The Honey Cake’s Ready – Are You? (Guest Blog)

10 Sep

Shana tova! The holidays are here!

Wait a minute!  Don’t we have another week to get ready?!

Actually, our tradition teaches us that the Hebrew month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, is a designated time to begin introspection and preparation for the High Holidays. As if we don’t spend enough hours in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur doing t’shuva, reflecting on what we’ve done wrong and asking for forgiveness!

T’shuva is often mistranslated as “repentance,” but its direct translation is, “returning.” It’s not just about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s about recognizing what has distanced us from God, from one another, and from our best selves, and doing something to bring us closer once again. We are always going to make mistakes, but what’s important is that we keep returning to who we really are, who we strive to be.

With the beginning of Elul, I have started to reflect on the past year. Last Elul, I was just settling into my new home in Jerusalem, where I was to spend the next 6 months studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Pardes was the perfect place to begin my spiritual return to myself. I went because I wanted to figure out once and for all what I believed, as if I could complete a yes-or-no-questionnaire on who I am. I thought that I needed the texts to tell me the answers, to tell me how I should live and who I should be. I was in the way of my own t’shuva. But after much introspection, I found that more important than answers and certainty is questions and evolution. Concrete answers may be easier to live by, but leaving room for new possibilities elevates our worldview. When we remove the labels from ourselves, we remove them from others. We begin to see people less as “other” and more as fellow human beings. Somewhere in the rabbinic commentary and Talmudic debates, I returned to who I really am, the same person I always was and always will be: a Jew, one who participates in the ancient, holy tradition of wrestling with God – “yisrael.”

Now that I’ve physically returned to my home in Sarasota, I am exploring the ways that I can continue returning to my best self, and I’ve found that one of those ways is teaching. I am honored to give what I’ve learned to my community as the Administrator and one of this year’s instructors for the Federation’s CommuniteenCHAI program, where students will be encouraged to explore their identity by grappling with Jewish ideas, not by blind acceptance of simple answers.

As you begin your reflection this month, what will you do to return to your essence, your highest potential? Will it be learning more about how your personal Jewish path enhances you as a human being? Perhaps this year you might do a little extra research before High Holiday services to find out what all of those prayers are really about and what they mean to you when you say them. Maybe you will commit to spending more time with your family or giving tzedakah to a cause that you really believe in. Now is the time to begin shedding what holds us back so we can be ready to return to our true selves with the birth of the new year.

Amber Ikeman is the Teen Programming and Israel Advocacy Associate at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. She attended the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies upon graduation from the University of Central Florida in 2011. To read more about Amber’s experience in Israel, click  here.

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