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Elul Insights

 
Written by: Jason Schnissel
19 Elul 5781
 
A pair of sweatpants and a big bowl of chicken noodle matzah ball soup: now that’s comfort.
 
Over the past year and change I really learned the value of the aforementioned sweats and soup. On cold days there’s nothing better than pulling on a warm pair of sweatpants. Well, maybe pulling a jar of stock from the freezer and whipping up a batch of whatever soup you desire. These days I always try and keep a stock of stocks on hand; soup warms you from the inside out. And if it’s the chicken noodle matzah ball variety that’s Jewish penicillin and counts for healing too. 
 
An often but not overly quoted movie line goes: "Don't take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive."* 
 
Wishing you a very healthy and normallativly happy Shana Tova. 
 
*I'd like to attribute this quote to Ferris Bueller though the internet says Elbert Hubbard may have coined it.
 
Written by: Jodi Surfas
18 Elul 5781
 
In 2018, my life as I knew it, or at least how I thought I knew it changed forever. 
 
I was 42, young, healthy and very active. Some who know me well said I worked hard and played even harder. I woke up one morning with a tingling and numb sensation in my hand. Over the next month this feeling spread to my arms, legs, torso, and my brain started to become foggy. A few months later I was diagnosed with relapsing and remitting multiple sclerosis. I told the first doctor she was (insert expletive) wrong, I was healthy and young and it couldn’t be true. But the scans and tests and pokes and prods did not lie. I was still 42, still young but no longer "healthy". I cannot say this was a pleasant time in my life, it was dark and scary. I spent many days and nights, hysterical and worried that I would end up in wheelchair, not able to ski, not able to bike, not able to live my life. But, with time, just as the lesions that caused those terrible feelings healed, I overcame the worry. I sought the best care, upended my diet, began speaking with a therapist, got a dog, stopped working like a dog, started a practice of meditation and skied like my life depended on it. Most importantly, I started concentrating on being the young, healthy and active person I always was before this new thing was part of me.
 
As we approach the High Holidays, I feel as though I have reached a milestone. I reflect on the fact that I sat in the 2018 High Holiday services crying and now I can share this very personal and very hard story only a few years later. I try to not let MS determine who or what I am, but it is part of me whether I like it or not and it has given me the opportunity to improve myself in ways I probably would have never done otherwise.
 
Written by: Nikki Delson
17 Elul 5781
 
My Hebrew name is Nechama Elke, after my great grandmother and my father’s sister. Nechama means comforter, Elke -“God is my Oath.” I don’t think my parents thought much about the meaning of the names – just that both women were dead, and no child carried their names. I am comforted by the thought that they live on through me, and to bring honor to their memory is a blessing
 
To be a comforter is not hard for me. It is part of my human condition – a hard wired response to human suffering. My mother taught me that having a feeling of compassion is insufficient – it has to be followed by a deed. When I offer comfort, I also comfort myself. While sorrow may feel depleting, the act of  offering comfort is fulfilling.
 
“Oath to God” is  different. It is not a hard-wired response. It is  intentional, takes agency and does not come easily. An oath is a solemn promise, a commitment and offers me a moral compass verbalized in Torah “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue.”
 
Oath to God and comforter are not always compatible.
 
In the book “The Sunflower,” Simon Wiesenthal recalls an incident that happened when he was a prisoner at a Nazi Concentration Camp. His work detail was to clean a hospital for wounded German Soldiers. One day a nurse approaches and asks, “are you a Jew?” He answers “yes” and is marched to the bedside of a Nazi SS officer who is dying - suffering with physical pain and mental anguish. He has committed horrendous, torturous deeds. He unburdens on Wiesenthal, seeking comfort, and forgiveness. Without it, he cannot die in peace. Caught between the Jewish values of compassion and justice, Wiesenthal gets up and walks out of the room, leaving the man to die in pain, and Wiesenthal to wonder whether he made the right decision.
 
I hope I honor the memory of my namesake by struggling to find balance, to seek justice and be a comforter, with the awareness that seeking justice does not always make me or those close to me comfortable.
 
