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Elul Insights

 
Written by: Ethan Oster
23 Elul 5780
 
"Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
 
When will I see my family back east?
When will I feel comfortable in a crowd?
When will my daughters meet their cousins?
When will my family sit down to a holiday meal?
When will I take my kids to their first sporting event?
When will I watch a sports game on a friend’s couch?
When will I have an occasion to get dressed up?
When will I shake a stranger’s hand?
When will I hug a friend?"
 
- Red, Shawshank Redemption
 
Written by: Chuck Shenk
22 Elul 5780
 
The Pandemic has been far worse than I could have imagined. It creates a feeling and atmosphere that makes Hope an easy target.
I hope for safety and good health for family and friends.
'I hope that all the small and large businesses survive.
I hope our social lives return to not just a new normal but a better normal.
I hope when this election is over that we have leadership at the national and local level that will bring us together and stop the civil unrest and racism.
I hope for a better tomorrow.
 
Written by: Oren Schragger
21 Elul 5780
 
It’s been a long Summer of trying to figure out what to do while stuck inside or alone. I, as probably many of you, resorted to filling some of that excess time with a little more of those movie and TV streaming services. I started filling the holes in my watched best picture movie list (the 70’s had some sleepers like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)), and I finally learned the cuteness of Baby Yoda. But the show that caught me by surprise and got me hopeful for the future, was a show called Cobra Kai. This show, with the original cast, is a continuation of the movie: The Karate Kid (1984), which was made more than 3 decades ago. The show is very self aware and just a fantastic display of ridiculousness. It teaches some great lessons and displays lots of cool karate fights. But I’m not reviewing the show. What I want to point out is that the actors, from the 84’ classic, are returning to something they haven’t done in decades and have been very successful. This reflection makes me hopeful. We all have things in our past that we excelled at or that made us very happy, but some of them might have slipped through our minds while we concentrate on the daily distress of the current world in which we live. I have had the time to reflect on some of those things from my past and hope that you and I can incorporate some of those joy bringing aspects of our past into the future as we celebrate a new year. 
 
Written by: Rabbi Scott Segal
20 Elul 5780
 
Hope can be dangerous.
Not all the time of course.
I hope that the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t terrible this year.
I hope that we have good snow this winter.
I hope that I will live long enough to see flying cars become a real thing.
I have no control over these.
I have no role to play.
So I hope.
I do not hope that our nation becomes more just, compassionate, and kind.
I do not hope that the struggles people of color, the lgbtq+ community, and other long-persecuted groups can be addressed and alleviated in substantive and significant ways.
I do not hope to see a decrease in anti-Semitism.
I do not hope for these because to “hope” implies I have no control.
To “hope” implies I have no role to play.
So I do not hope.
I believe.
And then I work.
So I no longer need to hope.
 
Written by: Rabbi Emily Segal
19 Elul 5780
 
This year, we planted a garden.  We defined some flower beds in front of our home and we planted perennials.  In the back yard, we made a couple little raised beds and planted a whole mess of seeds and starts.  Now, I am notoriously terrible at keeping growing things alive (weeding, watering – and not overwatering or underwatering, how much sun should things have in order to grow).  I love getting my hands into the dirt and planting, and I love the result, but the in-between is not my forte, to say the least.  Perhaps even planting a garden, therefore, was a hopeful, aspirational act.  Luckily I have a husband who has been dutifully willing to make sure everything is watered and at least the egregious weeds have been pulled. 
 
And one of the purest joys of this summer has been my children’s delight – and who am I kidding, my own delight – at summer tomatoes, plucked from the vine juicy and warm.  At checking on the garden after days of distraction to find zesty arugula and radishes colorful and ready.  At the zucchini growing hidden under massive leaves and sudden emergence of big cantaloupe. 
 
Yesterday evening after a very long day, I watched as my kids were utterly giddy with excitement picking green beans and peas, laughing with wonder at the perfect peas growing inside the pods and how the green beans tasted like “real, actual green beans.”  (“These are real, actual green beans,” I reminded them.  “Green beans actually grow in this way, not in plastic containers on store shelves!”)
 
When so much in our world has felt unsettled and unusual, when practically nothing has felt normal, I have found hope in our little garden.  Seeds are still sprouting.  The sun is still shining.  Flowers are blossoming.  Fruit and vegetables are still growing.  So can we.   

 

Written by: Ela Stevenson
18 Elul 5780
 
Wake up every morning thinking I will achieve my goals, I will summit the peak. With that mindset you can do anything. And if a storm rolls in you can always rely on the hope that you can do it tomorrow.
 
