153 White Meadow Road | Rockaway, New Jersey 07866 | 973-627-4500 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Calendar and Candlelighting Schedule
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Do you think God takes a summer vacation? Do you suppose that God, somewhere around the end of June, beginning of July, decides that it’s time for a break until September? The notion is, of course, ludicrous. We may have some serious questions about God’s existence, or God’s nature, but setting aside these deep theological challenges, if we assume God exists, we probably assume God’s presence is constant, and the divine business is not seasonal.
So why do we sometimes behave as if it were? Why do we sometimes see summer as not only a vacation from work, but a vacation from our religious lives? I have in the past suggested “summer reading,” books to increase our knowledge, deepen our thinking, and to prepare us for the Yamim Nora’im. This year I am suggesting some activities (and some books!) to spiritually engage us during the summer months:
1. Come to schul. In between trips away, take advantage of the extra time by spending it on your soul. During the week, take some time at the beginning and/or at end of the day for contemplation and reflection. Do it on a regular basis and explore our prayers more deeply. On Shabbat, don’t just come on Friday night, or just in the morning, but come both times. Really make Shabbat a day, not just an hour or two. Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of our services throughout the summer.
2. Bring a siddur with you on vacation. Dahvin at your own pace – and singing your own favorite melodies. Take the time to use your imagination and reflect on what a particular prayer may mean to you, in your life. Pay attention to the natural imagery of the Psalms (particularly in the early parts of the morning service or in Kabbalat Shabbat) and let the prayers become not just words but experiences. If you’re in the proper setting (and that could be here at White Meadow Lake!) dahvin outside, feel & experience creation – and join us for Shabbat on the Beach!
3. Find a Tzedakkah project. If we have more time during the summer, let’s use it in a way to make the summer more enjoyable for everyone. Both within and without the Jewish community there are opportunities to volunteer. If your children have a summer job, encourage them to donate a portion to a tzedakkah of their choice. Let them think of Jewish values all year long. And, if they aren’t going away to camp: don’t forget to bring them to schul, and make sure they, too, bring a siddur on vacation!
4. Observe Tisha b’Av. Yes, Tisha b’Av (the Ninth of Ab) is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, commemorating the destruction of our Temples, the exiles and expulsions of our people, and the many acts of degradation and violence perpetrated against us. However, living in the generation following the Shoah, when sick individuals try to deny this horrible event and continue to challenge our very right to exist as a people, how can we not observe this powerful day of historical memory and contemporary meaning? Moreover, the mourning customs that guide the synagogue ritual and the chanting of Megillat Eikhah (The Book of Lamentations) in its unique haunting melody can be profound religious experience.
5. Read a good Jewish book (or two). Our summer reading should include something of substantive Jewish content. I have recently mentioned Daniel Gordis’s Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn (that will be read by all participants in our community’s upcoming Israel mission). Another important book dealing with the contemporary situation in Israel is Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. Elliot Dorff, one of the Conservative movement’s great teachers has just released, Modern Conservative Judaism: Evolving Thought and Practice, described as “an indispensable anthology of Conservative Judaism in the last 50 years, and a worthy successor to the classic Tradition and Change. Elliot's candid observations shed light on Conservative Judaism's most important laws, policies, and documents - excerpted and contextualized all in one place for the first time ever.” And if you want something to inspire you, Naomi Levy’s Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul will move you in a way that only Naomi’s beautiful words can do.
With little effort and almost no trouble, we can ensure that our summer is not a retreat from Judaism, nor a neglect of our identity. Indeed, it can be a time to renew and invigorate our spiritual batteries. God doesn’t take a vacation during the summer, but we can take God with us in ours.
Rabbi Charlie Popky
Rabbi Charlie's Mahashavoth