Written by: Ethan Oster
16 Elul 5781
 
Two years ago I tore my rotator cuff on my right shoulder.
I lived with the pain for a year.
One year ago I opted for surgery.
Recovery was painful.
More painful than the initial injury.
I couldn't lift my daughter's; couldn't even change a diaper; couldn't help my wife. 
I watched her take care of our family and couldn't help.
That was painful. A different kind of pain.
I was finally able to begin physical therapy.
Exercise was painful too.
But I kept going. I kept doing the work. 
I learned to push through the pain.
I learned to heal.
 
Written by: Lorrie Felischman
15 Elul 5781
 
I come from a family of strong women, a few of whom reached nonagenarian status before I could legitimately describe them as being, in any way, frail. They were all the unspoken family caregivers of their respective generations and branches of our family tree. When needed, they slipped into their roles as healers of body, mind, and spirit, without missing a beat or abandoning their existing responsibilities at home or in the workplace. To young me, they seemed unflappable – responding to the call for help and to the sometimes grueling physical and emotional work of caring for an ailing or injured family member as if they were merely tasked with picking up a couple of extra items at the grocery store. I have no recollection of any of them asking for help, nor of anyone offering. And then, a few decades later, I became one of them… on three separate months-long journeys – two involving rehabilitation, and one that was end-of-life, and realized why this was the case.
 
I, too, naturally embraced my role as caregiver, becoming robotic in my ability to organize and mobilize, while remaining nurturing in my interactions with my ailing family members. And, like my matriarchal predecessors I admired so greatly, I couldn’t fathom asking for assistance during the few times I was truly overwhelmed. The fear of appearing, and, thereby, becoming weak was all too real. Fortunately for me, relief came in the form of friends who instead of asking if they could be of assistance, gave me only options of when and in what form that support would take place. Instead of the customary, and truly kind, offerings of “Can I help?” or “I’m here if you need me,” I instead heard “I’m coming over to stay with (my family member) this week. What day and time works best for you?” I heard, “I’m staying a bit longer. Go do something for yourself.” I heard, “I know (your family member) likes what I’m making for dinner tonight; what time can I drop some by?” The offers weren’t forceful… just worded graciously, to skirt my DNA-driven aversion to asking for help, and powerful in their ability to revitalize me and my mission. I wish I could go back in time to provide this small but profound succor to the women in my family who taught me by example – my fellow first-born daughter caregivers. I have to believe that they, too, needed an assist with caretaking tasks or a brief respite to recharge their batteries far more than it appeared to those of us who watched them in awe and gratitude.
 
As I hear the shofar sound throughout Elul, my goal for the new year is to listen with more intention and observe with more sensitivity, particularly with the caregivers around me. The born comforters sometimes do need comfort; the natural helpers sometimes do need help. And even as we all grapple with our newfound vulnerability during the current pandemic, most of them, by design, will continue to deny their need for either.
 
Written by: Oren Schragger
14 Elul 5781
 
Setting a goal can be difficult. When we set goals we typically think of a million things that could get in our way. Sometimes we ponder on whether or not we can overcome these obstacles, and sometimes we just give up and let the barriers to success beat us before we even try. On the rare occasion that our motivation and drive overpower our fears of failure, we can find success in even just our attempts to conquer.  
 
Recently I had the opportunity to try out for the 2022 USA Maccabi Soccer team. It was a wonderful experience that I will cherish for years to come, but how I eventually decided to tryout was a new experience for me. It started with the small goal of being more active, so I began hiking and running. Then it continued with the want to get back into soccer so I began coaching. Then it evolved into seeing if I could play soccer at an elite level, so I began training until I felt comfortable flying to LA and NJ to hit the field with the best Jewish soccer players in the country.   
While I don’t feel that I was one of the best players at the tryouts I did find success in my physical fitness being better than most of the players present. Many of the younger players looked up to me as an older player who had trained on his own to achieve what these players were doing on college and pro teams all year round. I got the opportunity to talk and coach and share knowledge with players I would never have met without pushing myself to attend.  
 
They say with age comes wisdom. And as one of the older players, the wisdom that led me through these experiences was how successful we can be if we set smaller step ladder goals based on our previous successes and celebrate those smaller achievements at the same time. As we head into the new year, take a look back on what you have achieved, whether it’s beating your time up Aspen mountain or finishing a book you’ve meant to read. Celebrate your life by sharing and building on that success so that others might be able to celebrate theirs in your footsteps.  
 
