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Elul Insights

Elul 17, 5779
Written by: Jack Sarick
Light Without Dark
A boy wakes up one day to find that all light had left his world. He fumbles out of bed and into his clothes by touch, and stumbles down to the kitchen guided by a smell. Walking to the bus stop is a little tricky, but he has walked it enough to know how the turns go, listening carefully for cars at each intersection after feeling the curb. On and on his days go, using his other four senses to find creative workarounds for the deficit of light.
Soon he begins to see things the light had blinded him from. He learns to trust people based on how they act, not how they look. His tastes grow more adventurous when he can only judge something based on the smell. Having no idea what he looks like now, he lets his hair grow long because he enjoys the sensation of wind traveling through it, and begins to wear only clothing that feels good against his skin. Where once his mind was filled with darkness, the new colours of delicate smells and fragile sounds populate his mind.
Then the light returns to his world. At first he is cautious to even open his eyes, worried that his other senses might be pushed out by the overwhelming stimuli. Slowly he begins to see again, admiring how well the colour of the grass matches up to the smell and feel of it. In time, he begins see his room as both a sum of the smaller sensations and as a cohesive picture. He walks through his new world finding the joy of unity in the light, and the comfort of specificity the dark.
In Genesis, God does not simply create light, but separates it from dark. Like land and sea, the two have been separated so that we can rejoice in their co-mingling. The farmer might only pray for rain in a drought, and the sailor for land only when he is seasick, but the rabbi walks along the stream at dusk and appreciates the balance.
Elul 16, 5779
Written by: Joyce Shenk
When I see the brightness of the stars at night, the light of the bright sun, The full moon brightness filling the sky with light....seeing a candle flickering.....It brings a warmth to my soul and lets me know there is always hope. Hope for a better world, hope for world peace, hope for people to be nice to each other, hope that people can overcome obstacles, hope that sickness may go away .......Many people I know are filled with light and hope. I love to be around people who exude light and hope.They make me smile and it helps me realize the power of the wonder of life and how life goes on even during the worst of times. I am blessed to have my grandchildren who bring so much light and hope into my life. Sophie & Eli and my sweet late grandson, Max, who continues to shine light down on me from his place in heaven.
Elul 15, 5779
Written by: Ron Kokish
Last Spring Niki (wife) & I visited Pauline, her 102-year-old mother who still lives in her rural home. We took Pauline to visit her 104-year-old friend Naomi who had just moved to a nursing home. Naomi had only mild dementia but was initially placed on the dementia wing because it was the only space available. Naomi was at physical therapy when we arrived, so we waited ½ hour in the dementia wing’s waiting room; people walking aimlessly, sobbing, screaming, mostly staring blindly ahead near but not necessarily looking at the inevitable T.V. I felt helpless; ½ hour and counting down in the darkness of that institution. Niki (later told me) she felt the same way. Suddenly, LIGHT! Pauline arose. She approached the nearest blindly staring person, placed herself face-to-face and said (loudly) “would you like a friend?” The stranger came to life. “YES!” “Where did you live before you lived here? Do you have family or friends who visit? What kind of work did you do . . . . . . .” The conversation flowed, Avery small and very bright light in the institutional darkness
Elul 14, 5779
Written by: AJC Aspen 6th & 7th Grade Students
A New Day
Waking up to the light of a new day
The sun is out shining bright
It's a fresh start to try new things
And get better at the old.
Light, a new day:
L = Living in a bright and happy world
I = Interesting things that the new day has in store
G = Giving energy to me on this new day
H = Having the chance each morning to start a new
T = The spark that starts a new day, a new year, and new feelings of hope
Wishing everybody a year of light, newness and hope from the 6th and 7th Grade AJC class.
Elul 13, 5779
Written by: Dr. Tom Kurt
Not all light is visible as a spiritual candle. For instance, we can feel the warmth of infrared, yet not visibly see. So, spiritually let us appreciate, and be receptive to the full spectrum of light in a religious sense as well.
And, just as a prism and a lens can bend or focus light, so can we in a spiritual sense creatively bend and focus light in the dark spiritual closets of ourselves and others.
