reciting this blessing emerged during the Geonic period, around the 9th century C.E. Tishrei is the only month that we do not anticipate with the Birkat HaChodesh of Shabbat Mevarchin. The general explanation for this is that there is such intense build-up to Rosh Hashanah – the 1st of Tishrei – that a special blessing to announce the month is unnecessary. But there is also a nice Chassidic midrash that suggests that it is God who blesses the 1st of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, and thus leaves the privilege of blessing all the other months to humans.

The Blessing Itself… The Blessing of the New Month appears below. It expresses the hope that we all have for this month, for every month, and indeed, as we anticipate it, for the New Year as well.

Our God and God of our ancestors,
May the new month bring us goodness and blessing.
May we have long life, peace, prosperity,
A life exalted by love of Torah and reverence for the divine;
A life in which the longings of our hearts are fulfilled for good.

Rosh Chodesh Elul will be this Shabbat and Sunday (1 Elul is on Sunday).

4 additional notes… We have not one, but four additional blessings to mark this month.

Our new student cantor, Benjamin Harris, will be with us for Shabbat services this week. And, we will welcome him formally next week, September 9th. Kabbalat Shabbat begins at 6:30PM as usual, and then Ben will present for us a short program of cantorial art songs, both in Hebrew and Yiddish. A festive Oneg will follow. We hope you will join us next Friday!

We rejoice with Cantor Lauren Phillips, who served so beautifully as our student cantor from 2010-2013. Lauren is getting married this Sunday to Dan Fogelman, a New York– based attorney. Lauren began serving this summer as Senior Cantor of Temple Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. Mazal Tov Lauren!

On Tuesday evening, Steve and I had the thrill of a lifetime as we stood at attention at Citi Field, listening to Cantor Todd Kipnis sing the Star Spangled Banner before the awesome crowd of Mets fans. Todd, of course, served as our student cantor from 2003-2005, and now is the Senior Cantor of Temple Shaarey Tefila of Manhattan. He was stupendous! (By the way, also in the stands with us was Cantor Maria Dubinsky, the Assistant Cantor at Shaarey Tefila, and also former student cantor [2008-2010] at Union Temple. Maria grew up in the FSU, and this was her first baseball game ever!) And, by the way, last year, in May of 2015, Lauren Phillips, who at the time was serving as Senior Cantor of Temple Sinai in Milwaukee, sang the Star Spangled Banner at Miller Park before the Brewers game.

We wish our Temple Musician, Dr. Shinae Kim, our warmest Mazal Tov on becoming an American citizen just yesterday. A wonderful simcha!

All our musicians are awesome!

Tribute to a Hero and a Poem for Elul

Photo of Journey for Justice March from reformjudaism.org

Photo of Journey for Justice March from reformjudaism.org

Our family is spending a few days this week visiting Steve’s mom at her home in Columbus, GA. Rayna is anticipating her 95th birthday in mid-September. A great simcha, of course, but since it will be in the middle of the Holidays, we are here now to celebrate with her a bit in advance. As you may remember, Steve’s dad, Rabbi Alfred L. Goodman, z”l, served as Rabbi of Temple Israel of Columbus for some 33 years, during the 1950’s, ‘60’s, ‘70’s, and early ’80’s. Very deep into the Deep South, Columbus, like the rest of the region, certainly had its problems as the Civil Rights Movement progressed. A small coterie of rabbis throughout the South, Alfred among them, stepped up and became outspoken leaders alongside their Christian colleagues, on the front lines of the struggle.

As I mentioned in last week’s blast, during this entire month, the NAACP is leading the “Journey for Justice,” from Selma to Washington, DC. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is partnering with the NAACP, as Reform rabbis from all over the country are carrying a Torah scroll from station to station along this route. The “Journey for Justice” will culminate in a giant rally and lobby day in Washington the day after Rosh Hashanah.

But most heavily on our hearts this week is the death of Former Georgia State Senator Julian Bond, one of the shining lights of the Civil Rights Movement. From my earliest consciousness of the movement, Julian Bond’s name was one of those that became synonymous with the struggle for civil rights.

The following is a portion of the bio that appears on the website for the NAACP.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Bond’s family moved to Pennsylvania when he was five years old when his father, Horace Mann Bond, became the first African American President of Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), his alma mater. Bond attended Morehouse College in Atlanta and won a varsity letter for swimming. He also founded a literary magazine called The Pegasus and served as an intern at Time magazine.

In 1960, Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served as communications director from 1961 to 1966. From 1960 to 1963, he led student protests against segregation in public facilities in Georgia.

Bond graduated from Morehouse and helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He was the organization’s president from 1971 to 1979.

Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965. White members of the House refused to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the House had denied Bond his freedom of speech and had to seat him.

From 1965 to 1975, he served in the Georgia House and served six terms in the Georgia Senate from 1975-86.

In 1968, Bond led a challenge delegation from Georgia to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and was the first African-American nominated as Vice President of the United States. He withdrew his name from the ballot because he was too young to serve.

Bond ran for the United States House of Representatives, but lost to civil rights leader John Lewis. In the 1980s and ‘90s, Bond taught at several universities, including American, Drexel, Williams, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard universities and the University of Virginia.

Julian Bond died on Saturday at the age of 75. He will be remembered by all those dedicated to humanitarianism and the cause of equal opportunity and civil rights for all. Zecher Tzaddik Liv’rachah – May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

This is a poem for Rosh Chodesh Elul which I read at last Shabbat Evening’s Service. One of our congregants was particularly touched and asked me to send it along in this blast.

Return: A Prayer for Elul
Shared by Trisha Arlin | Poem

Return to Elul.
The sky was dark, and the month began.
A special time of starting over;
A month of kindness and clarity;
Of consciousness and knowledge;
Of bravery and strength.
It is said that the truly evil are already condemned
And the truly good are already blessed.
So for the rest of us
There is Elul.

Return to ourselves.
In Genesis the moon is called, “the lesser light.”
And that’s how I feel tonight,
Less than what I should be.
What was I thinking?
I was afraid, I was hurt, I was anxious…
No excuses, I know what I did,
Maybe it wasn’t so bad
But maybe it was.
How can I make it better?
There is Elul.

Return to the people we wronged.
Use the ritual,
Create a context.
It makes it easier to speak:
I am so sorry.
I was wrong.
I lacked compassion in the moment
But I see things clearly now.
You don’t have to accept my apology,
We can do teshuvah together
If you want.
There is Elul.

Return to each other.
In community we pray
For the kindness to comfort and care;
And the clarity to see what must be done;
For the consciousness to accept the truth;
And the knowledge to get help if needed;
For the bravery to ask for forgiveness;
And the strength to forgive.
Most of all, we pray for all who are in pain or who cause pain.
All this and more because
There is Elul.

Bless the God of Justice, of Mercy and of Redemption that we may return every year,
As old as the darkness, as new as the moon.

Amen.