 
Written by: Jordan Sarick
17 Elul 5780
 
It’s the time of year when, with Shereen’s urging, I have been writing Rosh Hashanah cards to our friends and family. These invariably include a line about hope: “I hope we can celebrate simchas together” or “I hope we’ll be able to travel soon”. But what does that sentiment mean?
 
I think this might be a practical and much milder application of the so-called Stockdale paradox: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”. Stockdale was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton and described that the prisoners that didn’t make it were – counterintuitively – the optimists, who died of “broken hearts”. 
 
I am not a prisoner of war or otherwise. I am, in almost every way, extremely fortunate and feel especially so today when too many people have had their lives upended or worse. During Covid, I have taken comfort from reading about the travails of REALLY historically bad times: the plague of Athens that killed 1/3 of an over-crowded city during the second year of the 27 year war with Sparta, the Spanish Flu, even the bitter election of 1800. Athens went on to influence Western civilization for millennia, we now have a vaccine against H1N1 flu, we still argue about the electoral college. We hope, yes, but not in vain. But we also confront our own realities, which are far less brutal than so many others have faced in the past: we wear masks, we distance from one another, and we work for social justice in all of our communities. We succeed because we have hope. We have faith that we will prevail in the end, AND we confront our reality by acting. 
 
Written by: Lorrie Fleischman
16 Elul 5780
 
One thing that has been giving me hope lately is listening to (well... eavesdropping on) my daughter’s Zoom and Teams choir classes. The way in which these students, and their superhero teachers, are learning and utilizing technology to sing “together,” while actually being separated by miles gives me tremendous hope for the future. Musical ensembles are among the purest examples of human cooperation. It’s no surprise to me that these young singers are persevering during this crisis, and will, no doubt, continue to do so until they can once again share the school auditorium stage. They are my weekly dose of hope!!
 
Written by: Jason Schnissel
15 Elul 5780
 
“Glimmers of Hope”
 
March 21, 2020: On March 8th I started not feeling great, coincidently that was the same day the first COVID cases were announced in Aspen. After week one my energy rebounded a bit, though I was only able to skin halfway up Two Creeks before needing to call it quits. After roughly two weeks of not doing much, I headed out to Tiehack on a bluebird Saturday. Never had I been so happy with a completely average time up. The snow on the way down was magnificent spring corn and was one of my favorite runs down Tiehack ever.
 
April 1, 2020: Just weeks into the stay-at-home thing, Phish had been hinting at something through social media. I wasn’t sure what it expect, it was Fool’s Day after all. The evening of April 1st, Phish live-streamed “Sigma Oasis,” a new album. Fans, including myself, were elated. Comments during the stream touched upon how meaningful the music was during this time. The third song on the album, a studio version of “Everything’s Right,” a personal favorite,
became an anthem for the weeks to come.
 
July 5, 2020: Nearly two years to the day after the Lake Christine wildfire, Jodi and I headed up to ride the trails on Basalt Mountain. Various Instagram and Strava posts insinuated that the wildflowers were prime. We were not disappointed. Head high Hollyhocks and Fireweed galore. It was incredible to take in. Nature heals.
 
August 22, 2020: Our first Bar Mitzvah since it all began. Things are slowly coming back together. Following the service, I figured I’d take a pedal to check out the Vaston trail which I had not ridden yet. I threw in my ear buds and cued up Phish’s “Sigma Oasis.” It had been awhile since I listened to the whole album. The reprise during the penultimate song “A Life Beyond A Dream” struck me and I knew I would have to share it during this Elul Inisght.
 
“Don't give up hope
 Don't give up hope
 Keep dreaming
 Keep on dreaming
 Don't give up hope
 Don't give up hope”
 
2020 was supposed to give us clarity. At least that was what lots of Gregorian New Year comments touched upon. I would firmly say it has been anything but. While it has certainly been harder to be positive on a regular basis, the glimmers of hope I have experienced have helped the light the way. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, I hope that you too have found some glimmers over the past few months. 

 

Written by: Sima Oster
14 Elul 5780
 
"Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it,  you'll never make it through the night." 
 
                                                                                                           - Princess Leia Organa, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
 
Written by: Larry Margolis
13 Elul 5780
 
I have now had a great deal of time to think about “Hope.” I quickly realized that it in many ways it is a focus of our lives during each day. At least mine, and mostly, in insignificant ways. I hope—I remember to log on to a Zoom meeting; I don’t overcook the banana bread again; I remember to put out the trash on Thursday morning; etc.
 
