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Sound the Shofar

Throughout Elul, the final month of the year, we blow the shofar each morning as a wake up call to our hearts and heads. Each day, different members of the OT community will sound the shofar, and another will offer a reflection, poem, or prayer to help us focus on the sacred possibilities of the year to come.

August 9, 2021 | 1 Elul 5781

Shanah Tovah by Shelly Palley

My wish for the New Year is not only health and happiness, but the hope that kindness and consideration of others will be incorporated into our daily lives. I truly believe that by incorporating these values, peace and understanding will follow. Shanah Tovah Tikatevu ve Techatmu. May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.

Traci Goldberg blows shofar for the first day of Elul.

August 10, 2021 | 2 Elul 5781

Open, Thou, My Lips by Rick Black
Three steps backward,
three steps forward,
I bend my knees.
I struggle to part my lips,
to recite the words,
to offer praise.
Let me taste rain.
Let me hear windchimes at night.
Let me inhale jasmine.
How grateful I am,
a temporary resident
amid night stars.

Jonathan and Daniel Schwartz blow a shofar duet for the second day of Elul.

August 11, 2021 | 3 Elul 5781

Walter Meyer blows shofar for the third day of Elul. Jerry Strauss offers words of hope. Take to heart the words you hear, make them yours throughout the year.

August 12, 2021 | 4 Elul 5781

More by Jeff Zarkin

May the New Year bring each of us more joy, more happy memories, more days of health, and more time sharing the love of family and friends than the one which is ending.
May we be better to our friends, to our neighbors, to our families, and to ourselves than we were.
And may each succeeding year be a year of growth.

Howard Kaye blows shofar for the fourth day of Elul.

August 13, 2021 | 5 Elul 5781

A time for everything under the sun by Jon Silberman

Several years ago, someone asked if it bothered me to pay taxes to support Denali National Park in Alaska, a place I’ve never before visited and am unlikely to in the future. “Not at all,” I replied. There are places we’re happy to support, regardless of whether or how often we can visit them personally, because we know they make the world better for everyone by furthering our values and uplifting our community. Were a new variant to force us to reshutter Olam Tikvah for another year and a half, we’ll all continue to support OT happily because tikkun olam is what we do. This being said, there’s a time for everything under the sun. I’ll admit it – it’s wonderful to open our synagogue’s physical doors, too.

The Gorowitz family blows shofar for the fifth day of Elul.

August 15, 2021 | 7 Elul 5781

Shofar by Dan Noble

What is the shofar? It’s a hollowed-out horn from a ram. It’s that simple. When blown, which anyone can do, it makes a loud sound.
But, when this simple hollowed out ram’s horn is blown during the High Holy Days – throughout the world –- that sound, which anyone can create, becomes something else entirely.
This simple instrument is a ‘vehicle’ to bring out an emotion in Jews all over the world.
It’s not the hollowed-out ram’s horn, alone, that’s meaningful, but when it’s blown by a person, putting his/her breath - and heart - into it… And everyone who hears its clarion call.

Shana Finkel blows shofar for the seventh day of Elul.

August 16, 2021 | 8 Elul 5781

Past by Jerry Markowitz

The past, the past is here to stay
the past, the past never goes away.
Past exists forever
every past event, embedded
in permanent inflexible unchanging cement.
Past saddens, annoys, maybe we cuss
yet we respect the past
our permanent, reliable teacher.
Whatever details we remember
more than half a century ago
we sigh, and why?
Thankful we have a valuable past
thankful, the past is flawed
thankful, we learn from mistakes,
we evolved from the past
to improve our present
helping build the future.

Jonathan Golub blows shofar for the eighth day of Elul.

August 17, 2021 | 9 Elul 5781

What Do We Do With All Of This Time? By Pat Tamburrino

One of the byproducts of my day created by the pandemic lockdown was extra time. I had gained three hours a day because my commute time was virtually zero, there was no time spent in the break room with colleagues, etc. 

The question became, what would I do with this time?

