Lesson from Elul: No One Should Dance Alone

Summer is hard to take seriously with nobody in the office, and everybody running around half-dressed. No wonder High Holidays fall when school resumes and the air grows brisk — when life starts taking itself seriously again.

In the 29-day lead up to cracking open the book of life for the first time this year, we Jews are commanded to study, to reflect, to repair. This focused period, called yeraḥ kallah — which can translate to “bridal month,” the bride being the object of study, the Torah — has spurred a modern response in the vein of story and self-help.

Enter the Jewels of Elul, in its seventh and possibly final year. Musician Craig Taubman, whose projects have ranged in subject from Jewish to Disney, created the website, which features a daily snippet of wisdom throughout the study month.

Famous people have contributed: President Obama, Lady Gaga, the Dalia Lama, and famous-ish people too. I can’t think of an unlikelier source for Jewish advice than Mary J. Blige, though her addiction work is commendable. This year’s subject: Enlightenment. May we be so lucky to experience even a drop of this.

“Instead of buying new shoes, a belt, a new suit, this is food for your soul,” said Taubman, who has prioritized collecting musings from thinkers diverse in gender, religion and race.

The women contributors seem more given to stories often about family, and the men seem more didactic or political, even preachy at times.

I guess that’s what you get from a Rahm Emanuel or a Rick Jacobs — people who approach the world with a rabbinic authority, and employ writers to whom they can outsource their subconscious thought processes.

Taubman agreed that male participants waxed more pragmatic, while the women were quicker to access emotional truths.

Except for Josh Kornbluth, the blessed man, for sharing something simple yet heartfelt. He writes of being shuffled between adversaries, his divorced parents, whose anger toward one another was tempered during a New York City blackout when the assurance of safety — its own kind of enlightenment — was craved.

The story that Taubman said brough tears to his ducts was actually from a few years back, and written by Yo Yenta! blogger, Jessica Leigh Lebos.

She wrote, “My mother-in-law’s mind is full of holes,” to describe her dementia, but those holes seem to close when there’s music.

Lebos’s mother-in-law is fond of snapping and jazz hands. Her children vow never to let her dance alone, risking public embarrassment to shield her from it. I picture the three of them doing the Charleston in the aisles of supermarkets. Or maybe that’s just my subconscious beaming in my own grandmother, who also has dementia, and as a Catholic doesn’t know from Elul, but is prone to dancing in moments that don’t call for it, or singing a football team’s fight song in church.

And I think about how her not-quite-thereness combined with my living far away has often caused me to write her off.

Reading Lebos’s Jewel makes me think that maybe I should just dance with my grandmother more, even from afar, even if she doesn’t know we’re dancing.

And here, perhaps, I’ve arrived at the point, which these Jewels of Elul are meant to evoke.

The intersection of simple, familial memories and longings, and the change of seasons leads me to dedicate myself to doing better in the New Year.

Your Stories

  • "I push wagons, I work with a shovel, I turn rotten in the rain, I shiver in the wind; already my own body is no longer mine: my belly is swollen, my limbs emaciated, my face is thick in the morning, hollow in the evening; some of us have yellow skin, others grey. When we do not meet for a few days we hardly recognize each other."Primo Levi, "Survival in Auschwitz"

  • "This holiday we take for ourselves,
 no longer silent servers behind the curtain, 
but singers of the seder,
 with voices of gladness,
 creating our own convocation,
 and leaving ‘The Narrow Place’ together."E.M. Broner

  • "The idea of opening the door is that we hope Elijah might actually be there this year – that we might actually have done enough to change the world to have had him arrive. And, if we don’t have even the tiniest bit in us that thinks he might be there, that thinks we have tried our hardest to bring around a messianic time, with no hunger, no war, no conflict, no pain – if we don’t believe that we have tried to end those broken parts in the world – well, then I tell my students – don’t do any of it."Rabbi Leora Kaye

  • "The whole seder, for me, is the tension between two statements: We say, 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and now we’re free,' but before that, we pick up the matzoh, we invite the hungry in and we say, 'This year we are slaves, next year may we be free.' We are the most fortunate, liberated Jews in history. But on the other hand, there are lots of things that enslave us."Rabbi Arthur Green

  • "To tune of "Mack the Knife": "Enter Haman ben Hamdasa, /And he’s claimin’, he’s an Agagite. /Better look out, oh Hadassah/For that Haman—he’s an Amalekite./And though Haman, he’s in power now, That old Mordy, will not bow down. /Haman’s ego, it takes a powder now. And just like that—Amalek’s in town!""By Rabbi Jan Uhrbach