L’Shana Tovah!
 
Written by: Joyce Shenk
13 Elul 5781
 
I lost my twin sister, Janice Roth, October 5 th, 2019. She was on her Ovarian Cancer Journey for almost 8 years. She was truly so brave while enduring many treatments, procedures and surgeries. I tried to comfort her over the years, while knowing she could not be totally” healed” from the stage 4 disease that was ravaging her body. She accepted the diagnosis and dealt with it one day at a time. She wanted just more time with her beloved family and friends. It was her strength and bravery that kept her going and I truly believed she was “healed” at the time of her passing. I was fortunate to be with her in our Mom’s “womb “ and it was an honor to be by her side at her death. I will cherish always holding her hand during her last moments. I sat with her after death for awhile, holding her hand tight, I realized she was finally at peace and was now “healed”. It gave me great comfort at that movement . I have missed her so very much during the past almost 2 years. She gave me so much “comfort” when our grandson, Max, passed away at 17 months almost 9 years ago. With her help, I slowly began my own healing journey. My journey may never end but it does get a bit easier every day. Holding tight all my sweet memories of Janice & Max, I am constantly comforted thinking of them both. My own healing journey is well on its way......
 
Written by: Craig Navias
12 Elul 5781
 

Finding Comfort in the Mundane

Throughout life, we are told to take comfort in a great many things – taking comfort in the fact that we tried our best, despite the fact that we lost, taking comfort in the fact that we are sure things will improve despite how bleak a situation may appear; but why not take comfort in our ordinary lives, why not take comfort in the mundane.
Considering that the mundane in this valley is incredible beauty makes it a lot easier to take comfort in what we encounter in our everyday lives, but it seems like regardless or what is normal or ordinary for us, the only time we take comfort in that normal is when it’s gone.  Who hasn’t longed for normal during Covid?
May we all find comfort in what’s wonderfully normal in and about all of our lives.
Written by: Larry Margolis
11 Elul 5781
 
Healing has been a highlight for me this year. I finished 14 months of cancer treatment in March and was declared cancer free. Support and love from family and friends were key to the comfort I felt during the process. While Covid has certainly been a challenge for all of us, I was fortunate to spend a large part of this year in Basalt as opposed to our home in the Chicago area. The joy was being close to our son and family who live in Glenwood and having our DC- based daughter and son-in-law living and working remotely with us here in Basalt. We have not all been together for more than a week as a family for 20 years. I certainly look forward to the end of this pandemic, but I realize how important and comforting it is to spend meaningful time with family and not just for vacations and holidays.
 
Finally, Barbara and I just finished a 7-week RV trip leaving from Basalt and visiting national parks and the west coast—what a wonderful way to stay safe and basically isolated. The beauty of this country is awe-inspiring. In the spirit of these Elul insights, viewing the landscape of Yellowstone, Glacier, the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon coast, the ancient redwoods and much more can only bring you healing and comfort.
 
Written by: Raquel Flinker
10 Elul 5781
 
To me comfort is a warm embrace. There is nothing like a long hug from a loved one in times of distress and some warm, delicious food.
In many ways those two items can also heal, if they are provided consistently.
 
During this last year, where sleep deprivation was definitely a part of it (Leon is now 1!), comfort was needed. Having family and friends to talk, hug, share food, and babysit brought us comfort and joy. I am frequently reminded of the wonderful community we have in this valley!
 
Shana Tova!
 
Written by: Karen Barch
9 Elul 5781
 
I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about what was truly comforting and healing in the last year. Walks with friends, family, and our dog; the pleasure of being outside in our stunning surroundings; and joining celebrations via Zoom, and, post vaccination, in person, all came to mind.
 
And then there was the unexpected joy of singing. I’m not a good singer, but singing has always been something I enjoy despite my lack of skill. I especially love singing at services with our congregation. So, when given the chance to host our student cantor, Isaac Sonett-Assor, at our home for a campfire sing-a-long (Kumzits), Alan and I were thrilled. This was an opportunity to be part of an evening that could be comforting, healing, and fun for our congregation.
 