And then there are the major “Hopes.” I hope—we can make significant progress on racial equality; we can end antisemitism and suppress the growth of the white supremacists;  our Congress can get back to solving our country’s issues in a bi-partisan way; the support for Israel remains a bi-partisan issue and not tie security assistance to any political decisions that Israel makes; and, of course, my family and friends stay healthy and safe. 
 
Yet, as we know “Hope is not a strategy.” I and we must turn our hopes into action. We must continually evaluate our hopes and ask ourselves what can we do. Being retired has given me the time to address my hopes from working on voter suppression with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, attending an 8-week group session on the book “White Fragility,” to actively lobbying my Congressman through AIPAC.

I am not doing anything anyone else would do. I just “Hope” we all get involved!

Written by: Carol Kurt
12 Elul 5780
 
Hope is what gives me the will to live another day, to persevere with my goals...that there might be light at the end of the tunnel.
 
Written by: Debbie & Mark Weber
11 Elul 5780
 
5780 began with lots of joyous events to anticipate.  We celebrated our great nephew's Bar Mitzvah in October.  We went on our annual ski vacation to Aspen and from there we traveled to Los Angeles for a family wedding and a visit with Debbie's brother and sister-in-law.  
 
While in Aspen, Debbie had the honor of chanting Torah at AJC.  It was the Song of the Sea, a very beautiful and meaningful Torah portion.  Due to covid, my subsequent Torah readings in Virginia were canceled, so it was particularly meaningful to chant Torah in Aspen.
 
We returned to celebrate Purim and Viva Las Vegas with our Olam Tikvah community, and then covid arrived with vengeance.
 
Our Passover seders were via ZOOM.  We've had virtual Shabbat dinners with friends.  We've had ZOOM classes and happy hours with family and friends, and who would have thought...
 
Mark's mother passed away in July.  The funeral and Shiva were very different from the norm, but because of ZOOM, family and friends from all around the country were able to be with us.  That was definitely a comfort and a plus for us.
 
Summer and fall vacations were re-scheduled and our annual ski trip does not look promising, but we are healthy and have found creative ways to occupy our time.
 
We know the start of 5781 will be different, but we will manage, and we will continue to find creative ways to enjoy and celebrate life.
 
Wishing you a sweet and healthy 5781!
 
Written by: Ron Kokish
10 Elul 5780
 
Merriam Webster defines hope as: 1. to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true. 2. archaic: trust. transitive verb. 1 : to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment.
 
Hope is disempowering because it’s passive. It doesn’t preclude action, but neither does it mention it, much less call for it. Hope is unrelated to accountability. 
 
There’s an insight in our Siddur that says, “Pray as if everything depends on God. Live as if everything depends on you.” aka “God helps those who help themselves.” 
 
I believe in faith: faith in myself and my compatriots. I believe in accepting and exploring the limits of our lives and our abilities to perceive and achieve to the furthest edge of those limits. I believe in the possibility of Tikkun Olam if we act correctly and, in our responsibility to do so. Hope is a child sitting on Santa’s lap. Being a Bar Mitzvah, I’ve never had much use or respect for hope.
 
Written by: Fran Harris
9 Elul 5780
 
When Rabbi Segal requested the congregation write an Elul on Hope for the coming holidays, I hesitated to submit my thoughts since most of my hopes are pretty universal (at least I hope so). 
 
I wouldn’t have thought about this hope last holiday season. It is with great hope that I wish the pandemic will end soon.
I hope a vaccine that is effective will be available to all in record time.   
 
I hope that there will be no hungry people and that our nation will feed them as needed. 
 
On a personal level, I am hoping to feel safe enough to return to Snowmass by plane. 
 
Hopefully there will be a solution and cooperation among citizens of all nations to reduce the pressures of climate change that is an even greater threat to our planet than the pandemic. 
 
It is with great anticipation that I look forward to the coming presidential election.  I hope a president who has integrity, experience and caring for all its citizens will be overwhelming elected.
 
Written  by: Larry  Bogatz
8 Elul 5780
 
When asked how I’m feeling these days I am happy to say that I feel mentally good, although nothing has changed to provide me with hope or energy for the future. But I think what happened is that I was thinking about God one day several weeks ago and I realized that my best characterization of what God has done for me was in giving me life. That’s a pretty big thing and I realized that my obligation in appreciation for this gift is to have a positive experience with each of my days. And so now when I wake in the morning I look forward to the opportunity for meaning, pleasure, closeness, Or smaller things like what I’ll have for breakfast or where I’ll walk the dogs. And the feeling has stayed with me and I’m so happy about that and appreciative for both the gift and the awareness.
 