It strikes me Jews have been focused on time from the first day of creation to the end of days – whenever that may be. We break time into weeks marked by the Sabbath, we mark the months with their new moons, we parse our year by the holidays, and we celebrate a new beginning each year at the start of the high holy days.

Our year is full of chances for new beginnings. Yet, I fail to leverage these wonderful opportunities.

We all have the same number of hours in our day. Why do I sometimes rush from one meeting to the next, constantly stressed, juggling an impossible to-do list and complaining “I don’t have time,” while others around me seem to approach life in a relaxed and happy state but still get plenty done?

My reflection is we can make poor decisions regarding our time daily. Each time we say yes to something, we are saying no to something else.  What activity are we agreeing to? What are we giving up in return? 

My reflection this year will center on time as a gift. I need to use that gift wisely and spend it on things that matter to making myself a better person, spending time with those I care for, and spending some time helping repair the issues which impact the well being of all those who live in our community.

“Life is short. Focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t.” ~Unknown

Jeff Zarkin blows shofar for the ninth day of Elul.

August 18, 2021 | 10 Elul 5781

Spiritual Footing by Betsy MacCarthy

I lost two friends in 5781—both sudden, shocks to my system. I have thought about them many times in the past 300+ days—why does this happen? and why them? In a way, I lost my spiritual footing as well, missing OT during a year of lockdown since moving to South Carolina. What I’ve learned is that those friends are part of me forever, and the depth of OT’s spiritual, social, and intellectual life and the warmth and camaraderie of my OT friends are part of me forever, too. My new shul, Beth Israel, is undergoing a revitalization effort, and the leadership is looking to me for ideas from the synagogue in “the big city.” For each area of synagogue life our committees examine, I have things to offer from 28 years at OT that have never been tried here—providing an opportunity to play a significant role in Beth Israel’s future. I am grateful to OT for the extraordinary experiences and memories I can draw on to help another synagogue grow and prosper in 5782. I offer a prayer for that growth for Beth Israel, and for the next chapter at Olam Tikvah as Rabbi Bedo becomes part of the OT family.

Benji Binder blows shofar for the tenth day of Elul.

August 19, 2021 | 11 Elul 5781

This Year by Bob Tiemann
This year held fear and battered cheer
This year often rang hollow
Like a thief who made folks weep
And robbed all their tomorrows
What I learned this year
This year of fear
So much roughed up and bothered
If I step back and move like a cat
I may get bruised but not get slaughtered
What I learned this year
The world can burn
But I can be like water
What I learned death can return
But I can refuse her offer
I learned the internet
Can be a friend oh yes
And deliver food and favors
I learned a paintbrush
And a canvas stretched
Can be my soul’s resuscitator
I learned time is fine
If I make it mine
I am king of my own chances
I can fish with love’s rod
And talk to god
Or to angels when god won’t answer
One angel showed me recipes
One angel sent me poetry
One angel held me in the night
Pushed back shadows
Let in light
God bless the stress we overcome
God bless the gifts that make us one
God bless the mix of faith and mystery
That exists in you and me

Daniel Schwartz blows shofar for the eleventh day of Elul.

August 20, 2021 | 12 Elul 5781

Sabbath Candles by Rick Black

I tell myself these are candles of joy.
Of peacefulness, of quiet, of repose.
Of rejoicing, of blessing, of song.

Usually I light yahrzeit candles,
memorial candles, Yom HaShoah candles.
And they rekindle memories
of those I have lost.

But these are Sabbath candles—
a pair of short, stocky white candles
that lean over a bit in their
silver candlesticks.

After I strike a match,
I light the wick of each candle.
The scent of the smoke lingers—
the smoke itself, too.

Each of us needs to light
candles of joy, to usher in light,
to welcome angels of peace
into our home.

Jonah Werbel blows shofar for the twelfth day of Elul.

