Walking Forward with Tragedy in One Pocket and Renewal in the Other

In the flow of the Jewish calendar, this is the time to start waking up, again. The Hebrew month of Elul begins at sundown on Friday August 10th, and with a new sliver of moon in the sky, we begin several daily practices during this month leading up to Rosh Hashana to shake us awake, to dive into cheshbon ha’nefesh – taking stock of our lives, to recalibrate our moral compasses and to reenergize the work of tikkun – repair.

Each morning, we blow the shofar, that vibrating, wailing call to pay attention and get ready to respond. Each day, we recite Psalm 27, a mantra to realign the heart’s direction. And each day, we make a teshuvah (repentance/returning) itinerary for ourselves – getting down to the business of making amends with people we’ve hurt and showing up in our lives with focused responsibility. Teshuvah is not symbolic. It’s humbling, hard and liberating work. In order for Rosh Hashana to embrace the possibility of transformation and engage us in the ways it is meant to, now is the time to start doing our work.

This year, the gunshots on the Danforth in Toronto continue to echo in us and they are also a wake up call. I want to walk forward in Elul attuned to the specifics of teshuvah that this tragedy poses to us. I want to share the moving and clear words that Reverend Sarah Miller, my colleague at Eastminster United Church, shared at the Wednesday night community vigil on the Danforth in the wake of the recent shooting.

“We gather today with broken hearts, offering our support to those who are grieving and those who are injured. When things like this happen in the world, we find ourselves awash with feelings. As a people of hope, we come together to affirm that love is stronger than hate, and so we commit to an end to divisions of bigotry and hatred.

We offer our support to the Muslim community who are already facing Islamophobia in response to the shooting and affirm that this incident in no way reflects the teachings of Islam. We stand in solidarity with other communities that have experienced gun violence and have not had the same degree of support and attention. We cry out for an end to the easy access to guns. We name the importance of free and timely mental health supports and that this incident will not further stigmatize those with mental health challenges.

We bring all the complexities of our feelings, our sadness and our anger, our hope and our gratitude for a community that has surrounded its members with love in these difficult days.

There are 3 families who lost loved ones on Sunday night, and all of them must be feeling unimaginable pain. Our hearts go out to them and to all who are suffering. In this time, we honour and remember those who died, those who are injured and those who are grieving.”

My dear DJCers, in this month of Elul, keep listening to the state of your heart – the grief, sadness, anger, fear that may show up in surprising ways in the coming weeks. Please take care to notice if you are trying to distract or numb yourself, or to isolate. Please reach out if you need support. Please look around you and reach out to others.

Keep your heart resilient in the face of fear. Psalm 27 begins, “Adonai is my light and my saving source, whom shall I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life, of what shall I be afraid?”  What choices can you make, with good support, to walk toward what scares you? What deep strength, what abiding connection, what noble, enlivening sacred purpose can you rest into so that your fears release their grip?

This is an important time to build relationships with people who are different from you,  particularly Muslims and others who are being targeted with blame and hatred right now. What support can you show publicly? How can you take a step in your personal life to deepening these relationships?    

I encourage you to notice ways you feel resigned to this kind of violence being the way of the world now. What political involvement, what learning, what conversations can you become involved with this month to take part in steering the world toward tzedek – justice and the ways of shalom – peace?

I look forward to walking this path of teshuvah with you, in both healing and in courageous renewal.

-Rabbi Miriam