On the night of the Kumzits, the weather was doing its best to make it seem as we were destined to fall back on Plan B – a crowded living room instead of sitting around a fire. Amazingly, just before we were to begin, the skies cleared and we were able to be outside. Isaac expertly led us in songs we all knew from the 60s and 70s. Rabbi Segal led a Havdalah service. We did some noshing and drinking around the fire. 
 
It turned out to be a perfect evening, the true definition of comfort and healing. 
 
Written by: Barbara Goldstein
8 Elul 5781
 
The year and a half of covid has often left me feeling grumpy and helpless. But family and friends have been largely unscathed and we have been well. In this season I’ve finally come to realize gratefulness and a new appreciation of what really matters in my life—our family ties, our friends, our security and comfortable life, the kindness of others above all—and how that has released a newfound kindness in me. And the joy and spiritual blessings of living in this gorgeous valley so full of natural beauty beyond words. May this season bring us all what we need most: soothing, calmness and comfort.  L’Shana Tova.
 
 
Written by: Edith Kallas
7 Elul 5781
 
The Healing Nature of Music
 
“So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.” Aaron Copland
 
Nothing became more evident to me during this pandemic than the power of music to provide comfort and healing to ourselves, our community and the world. This played out in many forms – from friends and family members sharing links of performances, to accomplished musicians sharing live videos of performances from their homes. Music was easily accessible and provided a positive connection. At times, it was emotionally reflective and, at other times, it was just plain fun. 
 
I watched and listened to many wonderful performances, but I will never forget watching the broadcast of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s “Worldwide Concert for our Culture” on April 15, 2020. Accomplished musicians from all over the world played beautiful music from their homes and their hearts. It became clear, as we watched and the musicians performed from points of isolation, that the crisis we were facing was shared by all humanity. Yet, the music provided a meaningful and spiritually uplifting shared connection.
 
For me, performances like this were also a source of inspiration. Music has always been an important part of my life. I realized that now, without work travel, I had more time in my day. While I had spent many hours as a child and young adult studying classical music, I had always wanted to learn to play jazz. So, I enrolled in an online jazz workshop where I spent six months with 18 other musicians from different states and countries listening and learning.  This uncertain time, turned musical journey, gave me an opportunity to engage in an amazing experience.
 
Written by: Debbie Weber
6 Elul 5781
 
After over a year, I’m back on the list for reading Torah. Reading Torah is very special for me. My return to Torah began with my readings on Pesach Day 7 and Shavuot Day 2. How refreshing it was for me. Now I’m on the list for reading regularly and I feel great about it!  
 
This past June we had a fun filled vacation with Mark’s family in the Poconos. It was wonderful to be together in 3 different houses.  
 
After missing Aspen in 2021, we can’t wait to be there in February 2022. As a blind skier, skiing in Aspen is the best therapy.
 
Mark and I look forward to seeing you in February 2022, and hopefully reading Torah while there.
 
Written by: Mark Weber
5 Elul 5781
 
At this time of year, we are asked, or is it commanded, to be introspective. Looking at the year past, our connection to each other is what stands out. Life is not all about “you,” it is how you treat your fellow man and how you treat the environment. We were asked to mask-up and quarantine and vaccinate, not just for our own good, but to protect the vulnerable in our population who could or would not. We are asked to not pollute the environment with greenhouse gases which causes global warming and consequently changing weather patterns which bring on both drought and floods. We are at a crossroads now. Do we try and beat the Covid virus with our best efforts or do we just think about our own comfort. Do we reduce our dependence on greenhouse producing fuels or do we just think about our own comfort. A look at the news every day indicates we have been very selfish and need to do better. The world no longer has boundaries, what we all do will affect everyone else on this planet. Yes, we all matter and are accountable.
 
Written by: Wendy Feinstein
4 Elul 5781
 
I just read this online recently and found it inspiring. The words are simple but touched me.
 
God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.
Let me straighten after pain, as a tree straightens after the rain,
Shining and lovely again.
God, make me brave for life: much braver than this.
As the blown grass lifts, let me rise from sorrow with quiet eyes,
Knowing Thy way is wise.
God, make me brave, life brings such blinding things.
Help me to keep my sight; help me to see aright
That out of doubt comes light.
 