August 22, 2021 | 14 Elul 5781

Insight by Mark Weber
At this time of year, we are asked, or is it commanded, to be introspective. Looking at the year past, our connection to each other is what stands out. Life is not all about “you,” it is how you treat your fellow man and how you treat the environment. We were asked to mask-up and quarantine and vaccinate, not just for our own good, but to protect the vulnerable in our population who could or would not. We are asked to not pollute the environment with greenhouse gases which causes global warming and consequently changing weather patterns which bring on both drought and floods. We are at a crossroads now. Do we try and beat the Covid virus with our best efforts or do we just think about our own comfort. Do we reduce our dependence on greenhouse producing fuels or do we just think about our own comfort. A look at the news every day indicates we have been very selfish and need to do better. The world no longer has boundaries, what we all do will affect everyone else on this planet. Yes, we all matter and are accountable.

Debra Beland Ackerman blows shofar for the fourteenth day of Elul.

August 23, 2021 | 15 Elul 5781

Yes I Can by Michael Sultan

Mr. Goldwyn sat forward at his desk and peered at me over his glasses. “You’re a what?”

“I’m a Jew, Mr. Goldwyn, and I can’t work on the High Holy Days … I’ll do anything in the world for you Mr. Goldwyn, but I won’t work on Yom Kippur.”

It was a conversation between two Jews -- Samuel Goldwyn, movie mogul, and Sammy Davis Jr., entertainer – as detailed in Yes I Can the autobiography of the latter published in 1975.

“Sammy, you’re a little so and so, but go with your yamalka and your tallis – we’ll work it out somehow,” said Mr. Goldwyn.

As Sammy left Goldwyn’s office, the mogul was behind his desk talking to the four walls, “Directors I can fight. Fires on the set I can fight. Writers, even actors, I can fight. But a Jewish colored fellow? This I can’t fight!”

Judaism is not a color. It wasn’t then. It isn’t now.

After I finished the book, I put it on one of my ‘Jewish’ shelves. Why? Because that is where the book belongs. That’s where Sammy belongs. May his memory be a blessing.

Eddie Silverman blows shofar for the fifteenth day of Elul.

August 24, 2021 | 16 Elul 5781

The Call of the Shofar by Annie Schwartz

Awakening cries we hear from afar
Tekiah reverberates from the shofar.
Readying us for the new year to come
The shofar calls; what will we become?
It wakens us up in the morning light
Can we make our world sweeter, can we make our world bright?

Welcome, Elul, we work as a team
Created we were B'tzelem Elohim.
Rouse again our sleeping souls
Truah considers our new dreams and our goals.
Challenging us as sister and brother
To be kind and loving; to take care of each other.

Shevarim both sadness and joy fill our eyes
When we think of the choices we made in our lives.
The shofar cries; it lets us know
Especially now to change and grow.
Not only with God do we make amends
But try to make things right with our family and friends.

The shofar sings, we begin anew
Resolving to make the world better for you.
A way to thank God for His gift of life
Through gentleness, kindness, and a world without strife.
Every day in Elul at the same hour
The shofar's songs affirm God's power.

Ben Weiner blows shofar for the sixteenth day of Elul.

August 25, 2021 | 17 Elul 5781

Call of the Shofar by Barbara Finkel
וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם
V’aatem ha-d’veikim badonai eloheikhem chayyim kull’khem ha-yom      

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about this short verse that appears towards the beginning of Parashat Va’etchanan. You may recognize it from the Torah service; we recite it as a congregation after the Gabbai calls the first aliyah to the Torah.

From the numerous translations and commentaries I’ve seen, this captures the meaning best for me:
While you, who cling (hold fast, cleave) to God’s Torah and the wisdom God revealed to you, have abundant life today.

The sages taught that it is not enough to believe in God intellectually. We must cleave to God as one cleaves to a spouse or a lover, in response to our soul’s deepest needs. Only then will our relationship with God be a source of life. 

The verse paints a beautiful image of God as our loving partner and source of a fulfilled life.

During the month of Elul, we begin to view God through a somewhat different lens; we are about to become defendants in God’s court, where God will determine if our deeds and intentions during the past year warrant inclusion in the Book of Life for the coming year.

This Rosh Hashanah, when we sit together in judgment (in person or perhaps, for many, virtually again this year) to pray in the beautiful nusach and rhythms of the day, and to hear the 100 blasts of the shofar, let us hold fast to God and to each other as well. My prayer is that God will judge our entire community with mercy, compassion, and patience, and grant us all abundant life in 5782.

