I was honored to be asked to speak at the Rosh Hashanah services of Olney Kehila this year. Below is the text of the “drash” I gave.
I am really honored to be here with you all today. My family seems to have a growing and wonderful connection with Olney Kehila. Not only is Holly, a friend, teacher, and mentor, but my husband crafted the wonderful ark that houses your community’s Torah. I’ve enjoyed services here in the past and just love what a friendly and welcoming congregation this is. One thing, in particular, that’s struck me in the past is the amazing kids you have here. I watch them get so engaged with the songs and chants,and I remember meeting one Bat Mitzvah student a couple of years ago who was working on some project that I can’t even fathom having the maturity to have done when I was twelve.
I don’t have any children, but I do have this amazing nephew — Asher. He’s two and a half. Just recently he started Jewish pre-school and wanted to share with me a new song he learned. It’s the “bread” song — you know it — hamotiz lechem min haaretz, we give thanks to G!d/dess for bread…” Of course he’s two and a half, so it comes out Hamotzi thanks for bread…
Watching him discover beautiful moments of Judaism is such a blessing. I think as we get older it’s easy to forget how deep, meaningful and fulfilling Jewish practice can be. And by older, I mean about 14. Somewhere, somehow, Judaism seems, too often, to turn into a burden instead of a joy — a duty instead of an experience. Then, too many, go seeking elsewhere. I know I did. The Judaism I was taught as a child was flat, dry and flavorless — kind of like plain old matzah.
Here’s a line from this week’s Torah portion that totally got me, “they turned to the service of other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not experienced and whom god had not alloted to them.” (Deut 29:25, Plaut Translation) Yep. That was me. Anything and everything seemed more interesting than Judaism. Like many I wandered off. Problem was nothing felt right. I was trying to worship gods that I had not experienced and who were not allotted to me.
Thankfully, as an adult I found my way back. Here’s the thing. We have THOUSANDS of years of traditions to pull from. A big part of my spiritual practice is finding ways to honor the embodied and agrarian roots of Judaism. It’s all there in the Torah and ancient texts, but we just don’t really engage with it any more. These are the delicious morsels I found that drew me back to Judaism.
Today, many of you will engage in the tradition of Tashlich. It’s one of those embodied, earth-based practices that has managed to survive. It’s officially dated to the 14th century CE, but many believe it is a very ancient practice that is even referenced by the prophet Michah. This year as I thought about Tashlich and how it relates to the many other themes of Rosh Hashanah, I started to think about Tashlich as a kind of physical offering and I wondered how it related to the concepts of prayer, repentance and teshuvah and the gates of repentance?
What if we thought about Tashlich like this:
- Prayer: What I give as a key to unlock the gates
- Repentance: What I discard outside the gates
- Teshuvah: What I pledge as an offering to pass through the gates
As you move through the High Holy Days, I encourage you to find new discoveries lost within our own tradition. Invoke your inner six year old, and find things that are fresh and new again. Let yourself say, “what if…” and try something new — or better yet — a new way of doing something old that we’ve forgotten. We have such an amazing depth of tradition to pull from, and we’ve been around so long that we’ve forgotten what we’ve forgotten. For example did you know we used to have a Rosh Hashanah seder? So let the sound of the Shofar shake loose your ancestral memories, whether they are from ancient Israel or the shetl’s of Europe or the villages of the Sephardim.
Don’t ever settle for a Judaism that is dry, flat, and flavorless – like plain Matzah. That’s the food of slavery and oppression. Insist on a Judaism that is more like a yummy, fresh baked challah, maybe a nice kugel — or, G!d/dess-willing — Tiramatzah!.
May this new year of 5773 be a sweet one for you, and my your Judaism be as delicious as apples in honey!