Even if you pay only scant attention, it’s hard to avoid the countdown to Election Day. We may be reminded to register to vote, make contributions, and perhaps to help get out the vote. At the same time, there is another countdown, once the Hebrew month of Elul begins (this year, it started on September 4th). We may be reminded by the call of the shofar or simply the date on the calendar that we are approaching the Jewish new year, and with the new year, a chance to begin again.
The central concept of this new year is known in Hebrew as teshuvah, or return. Often translated as “repentance,” we tend to spend our time considering the ways we have fallen short of our goals, failed to live up to our vision of our best selves. But rather than face this new year with a litany of regret, there is another way to understand teshuvah — and that is to regard it as full of possibility, growth – a “re-enlivening”. Where spring is the beginning of gorgeous growth in the natural world, here at the opposite side of the seasonal circle, we are invited to begin our own gorgeous growth.
For me, the opportunity to teach and learn with other parents through PTJL is one piece of that teshuvah – enlivening. As parents, we spend a great deal of time packing lunches, wondering if our children are doing too many or too few activities, and just generally trying to help our kids make it through the week. Yet, we know that the to-do list alone is not a life. We would like to be packing those lunches in a home that marks the passages of time in meaningful ways and in a family that is generous with our contributions to the larger community. The conversations that can evolve over the weeks of PTJL help to break down the walls between us, enabling us to encourage one another, to support and inspire one another, and to re-enliven our families –informed by the wisdom of our tradition. My wish for each of us, as we anticipate the turn of a new year, is that we pursue not only changing our old ways for the better, but also making room for what enlivens us, enabling us to find the sparks that animate our lives.
Emily Mathis was ordained by Hebrew College in 2009 and served as rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Peabody for seven years. Additionally, she has taught children, teens, and adults in Reform, Conservative, and independent congregations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She and her spouse, Hali Diecidue live in West Newton with their three girls.