Brian Binder blows shofar for the seventeenth day of Elul.

August 26, 2021 | 18 Elul 5781

Ritual by Debra Beland Ackerman

May it be Your will, Adonai our God, that this be a good and sweet year for us.

Ritual is at its most powerful when it ties into all our senses. The experiences that impact us most are almost always connected not just to what we hear or say, but also with what we feel, taste and smell. Our ancestors understood that. It’s why we welcome in Shabbat with the warmth of flickering candles and a sip of wine, and why we say farewell to our day of rest with the scent of spices. It’s why we mix our charoset with bitter herbs to remember the sweetness of freedom alongside the bitterness of slavery and put a pillow behind us as we sit at the seder table so that we relish in the comfort of eating while reclined. It’s why we sit on the floor on Tisha B’av as we gather in a darkened room to listen to the mournful sounds of eicha. Judaism recognizes that by engaging every part of our body and mind we connect more fully to things in ways that bring us joy, bring us hope, bring us understanding, and bring us closer to one another.

All of which is a long way of saying that I think the practice of eating apples and honey gets short shrift when we think about celebrating Rosh Hashanah. We often fall back on that old joke that the entire Jewish calendar can be summed up by what we eat or don’t eat, without recognized the brilliance of that truth. Each year we head into the new year with hope that this Rosh Hashanah we will turn the page and write for ourselves and our loved ones a new chapter, one that will be better than the year before. It’s a lovely sentiment but it can feel hard to really get ahold of. But when we dip that apple, a symbol of rebirth and life, into honey, a taste that captures the pure sweetness that is hope and joy, we experience that prayer with every part of ourselves.

So this year I ask each of us to take an extra moment or two with the ritual of dipping our apples into honey. Let’s think about what that sweetness represents to us. Let’s ask the people at our table what it represents to them. Let’s linger a little longer in that moment of hope and joy. May it be Your will, Adonai our God, that this be a good and sweet year for us.

Jonah Vergott blows shofar for the eighteenth day of Elul.

August 27, 2021 | 19 Elul 5781

Spinning by Erin Dreyfuss

"How does the world work?" my daughter asks.

We've brushed her teeth, put on pajamas, read a book, tucked her in, and said the Sh'ma. The clock by the door says it's past her bedtime.

In the interest of time, I summarize the world: "It spins. Laila t-"

"Spins?" she wonders, interrupting my good night.

I spin in place slowly and explain, "The world is in space and it spins around. When our part of the world spins toward the sun, it's daytime, and then it keeps spinning around until it's nighttime, like now. Laila tov! I love you."

I will answer the question again tomorrow night, though it might be phrased differently: How does science work? How does nature work? How does God work?

May your head be filled with questions that keep you up late. May the sun shine on you as the world spins into another day.

Daniel Strouse blows shofar for the nineteenth day of Elul.

August 29, 2021 | 21 Elul 5781

Sunrise by Judith Cabelli
I awoke suddenly to the quiet light that streams in just before the sun rises. A quick peek out the window confirmed inviting my family to experience the joy of the early morning would be worthwhile. 
Each morning there is unexpected beauty, whether or not we are awake to witness it. Every day is different. Some days the sky is so radiant with exquisite colors as the sun crests on its journey above. Other days the beauty is more subtle, quietly reminding us that life is beautiful in all forms. The serene beauty just as important as when more opalescent.
That particular morning, my children joined me to experience the quiet, subtle beauty of our world. Without question, this past year brought considerable change into our lives. As adults, we found new ways to interact and connect on the most basic level with friends and family. Time and time again, we asked so much of our children. Our children whose primary job it is to learn and grow through play. Right now, as we begin another new year, I’m heartened and inspired by the adaptability of our children. Our children who see and appreciate the beauty in the natural world around us. Shana tova!

Josh Ackerman blows shofar for the twenty-first day of Elul.

