Really Trying

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the last year I have tried to be a better Jew. For me that means
going to services at least once a month, and I have even occasionally
gone to the drop-in Torah study that my congregation offers. I’ve
taken a few classes in Jewish art and history and been reading many
more Jewish-themed novels. While I don’t feel a big change in how I
live my “regular” life (I still watch football on Saturdays, for example),
I do feel a stronger sense that there is a G-d and that I can have a
more active relationship with Him (sorry, I’m old-fashioned about
that). Can you suggest something else I can do, especially in
preparation for the High Holidays, that will help me up my game even
more during the Holidays and beyond. But please don’t ask me to give
up being a fan. I love G-d for life ever after but don’t want to have to
choose between G-d and the Gators in this one!

Really Trying

Dear Trying:

In this world, as opposed to the world to come, there are many who
face that choice every Saturday. Facing down the fervent excitement
of a game for the calm regularity of services of is a potent choice.
There was a joke circulating the internet about the fan who thought
that watching a taped-delay of broadcasted services made up for being
at a game. I’m not a rabbi but I’m pretty sure that’s a no-no.
While I cannot make your Shabbat choices any easier, here’s some
things to consider between now and Rosh HaShonah. We’re in Elul, the
month that precedes the High Holidays. Elul signals the moment when
summer light begins to change. When you still want to sit outside late
into the evening, but have to acknowledge that there’s just not quite
enough light to read your book as there was just a few weeks ago. It’s
the harbinger of shorter days. But it also invites us to look at our inner
light in preparation for the High Holidays.



Elul is a bridge between the old year and the new one. It’s a time of
assessment, reflection, preparation, consolidation, and appreciation.
It’s the time when you can give yourself a good pat on the back for
whatever good you’ve done since the High Holidays last year. Sigh,
but it is also a time when you should acknowledge the ways that
you’ve fallen short, when reality’s gotten the better of you. When you
admit that you’ve succumbed to the ferocious demands of the
mundane, or even made choices that are bad for you, whether that’s
to much chocolate cake or too much football. That even if you’ve
accomplished a lot in the world you may have missed the chance to
communicate as often, and as deeply, with spiritual energy. Elul is a
time when the gates of heaven are said to be open, and when access
to the divine is possible, not just more easily than in other times, but
in a profoundly personal way. Almost in the way you’d sit with your
best friend and talk about the deepest longings of your heart. It’s a
time when G-d, or as I prefer HaShem, can be that best friend.
Elul is your chance to prepare for the process of t’shuvah, return, a
concept that underlies the High Holidays. T’shuvah is too often talked
about in a way that implies we’ve screwed up. That’s there’s a big
lack, a sense of shame about not having done what we’ve said we
wanted to, that we haven’t lived up to our potential. I don’t see it like
that. I see Elul as a chance to free yourself from what binds you to the
past. A chance to free yourself from old habits, from worn out or
leftover images of yourself. From belief systems you’ve clung to for too
long. It is also about returning to a purer, sense of your self without

Give yourself some time each day to really feel that. To really let in
the idea that you’re a holy being, even if most weeks you choose to
watch football instead of reading Torah. Try to do that for three
minutes every day and you’ll become more aware as you make those
choices. You might still choose football, but you will also be choosing
G-d. Even if the idea that you are holy may slip away from you like a
half-remembered dream when you grab for the remote, grasp it a little
each day so that you can truly embrace the new year to come. I
promise there’ll be lots more football in the months to come.