General High Holidays

Rosh Hashanah Arrives, I Review My Year

It’s been a bit of a year.

Over the course of this year, I looked for rabbinic work, with no success (no one can remember quite so dead a rabbinic job market as this year). That being said, I hit the summer, and decided it was time to make something happen, and founded a congregation here in Southeast Portland. And while that’s dominated my thinking for the last few months, it wasn’t really what the year was about.

The spring was entirely about death. Over spring and early summer, three people in my life died. I spent all Spring in Boston with my grandfather, accompanying him on his final journey. I wrote about that here and here. In the midst of which my friend Paul Bingman died.

When thinking about this year, that’s what really stands out for me: the spring.

Yet there were other parts of the year as well: I started out the secular year by heading to Spokane to speak at a Unitarian Universalist Church, and meet up with a college classmate I hadn’t seen since college. During June, just after my grandfather’s death, I returned to Portland in time for the college’s Centennial Reunion, with a chance to get to see lots of faces I hadn’t seen since, and meet people’s children and spouses (those few who didn’t marry other classmates). It was a chance to look back over the longer-term, and see who we are now, and how that related to who we were then, in the first blush of adulthood.

It was a year I spent quality time in the garden.

It was a year our car got totalled.

It was a year. And perhaps I was less productive than I would have liked, but I think it was a year of growth for me. A year of figuring out some pieces. And I’m looking forward to the coming year, and to seeing what it brings.

General Rabbinic spirituality

A New Year, New Challenges

I’m getting ready for the new year, and with it, a new experience. Tomorrow I head off to Spokane to speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church. And by speak, I mean give a sermon (two actually, or rather, one sermon, given twice–at the 9:30 service and then again at 11). So, there are two elements here:

  1. Giving a sermon.
  2. Speaking at a church.

Individually, these are two things I do with some regularity. I speak at churches from time to time on a variety of subjects, from marriage equality to various aspects of Judaism. And I give sermons in a variety of Jewish contexts. But somehow, giving a sermon at a church service feels different.

Part of the difference comes from a statistic I encountered at some point during rabbinical school: ministers spend an average of 8 hours a week preparing sermons. Now, I’ll be honest: when you tell rabbis this statistic, they look at you like you’re crazy. Maybe you’ve misplaced a decimal? Most of us spend a couple of hours a week preparing our sermons, but Jewish congregations just don’t put enough emphasis on the sermon to justify that kind of time expenditure.

In any case, this feels like something new to me. And with a new year coming round tonight, it feels like a propitious way to begin 2011.

Oh, and, of course, may the new year be a wonderful year for all of us.

General High Holidays Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

It’s Been a Tough Year: Welcoming 5771

All in all, the past year, ending tonight with the start of Rosh Hashanah, has been a tough year. I’ve been mainly unemployed with little bits of work here and there. My grandmother died. It just hasn’t been a fun year.

So, hitting the end of the year provides the opportunity to look forward to change. It’s arbitrary, but saying, “last year may have been bad, but maybe the new year will be good” feels more valid than saying, “well I’ve had a bad stretch, but I think this next bit of time might be better.” No inherent reason to it, but we all invest the new year with hopes and dreams.

And so, as we sit on the precipice of a new year, I put out my hope and prayer: May the new year be a good year, for all of us.

Shanah Tovah Umtukah (A good and sweet year).

May 5771 be a wonderful year. A year of prosperity and blessing. A year of satisfaction and joy. A year of love and happiness.