Written by: Raquel Flinker
7 Elul 5780
 
At the moment my life is filled with hope. My son just turned one month and I am not sure one can bring a child into this world without hope - not that we knew covid was coming and political chaos would escalate when we got pregnant. Life around a newborn is filled with daily miracles. Every little development and new ways of bonding with the little one is celebrated. Not to mention the miracle of intense body transformation during and after pregnancy, giving birth to a healthy child and producing milk. Our bodies know what to do. A baby knows how to develop and there is nothing you can do to guide him - it is his nature. This gives me hope that, even though there are hiccups here and there, there is a natural, positive, way things progress (when we put in some love, care, food and get some sleep). If you need a hope boost, feel free to come meet baby Leon (with a mask) :)
 
Written by: Jane Keener-Quiat
6 Elul 5780
 
Hope seems different this year, perhaps because I find myself using the word more than usual. I think about hope as a picture of the future that includes something I want to see. When I say that I hope for something I am thinking about the future.
 
Back a few months ago I probably said that I hope when the High Holy Days arrive in the fall that we are able to gather again in Harris Hall. I know I thought it, because in the last several years I have found the High Holy Days to be the most meaningful religious actions I’ve ever experienced. I want to share Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with others. But, this year will be different.
 
I have thought often since the pandemic emerged about that story of when the Jews found themselves in exile in Babylon. The writer uses the image and question, ”How do we sing our song in a new land?” (Ps. 137) They did not know how to be themselves in that strange place. We are asking that in a lot of ways these days. We try to picture how school will be for students. We ask the question about sports and entertainment and travel. We ask the question about gatherings of families and friends.
 
From time to time I see myself sitting there as if on a rock in Babylon trying to figure out what to do. The poet said it in a way that causes me to consider how I might have sung in that strange and unwelcome place. The poet may also be asking how they might flourish in a strange situation. It would have been hard. But, the Jews did it and they survived, to tell the story.
 
We will be telling this story for a long time, a hopeful statement because it means there is a future. So, I look forward to seeing you on Zoom or whatever platform we join for the High Holy Days. We may listen to music we sang together in the past, but it will be music. And so, whether in Harris Hall, or on an online platform, the days will be Holy, as long as we bring our selves and our hope.
 
Written by: Niki Delson
5 Elul 5780
 
“Hope” seems like wasted energy. I rarely find myself in a place hoping for anything. Hope is an internal conversation with no agency.
 
When I was a young teenager I was sitting at the dining-room table doing my homework. My father was in the living-room reading and my mother was in the kitchen with her friends playing Canista. My dad and I tried to pay attention to what we were doing, but one ear was always listening to their conversation. This was a weekly game and the kitchen was filled with cigarette smoke, and chatter. “What do you hope for your children?” one woman asked. Another immediately said, “I hope that they will be happy.” The other women agreed.
 
My father got up from his chair and walked into their space. This was rare, so I perked up. “That is a terrible thing to wish for your children.” he said. “Better you should wish that they are dissatisfied, and they work to make the world a better place. Then they will be happy."
 
Written by: Craig Navias
4 Elul 5780
 
 
Hope – Knowing you captured God’s light shining on you when you took the picture.
 
Written by: Jonathan Haas
3 Elul 5780
 
8 nights of Hanukkah on 1 day of oil/8 miles to go, on 1 mile of Gas. 
 
Upon the purchase of a new all-terrain vehicle, my wife Anna, our 2 French bull dogs and myself decided to attempt a summiting of Taylor Pass on a bright and clear afternoon. We had no experience in such an adventure other than my prior experience, 30 years prior when my father, Howard Haas and I rented a jeep and took the same journey, almost dumping the rental vehicle in a snow drift atop the pass. (how quickly one forgets childhood traumas of this nature). 
 
When the decision to summit the pass was made, (our Frenchie’s had no say in the matter), Anna, who had studied the vehicular off-road instructions that we found on line decided to take the helm of the vehicle.
 
Neither of us, checked the gas gauge.
 
Some additional and pertinent information that illuminates my story include the following:
 
1)    The day of our jeep trip was the Yahrzeit (one year) of my mother’s passing.
 