  • "Do you know that every shepherd/ has his own tune? / Do you know that every blade/ of grass has its own poem?/ And from the poem/ of the grasses,/ a tune of the shepherd/ is made./ How beautiful and/ pleasant to hear/ this poem!"Reb Nachman of Breslov's Likutei Moharan

  • "Tu B'Shvat is more than a New Year for Trees -- it is a call to action. To observe Tu B'Shvat isn't to read and pray, but to do, to plant, to place one's hands in contact with the Earth....While we may mark Tu B'Shvat as a Jewish Earth Day once a year, we are responsible as Jews to act as environmental stewards every day."David Krantz - Aytzim: Ecological Judaism

  • "Donniel Hartman said the miracle of Hanukkah is not just that the oil lasted 8 days; it’s actually that it lasted more than one. Would we have said, 'Dayenu,' (to mix metaphors,) if it had lasted two days? Would we have had a holiday? Probably, yes. The idea that we as a Jewish community, even in our darkest moments, hold out the hope that a candle is going to keep burning, I find very powerful."Rabbi Rachel Ain

  • "“We would all argue vehemently and work tireless against assimilation. But the Hellenists and we Reform Jews didn’t assimilate. We acculturate, and by doing so, provide a portal for continuity unavailable to those who continue a quasi-ghettoized existence with all the ramifications thereof, good and bad. The irony, rarely mentioned by those who use the Hanukah story to justify Orthodoxy, is that the Maccabees (Hasmoneans) lasted a century and a half before they disappeared, having taken on Greek names as High Priests and Kings. And Rabbinic Judaism, the first ‘reform’ movement, birthed all of us.”"Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein

  • "I find it refreshing to go from carrying the decomposing lulav and etrog in our hands in procession for 7 days (save for Shabbat), to carry absolutely nothing on Shemini Atzeret, to then carry a Torah on Simchat Torah. It’s like Judaism’s way of saying… ‘What you are carrying with you on this journey — Torah, lessons, stories, values, covenant, a connection with a higher power and history — all of the intangibles, you carry them with you on the tangible, tentative, twisting path of life."Rabbi Paul Jacobson

  • "Shemini Atzeret is conceptually an attempt to maintain the holiday relationship with God without any specific rituals. In modern times it has been become eclipsed by the joy and dancing of Simchat Torah. This speaks to the difficulty in a pure relationship without concrete modes of expression. It could be a reminder that our close relationships exist even when we don't exchange presents or cards."Rabbi Yosef Blau

  • "Sukkot is the reminder that it doesn't take two days or even two years to go from darkness to light. It might take an entire lifetime to get there and you have to constantly walk with the belief that it's possible."Rabbi Sharon Brous

  • "Yom Kippur: God is our judge. Sukkot: God is our shelter. Yom Kippur: you sit cooped up for endless hours. Sukkot is about space and breath. Yom Kippur, it’s all about, ‘What have I done?’ And Sukkot is, ‘What can I do in the world?’"Rabbi Naomi Levy

  • "The Rabbis in the Talmud spoke of the necessity of both sinai and oker harim, that is both those who collected traditions that were handed down and also those who literally “overturned mountains.” Essentially, the one group would not survive without the other. It is in the radical interpretations of the given traditions, and in the broad and fluent knowledge of the traditions that one is able to create radical new interpretations."Dr. Aryeh Cohen

  • ""I have never felt that repentence, prayer, and tzedakah would change my fate. Rather, I feel that through honest reflection, refinement, and a sense of responsibility, I do have incredible power to affect the decree for others.""Cantor Ellen Dreskin

  • "Teshuvah does invite us to begin again, but not from the beginning. Part of what it means to be human is to learn how to begin again and again – from right where we are, right in the messy middle of things. The Torah, according to an ancient midrash, reminds us of this truth by opening the story of creation itself with the letter Bet…Even when we have rolled the parchment scroll as far back as it will go, the letter Bet meets us there -- insisting that this story cannot be told from the very beginning. No story can. Beginnings elude us."Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

  • "This year our theme at Temple Emanuel Beverly Hills is “If not Now, When?” and we asked congregants to tweet their responses to #innwtebh or to fill out cards filling in the blanks :“If not now, when will I….” We will prepare these ‘intentions for the year” in a similar way, as a power point presentation scrolling quietly on the screen facing the congregation as individuals come forward silently in front of the open ark before neilah."Rabbi Laura Geller

Your Video(s):
    Your Image(s):

      Screen name will be displayed if your story is published.

      Email address will always be kept private.

      Recommend this article

      Lesson from Elul: No One Should Dance Alone

      Thank you!

      This article has been sent!