August 30, 2021 | 22 Elul 5781

Brandon Werbel blows shofar for the twenty-second day of Elul. Lisa Friedman reflects on Eicha and our lives today.

August 31, 2021 | 23 Elul 5781

Minyan by Jordan Baker

I don’t remember when it started, but some time ago, I started looking forward to attending the nightly minyan. It became one of the highlights of my week. I was not in mourning, but I enjoyed the pleasant hellos and moments of quiet introspection, and I wanted this comfort for others. No matter what happened during the day before 8pm, by 8:20pm, there was a refresh. This past year, I have been one of the informal minyan greeters, ensuring we follow Virginia Department of Health contact tracing protocols, and putting a face by the front door to welcome those inside. It’s been a year of following the whims of a pandemic we can only try to exert some control over. Evenings of exultations about vaccinations, or nervous laughter over the latest unknowns. Extending condolences to new faces or close friends who have just lost a parent. Glowing in the happiness of a congregant making their first trip back into the beautiful sanctuary since March 2020. At the end of every service, I find myself on autopilot, repeating the concluding words of the Mourner’s Kaddish, “May the One who brings peace to His universe bring peace to us and to all Israel. And let us say: Amen.”

Daniel Cabelli blows shofar for the twenty-third day of Elul.

September 1, 2021 | 24 Elul 5781

Connection by Anna Stolley Persky
During the shutdown last year, we isolated. We barely saw anyone. Sometimes we sat together on our king-sized bed -- two adults, two teenagers, one preteen, and two dogs. We watched television. We clung to each other.

Some people say that they lost their connection to Judaism during that time. I have never felt a stronger tie to my heritage and faith than during those days we were alone, but together in our house. I thought about how I would do anything for my children to survive. I thought about my relatives who fled other countries for better lives for their families. I found the stories about Tevye and Motl my father used to read to me. I learned to make cholent. I prayed.

I listened to my daughter practice for her Bat Mitzvah, her hopeful voice drifting from her bedroom to the living room down the stairs, perhaps even to the street and our neighbors’ homes. 

My daughter’s singing, the old Yiddish stories, the closeness of our bodies were our own flickers of light through those bleak nights. They were reminders that we are bold, bonded Jews with the strength of our ancestors pulling us forward through the darkness.

Zach Silberman blows shofar for the twenty-fourth day of Elul.

September 2, 2021 | 25 Elul 5781

Games by Andi Wirpel
I’ve been attempting to write that uplifting ‘Call of the Shofar’ piece, but it is tough, because we have all struggled in our own ways, for our own reasons. At the Wirpel house we play games. Sorry kids, mom is competitive (starting my Days of Repentance apologies). I want you to know I did figure out who did it in Clue, and did let the game go a few rounds before I told you, I just could not wait. It was fun learning all the rules in Parchisi, and using my competitive spirit. Playing ping pong in the garage is another favorite of ours, especially during the 10 minute virtual school breaks. This year we have played so many games of Euchre, Hearts, SkipBo, and more. I would love to hear about your favorite games, and maybe we can add a game swap to the clothing swap, when the time comes.

We are surviving and have gotten closer during the pandemic. I loved that my kids really missed each other while Spencer was at Ramah Sports for 4 weeks. I loved that Alexi was excited about school starting, and that she prepared Spencer for his first year of secondary school, and his binders, too. Wishing you and your families a sweet and wonderful 5782!

Jonathan Schwartz blows shofar for the twenty-fifth day of Elul.

September 3, 2021 | 26 Elul 5781

Forgiveness by Marnie Fienberg
A few weeks ago, my family and I went to Colorado. Usually the Rocky Mountains are magnificent – clear, crisp and timeless against the deep blue sky. But this time they were obscured by smoke from multiple life-threatening wildfires across the Western part of our country. We went up to the top of Pike’s Peak and again, our view was limited. Some days were clearer than others, but the smoke never truly dissipated.