In this current epoch of iPhone and computer screens, our eyes and ophthalmic portions of our brains are trained to expect only certain visible communications. Let us, in a spiritual sense, go to the wilderness. Imagine we are at the top of the Maroon Bells and enlighten our "selves".
Be receptive.
This is a time of the year to climb, to leap out of dark "burned out" syndromes so common nowadays where inner enlightenment has been extinguished. In a vivid example for myself, I have "felt" more than the visible when inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Natural sunlight streams down from windows in The dome and sprinkles a kaleidoscopic glow onto the ebony colored rock where
Abraham once stood. To me the Dome of the Rock light seems to transcend time. So, light can be characterized differently. Just let each of us be receptive.
Elul 12, 5779
Written by: Edith Kallas
When I think about how light comes into the world, I am reminded of
the following quotes from E.E. Cummings' poetry:
I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky, and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
yours is the light by which my spirit's born:
yours is the darkness of my soul's return
-you are my sun, my moon, and all my stars
Light is both physical and spiritual. It is light that helps things grow
and gives us hope. It is what makes vision possible, even when that vision shows us something that we do not want to see.
Light shows us a path; it enlightens and illuminates our world. This is true even when light is shed on difficult issues. While we are saddened by events in the world and stories in the news, the fact is that the hatred, prejudice and despicable conduct we are seeing in our world has existed for far too long. It has thrived in darkness
and without accountability.
Now that these issues have been illuminated for all to see,
we must not turn away. For now, we have the opportunity to correct wrongs and insist on accountability. It is only through putting
these issues in the light that meaningful change can happen.
Light gives us hope, and that hope is that we can envision a path toward a better world for all.
Elul 11, 5779
Written by: Darlene Liss
Good Morning Sun
Thank you for your light
Thank you for your life
Thank you for your warmth
The light of a new day
The light that brings energy & growth
The light of a deep breath
The light of the present moment
The light in the eyes of our loved ones
The light in the eyes of our children
The light of our family and friends
The light in the eyes of our beloved pets
The light of
intelligence, knowledge, & creativity
The light of kindness & caring
The light of giving and sharing
The light of new ideas & thoughts
The light of curiosity and hope
The light of smile
The light of laughter
The light of beauty
The light refracting into a rainbow
of reds, greens, & blues
The light reflecting off the Aspen leaves
The light which makes
our majestic mountains turn purple
The light from distant stars & galaxies
As the sun sets each evening
We put to rest the events of the day,
We hope for a peaceful night, and
Look forward to the morning
Elul 10, 5779
Written by: Fran Harris
The word Light has many different connotations to me.
The first thought when I think of "light" is seeing an object that cannot be visible in the dark.
Light takes on meaning when I understand a concept such as when I see the "light".
I think of my husband's work in regard to light - - slowing light.
I think of the spectrum of colors when I think of light. Light colors reflect light and tend to brighten a room.
2016 was the hundredth anniversary of the Optical Society of America.
Light has many different meanings to me and helps me understand the world.
Elul 9, 5779
Written by: Sima Oster
Upon arriving home from our honeymoon backpacking in Patagonia, we found out that we were expecting our first child. I was 37 years old and we just started trying to become pregnant three months prior. We were overjoyed. But I was not surprised. I knew. While hiking on single-file trails in Chile, my conversations with “her” were vast. We talked about everything. She was my firstborn before I even really knew she existed.
For the next few weeks leading up to our first ultrasound, we were on cloud nine. We cuddled as a family. We giggled together chatting about names. These newlyweds were now a family of three.
I have since learned that many women experience miscarriages the first time they become pregnant. We lost the child who would have been our honeymoon baby; the child who hiked with me in South America; the child who turned us into a family. We also lost the pure happiness we had when we thought that nothing could go wrong. Darkness settled in.
That darkness stayed with me. I sat in darkness two months later when we found out that we were expecting again. I sat in darkness at our seven-week ultrasound when we were told that I was carrying twins. I sat in darkness as Ethan began researching twin strollers. I did not feel pregnant. I did not know these babies like I had immediately known, and loved, our first.
Now, six months pregnant with twins, I am amazed that they are healthy and growing. We are preparing our home for our two arrivals, and I still sit in darkness, sometimes. That darkness has shifted from missing “her” to questioning myself. When will I feel connected to these two babies? When will I “feel” like a mom? Will I be too overwhelmed with two at once to feel anything else?
