I ushered in Elul 5772/2011 at the farm at the Pearlstone Center. I had come to appreciate the rhythm of the Hebrew calendar during the two summers I lived there more than any other time during my life. As I left, I thought about ways to keep myself connected to the themes and ideas that come up over the course of a Jewish calendar year. I wanted to stay in touch with the rhythm I had come to know so intimately while living on a Jewish farm.
The following Elul, I filled in the final space of a Hebrew calendar pie chart I had crafted in order to mark the beginning of each new month during the previous year. I drew it to look like the Hebrew calendar garden at Pearlstone, where we would spend time learning at the beginning of each month (Rosh Chodesh). Unable to be at the farm, I would learn about the month ahead and draw in the small triangle reserved for each month of the Hebrew calendar I had created.
As Elul approached this year, I found myself in an odd place thinking yet again about the rhythms by which we live our lives. After the first year of my work launching Charm City Tribe, I realized that I had extended similar invitations to participants at every gathering — the invitation to tap into the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. I wanted people to feel the power of moving along the cycle of the Jewish year.
As Elul began, at a Phish show of all places, I found myself in a deep conversation with another rabbinic colleague. The conversation began when the band played a tune, “Silent in the Morning.” Rabbi Josh turned to me, a big smile on his face, and said, “This is my Rosh Hashanah song.” I recounted the words I heard so many times before:
The target that I shoot for seems to move with every breath. I tighten all my arteries and make one last request. Divine creation hears me, and squashes me with fear. I think that this exact thing happened to me just last year.
Of course, I spent time thinking about how nicely these words would fit into the liturgy in our High Holy Day machzorim. More so, however, I found myself thinking again about rhythm. In order to get into the groove of a rhythm, one has to have a certain level of familiarity with that rhythm. For Phish fans, they return to concerts year after year. Many of the songs stay the same. But, as I looked around that evening at my friends, I saw how much we as people have changed during the years we have danced together to this music. No longer children, we are now doctors, restaurant owners and rabbis. The lyrics don’t change. We do.
A Phish concert may not be the first thing one thinks of when they think about the upcoming High Holiday season. But, this Elul, I find myself wanting to introduce others to the power of the Hebrew calendar in order that they can tap into the rhythm of our tradition. If we can become more familiar with the rhythm of our culture, we can start to feel the power of it. We can experience our calendar as a mirror to see where we have come from in order to understand where we want to go and learn a tune or two to accompany us along the way.
Rabbi Jessy Gross runs Charm City Tribe, a program of the Jewish Community Center.