2)    My mother, Carolyn Werbner Haas NEVER allowed her gas tank to go lower than 1/8 empty. Perhaps it was an underlying and ingrained “ Jewish flight risk” sensibility that was engrained in the deepest recesses of her mind?!
 
3)    My mother was always right, although she didn’t like it when I told her so!!
 
Back to the story:
 
After a rigorous but exhilarating climb in the jeep and as Anna approached the summit of Taylor pass she pointed out that our gas seemed to be on the low side. Yikes!!!!
Upon further discussion and observations, we knew we were sorely in need of gas if we were to get off the mountain top. Our first reaction, besides dread, loathing and concern was an immediate reflection upon my mother’s petrol obsession which we had inadequately heeded and as a result felt, we were potentially doomed, for having not followed her strict rule of thumb. 
 
For those of your who have taken this journey I am sure you will be able to agree and commiserate, Anna and I ( and the 2 French bull dogs) had a significant problem given the distance that we needed to travel, back down an incredibly precipitous mountain top, including rocks and boulders the size of a small VW microbus.
There was nothing we could do, but begin the decent, basically on fumes. What then occurred to me, I can liken only to that of the Hanukah story in which the oil in the lamp that could only burn for one day, miraculously burned for 8. Similarly, our gas supply would last only 1 more mile, but we needed 8 miles to get us to safety (a gas station).
 
The gas gauge read “empty” and with 8 miles to go I was sure we were going to have to hike out of the high altitude location, which would take hours, perhaps at least a half-day just to get off the mountain (with 2 French bull dogs, with no leashes!!!) 
Then, a miracle took place!!!
 
There is no practical reason or explanation on how we successfully got to the gas station on a non-existent tank of gas but I must attribute this miracle, to my mother who I truly believe was watching over us ( annoyed that we hadn’t followed her advice to keep a full tank of gas in the vehicle) and assisted us in getting safely down the hill, defying all laws of science and delivering us to the hallowed gas pump. We learned our lesson and never again will venture forth without the words of wisdom so often told to us by Carolyn Haas, to keep the tank full and life will be good. Truth be told, we felt a deep connection to the Maccabee’s story as we filled the tank of our Jeep... as well as a profound connection ( and thanks) to my Mom!!! 
 
Carolyn Werbner Haas was an amazing person. She grew up in Linton Indiana with her parents Helen, Simon and sister Polly, married my father after WW2 and brought up 2 children, myself and my sister Jody in a home that was safe, loving, warm and welcoming to all friends, strangers and family. Carolyn and Howard were the founding members of Temple Solel in Highland Park Ill and lived a full and devoted life to our family. My story is true and my faith in the unknown and known leads me to believe my mother intervened on a day in which I needed her most and I will never forget the feeling of her presence and love.
 
 
Elul 2, 5780
Written by: Jack Sarick
 

"Matchbook Hope"

He works with an efficient slowness. Every movement planned, every breath measured. There is nothing to panic about just yet, but one wrong move could change that. Either he starts the fire or he doesn't. His fingers are too cold to collect more tinder and this is his final matchbook. If he doesn't get the fire going, surviving the night goes from being difficult to impossible.
 
He's practiced with matches before, is good at building fires and although twigs are scarce, there are plenty of larger sticks to last the night once he gets the fire going. Getting it going is proving to be more of a challenge than expected, though. The wind's bad and his nerves don't help. He can't afford to worry now, can't think about what might happen if he can't get the fuel to catch. To think such things is to allow the possibility of them happening. So he doesn't think, doesn't pray, doesn't hope, he simply does. Does what is needed to be done because he is the only one who can do it. An unlucky gust of wind, an ember falling the wrong way, a simple mistake, anything could go wrong and make all of his efforts futile. He weaves all these considerations and more into the tiny bonfire nestled into the makeshift pit.
 
At last the time comes when there is nothing more he can do to prepare. His little teepee of twigs has been meticulously built and his fingers are numb from the exposure. Warming them in his mittens for a few short minutes, he allows himself to hope. A short prayer for a moment of calm and a lucky spark. Either he starts the fire or he doesn't. He's done his best and now it's up to chance. The small glow of the matches might last till morning or it might not. Nothing left to do but light the matches and hope that everything else he's done is enough. So he lights the matches and hopes.
 
Elul 1, 5780
Written by: Tom Kurt
 
Hope is empty without trust in one's self, the resilience of Job, the vision of Moses, and the I-Thou of Martin Buber.
 
 
 
Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781