This High Holy season, as I enter my third trimester, I am searching for clarity, for a feeling, for light. Maybe that light is a connection. Maybe that light is joy. Maybe that light is simply a diminished feeling of fear about the incredible unknown we are approaching as we become parents for the first time. Maybe that light is finally sharing this piece of my heart that I have hidden away for the past six months.
May we all find glimmers of the light we are each seeking.
Elul 8, 5779
Written by: Eliana Durand
The founding of Mormonism had always seemed suspicious to me. Couple
that with my preconceived notions of homophobia and polygamy in the
LDS church, and one will have my old view of Mormonism. However, after
visiting the LDS church, I realized my prejudices were wrong. I went
there to determine whether Abrahamic Religions were beneficial to the
U.S., but seeing as Judaism was important in my life, I was actually
trying to prove why these religions were beneficial.
This posed a problem as I had two warring sides: my closed mind
towards Mormonism, and the desire to see Mormonism as beneficial. When
I went to the LDS church, the questions that I asked the man I
interviewed were stated in a judgmental way. However, as we talked, I
began to deviate from my prepared questions, the interview becoming
more of a conversation between two religious people. Throughout this
conversation, I realized that Judaism and Mormonism are more alike
than I had previously thought. Although we did not agree on
everything, it became very apparent that the LDS church focused on the
guiding principles of love and tolerance just like Judaism.
Going to the LDS church brought light into my life because light means
knowledge and kindness. Subconsciously, I had held Judaism on a
pedestal, thinking that no other religion was as incredible as my own,
but while I was talking with the people at the LDS church, I
recognized that my view of religion was wrong, for the prevailing
themes in both religions are the same. I brought light into more of
the corners of my mind by breaking prejudices, and realizing that
there are lots of equally incredible religions out there, Judaism
isn’t the only one.
Elul 7, 5779
Written by: Craig Navias
Total darkness – a concept that has been much discussed, and one that I have come to understand can be achieved, at least physically. What I don’t believe, however, is that total darkness can last forever. It takes too much work to achieve and there simply is too much light in our world. While I have been blessed to never know darkness in my own life, I have always drawn inspiration from songs that speak of the light after the dark. In one of the key moments of the Lion King, Simba sings
“Yes, I know the sun will rise
Yes, I know the clouds must clear
I know that the night must end
I know that the sun will rise
And I’ll hear your voice deep inside”
May the voice that we all hear be our own, telling us that no matter how dark it may feel, our world will again be filled with beautiful light.
Elul 6, 5779
Written by: Rabbi Emily Segal
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” Shakespeare wrote these words centuries ago in the Merchant of Venice. Today, I think of these words almost every time we light candles – to bring in Shabbat, when we do havdalah, on Chanukah, to set the mood at special dinners and events, on birthdays. No matter how dark the room, a single candle can bring so much light. And no matter how dark a day or a period of time – a little bit of goodness, kindness, or justice can break through, illuminating everything like a bright ray of sunshine. We are called upon to be a “Light unto the nations,” that through our actions we will bring light and goodness into the world. Inspired by our actions and our goodness, others will wish to live with righteousness as well, joining us in creating a world of justice and peace. Lately, I have been clinging to the shining flames of goodness and joy of my own children and the other children in our community. Their smiles, their shining eyes, their open hearts and their innocent goodness…even their righteous anger when something isn’t “fair;” each of these bring me hope. No matter how bleak the news flashing across our screens, bit by bit, these candles of goodness will join together to bring light and justice into dark places, to bring truth out of the shadows, and to illumine every corner of the earth.
Elul 5, 5779
Written by: Eli Genshaft
Light Sky
High in the heavens is where the God of light lays, as she spreads her love demolishing hatred and bringing hope and peace, this is Light Sky not just ruling the Sky, but ruling the land and Sea directing it through and through.
As the sun sets, far away, casting a beautiful light that brings calmness and hope. The type of hope that tells you about the future and what it will bring us. As the sun disappears that hope stays with us, protecting us and making us who we are.