My meditation this Elul is about anger and how it obscures the view we have of each other and ourselves. Thinking about the past few years, I was very angry at someone. It ran deep and sometimes kept me up at night, obscuring my view of the larger situation and preventing me from seeing how to work through the problem. Over time, I realized (with help from many friends and a few Rabbis) I couldn’t control the actions of others. I needed to let my frustration go - it was hurting me, not the person who caused the anger. Slowly, the smoke cleared and I could see the path forward. The path toward forgiveness and peace.

This Elul I hope we can think about anger and the power of forgiveness, especially during the Days of Awe. May we all see the important things clearly and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Sophie Fienberg blows shofar for the twenty-sixth day of Elul.

September 5, 2021 | 28 Elul 5781

Inspiration by Brittanie Werbel

I find inspiration in my brother, an Emergency Room doctor who has worked so indescribably hard the last 18 months.

I find inspiration in my husband, who steadily takes on more responsibilities but always remains a source of generosity, wisdom, and love for our family.

I find inspiration in my older child, who overcame many pandemic-era challenges and is now happily settling into his first year of college.

I find inspiration in my younger child, who weathered deeply cutting disappointments before finally experiencing 2 wonderful, formative months in Israel and a culminating camper experience at Camp Ramah New England.

I find inspiration in everyone who got vaccinated and who – even after 18 long months – continues taking appropriate pandemic precautions to protect themselves and others.

I find inspiration in the sacred stones of Jerusalem, the pulsing energy of Tel Aviv, the magnificent beauty of Israel’s deserts and hills and parks and streams, and the unique resilience of the Israeli people, still acting as ohr l’goyim (light among the nations).

I find inspiration in all our compatriots who strive towards American idealism. While far from perfect, Americans continue to welcome refugees seeking a better life, to fight against bigotry and hate, to offer others both a hand up and a seat at the table, to innovate, to learn, to teach…and to inspire yet others.

Shanah tovah u’metukah.

Jake Cabelli blows shofar for the twenty-eighth day of Elul.

September 6, 2021 | 29 Elul 5781

L'dor v'Dor by Halli Weiner

For the last few months, my family has been celebrating summer in the car by listening to PJ Library's promotional CD "Sounds like Summer." The CD includes nostalgic camp songs that I grew up singing, like Debbie Friedman's "Miriam's Song," and Rick Recht's "Hallelujah." But the sixth track is a song that I hadn't heard until now, and it has inspired me to reflect on what it means to be living in the present as a parent, a child, and a Jew.

We know the words well, because we sing them all the time... "l'dor v'dor nagid gadlecha..." and Josh Nelson continues "...l'dor v'dor, we protect this chain.."

We protect this chain.

The word "protect" has taken on a new meaning in the last year and a half, as I've felt tremendous pressure to protect my family - near and far - from the threats that we face today. But I also find myself protecting my family in a different way. My youngest will be turning 2 soon, so with the exception of just a few short months after he was born, he hasn't known the world beyond COVID. This also means he hasn't had the same opportunity to spend these first two years in a synagogue the way my oldest child did, to run up and down the aisles during p'seukei d'zimrah and high-five with all the familiar faces, to look forward to standing on the back wall and seeing the torahs when the ark opens, to run up and get candy during a bar/bat mitzvah, to stand on the ahmud during adon olam after parading proudly into the sanctuary with the tot-shabbat crowd. The rhythm of shabbat at shul isn't familiar to him the way it was when my daughter was this age, but I feel so fortunate that we've been able to protect the rhythm of shabbat in other ways. At the height of the pandemic, Shabbat became the one day during the week to look forward to when every other day looked the same. It became our day of puzzles, our day of reading special chapter books together on the couch, our day of leisurely strolls around the neighborhood and greeting new familiar faces with a wave and a smile.

From generation to generation, Jews and Judaism have been resilient. We protect our chain by keeping our values and traditions close to our hearts and visible in our lives. I continue to struggle daily with the question of how best to protect my family from the scary things in the world, but watching my kids proudly put on their kippot, open a bencher (sometimes upside down), and belt out the familiar tune of Friday night kiddush reminds me that our traditions, our spark, our chain is protected. L’Dor v’Dor, there is so much to be thankful for.

Everyone blows shofar for the final day of Elul!

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784