By an unknown writer from Prayers for Healing by Maggie Oman
 
Written by: Anonymous
3 Elul 5781
 
I recently broke into a friend’s house. This was after months of alarming signs that she was going through a rough time. She’d been texting strangely and had at least one trip to the ER. Other friends were also so worried, we feared that suicide was a possibility. Remote, but still – that doesn’t just happen to other people. On the afternoon of the break in, I found her lying face down on a bed. She hadn’t left her home in 10 days, and she claimed to have not eaten in 5. She had a photo of her children next to her and she had been crying. She was mad at me, of course, for barging in on her privacy. Rightly so. During that conversation, and in the days that followed, I feared for her. She was past the point of caring. My vivacious and loving friend, who is talented, funny, and kind. She favors bright colorful prints and has a costume box to end all costume boxes. A group of women emerged and began a support network. On the night following my break-in, another friend spent the night at her house until a family member could arrive the following day. We shared with each other and started a safety net. It was just a beginning, but that warp and weft of trust, honestly, and loyalty was woven. We shared our own stories of mental health, and we empathized with our sick friend. She was sick; she is sick – she needs help. We don’t know what came first, addiction or depression, or the other way around. Or what is it? We don’t know. This may not even be bottom. This might be the first bottom of several. I pray she gets better, and I take comfort, enormous comfort in the truth that there is a group of friends to help her, to help me help her, to help one another when we need it. No one can heal alone.
 
Written by: Sima Oster
2 Elul 5781
 
Two years ago, as the High Holy Days were approaching and as I entered my third trimester carrying Maya and Navah, I wrote a very personal piece for the Elul Insights reflecting on a previous miscarriage and the fears I had about carrying, birthing, and becoming a mother to twins.
 
A lot has changed for me personally in the two years since writing that piece. A lot has changed for everyone in these past two years. We can all reflect back on experiences that have caused us pain and suffering. We can also all look back on experiences that brought us joy and comfort. But, can we refocus or adjust our perspective to reflect on the painful experiences with joy? Can we become comforted
through our suffering?
 
An unprompted hug around my calf from Navah; a wry smile from Maya as she specifically does something I just warned her against; These moments don’t undo past experiences, but they do bring me
comfort in knowing that I am where and who I am meant to be in this exact moment as this exact version of myself. My memories and experiences are not diminished. My memories and experiences,
together with my precious family, have healed my wounds and taught me to feel comforted.
 
Written by: Fran Harris
1 Elul 5781
 
Need to Know
 
In this Elul I will address only one aspect of comfort: the need to know.
 
My earliest recollection of big time worrying came when I was nine year’s old at Camp Tapawingo in Maine. A friend from home told me my mother was taken away in an ambulance in front of our apartment house in Jamaica, NY. It turned out my mother had a severe reaction to a bee bite.  Fortunately, she recovered rapidly.  My Dad, with all good intentions, didn’t want me to be upset.
 
Another time my wonderful wire-haired terrier, Sassy, was struck by a car outside of my Dad’s store, The Greene Glass Company.  Again, I was away at camp and learned through another friend what happened.  We were lucky Sassy recovered.
 
My sister, Judy,  and I made a pact to tell each other when someone  was ailing in the family.  Though Judy might not have known since she was married and lived in Detroit.
I tried after these incidents to tell my parents, that it was important for them to tell me when something was amiss with a family member which included my dog. Otherwise, I would constantly worry and never know when there was a problem.
 
I recall a conversation my mother had with my cousin Phyllis around 1959.  Mom was in the kitchen talking on a black dial phone.  My cousin asked if she should tell her mother, my aunt, that she was just diagnosed with cancer.  My mother said, “no”. I thought Aunt Mady knew something was disturbing her daughter and it would have been much better to learn the reason. 
 
I try to alleviate worry from my now 10 year old grandsons. It is difficult to explain why they need to wear a mask. You don’t want them frightened and still you want them to be aware, so they won’t get COVID.
 
As they say, history repeats itself.  My daughter, Hilary, tries to shield my husband and I from worry while we are in Snowmass. If my daughter or one of the children are ill, she tends not to tell us.  Consequently, it makes us more uneasy.  I too had to tell Hilary and her husband we need to know when there is a problem.
 
I hope my husband, children and grandchildren know that I will let them know there is a problem so they don’t have to worry needlessly.
 
 
Thu, September 23 2021 17 Tishrei 5782