Elul 4, 5779
Written by: Esther Navias
Light, including that which is within all of us, is infinite. One of the many characteristics of light is that it can be shared between people, and one of the ways we can share that light is through a smile. When we take one quick moment out of our day to share our light with others through smiles, we are barely affected by this action but in turn the person with whom we share our light can be greatly affected by our simple action. You never know how far your own light can go when sharing it with another person. We can use our own light to fuel someone else’s without diminishing our own. I am sure that we have all benefited from someone else sharing their light with us during times when our own light needed to be refueled. This high holiday season I urge you all to think of how you can share your light with those around you even if just through a simple smile.
Elul 3, 5779
Written by: Chuck Shenk
Although I have never written about my grandson Max Shenk Genshaft, I immediately thought of Max as the shining light in and on my life. Max was as bright as any star or light and he lit up the room when he entered. For most of his life he was carried from place to place as you would carry a candle or flashlight. Max mostly knew Aspenites as he was born here and only travelled to Ohio a couple of times. So for me, the light was passed on to Aspenites and mostly members and friends of the Aspen Jewish Congregation. I fee the warmth of Max's light at every service and especially on Wednesday mornings at Max's Minyan. For me the light emanates not only warmth but also goodness and sweetness and all that is positive in life, and that which we want and pray for our family and friends. And for Max Shenk Genshaft, "He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say, Amen."
Elul 2, 5779
Written by: Jordan Sarick
The theme of this month of Elul's "reflective writing" is "light". Somewhat ironically, we've really only just learned what light actually is (I think). Even Einstein wasn't sure what light was and it was part of a puzzle that occupied much of his career. It's a photon (or particle) AND a wave. Apparently, it's complicated.
Einstein famously said that God doesn't play dice with the universe and he struggled almost his entire career to reconcile the seemingly bizarreness of quantum mechanics with the order that he craved and expected. It's this spirit that's captured by his dice comment. It's less a statement about the existence of God than about the desire for universal truth and laws that govern our physical world both seen and unseen.
What does this have to do with the month of Elul? As we prepare for the high holidays, perhaps we can take some comfort that one of the preeminent scientists in human history died without reconciling his core beliefs about the universe: "If God created the world, his primary concern was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us." and "If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."
Elul is a month to prepare for the holidays and as some scholars have put it, 'to stand before God'. This can and should be done by apologizing to those we have hurt and also by preparing ourselves for our own judgment and reconciliation. Our knowledge about even the most fundamental questions about our world are unresolved and further understanding requires openness and the ability to be uncomfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. That seems like apt preparation for the discomfort and - hopefully - insight that we experience during the high holiday services and season.
Elul 1, 5779
Written by: Niki Delson
We were riding up a chair lift on one of those picture-perfect Colorado mornings. The air was clear and cold. The sun was shining, and the light illuminated ice crystals that fashioned a halo around us, creating the illusion that we were in a glass enclosed snow globe.
I wake up with the eastern sun shining in my window. I am not in a glass enclosure protected from the ugliness I will experience if I read the morning news. But I look out the window and marvel at the beauty around me and give a silent prayer of thanks. And then I remember that I am the author of this chapter of my life, and while I may be impotent to change the rhetoric that pierces my soul, I am totally relevant with regard to lighting up this little corner of the world. I start my day with that energy and reflect on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's words:
"...In what dimension of existence does man become aware of the grandeur and earnestness of living?...
It is in deeds that man becomes aware of what his life really is, of his power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin; of his ability to derive joy and to bestow it upon others; to relieve and to increase his own and other people's tensions. It is in the employment of his will, not in reflection that he meets his own self as it is; not as he should like it to be. In his deeds man exposes him immanent as well as his suppressed desires, spelling even that which he cannot apprehend. What he may not dare to think, he often utters in his deeds. The heart is revealed in deeds."
I once asked my nephew, and observant Jew, how he reconciled being a scientist and being an observant Jew. I don't remember the details of the conversation - but I do remember a snippet. He said that he does not think of "The Creation" as a project complete and that we are all still adding to the final product. So, with that in mind I live in the belief that my small deeds matter, that they add to a greater light and that flame will be here when I am not.
Wed, September 18 2019 18 Elul 5779