Looking out my window I see the natural world around me preparing for winter. Squirrels burying their nuts in our veggie planters. The leaves turning and falling. The ground once again damp and squishy. Softening up for months of absorbing up our rain and snowfall. Another season has turned during pandemic times. We move through our days, stuck in the same places, while all other plants and creatures continue to grow and change as usual. Nature moves on. And now it is time to hunker down for the long fall and winter ahead.
We will not be gathering together in our building for services or celebrations this fall and winter. We are first and for most committed to the health and vitality of pie community members. We cannot risk spreading the disease to each other. We will continue to build community, friendship, and to nurture the spiritual and cultural lives of Jews in our areas through the power of Zoom and outdoor activities. We will continue to reach out and check in with our members. We will continue to be present in the lives of our members to add to your health, stability, and support system. Our doors are open even though the entryway is a text, phone call, or video conference. And if you want to meet in person-we are also open for masked, outdoor meetings. Walks, hikes, bike rides, kayaking...there are many ways for us to engage in person while enjoying the mild weather of the PNW. Many options are closed to us right now. But so many options are also open.
During this Jewish month, we have no Jewish holidays to celebrate. And this is a relief because transforming our synagogue into a digital platform is not easy work. My training is in working with a scroll. A real scroll with ancient words written on animal parchment. You need muscles to lift it and roll it. It is as far from digital as you can get. This month with no holidays is a much-needed break. And an opportunity to prepare for our next holiday: Hannukah.
So what can we do during this month of Cheshvan to celebrate Judaism and our Jewish lives without an actual holiday ahead of us?
How about a celebratory challenge for this entire dark and wet season? Below I will list 18 Jewish books and movies that are must-see and must-reads. Together the list is a celebration of Jewish literature and Jewish film. Through taking on this challenge you can, from the comfort of your own home, travel in time and space through Jewish storytelling. You can expand your Jewish horizons without going anywhere. Which is exactly what we need right now-ways to travel without being on a plane or a train. Ways to learn and grow without going anywhere in person.
If you take on one of these challenges and complete reading or watching AT LEAST 7 of the 18, you will be invited to special discussion groups this spring to discuss the movies and books, relatively, that we watched or read. Everyone who completes a challenge will also receive a special hand made Jewish blessing for the home plaque. Those who finish all 18 will also get a handmade Mezuzah.
This month is Cheshvan. We begin this month, a month with no Jewish celebrations, and we will end this challenge right before Passover on the new moon of the month of Nisan. That is for 5 months. God willing by then we will be in a better place as a society. Between now and then let's immerse ourselves in Jewish stories.
The Pawn Broker 1964
A Serious Man 2008
Hester Street 1975
Fiddler on the Roof
The Infidel 2010
Waltz with Bashir 2008
The Frisco Kid 1979
Late Summer Blues 1987
The Chosen 1981
Biloxi Blues 1988
Crossing Delancey 1988
Gentleman’s Agreement 1947
School Ties 1992
Walk on Water 2004
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
People of the Book, Geraldine Brookes
The World to Come, Dara Horn
Portnoy’s Complaint, Phillip Roth
My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
Day after Night, Anita Diamant
The Ladies Auxiliary, Tova Mavis
The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman
The Golem and the Jinn, Helene Walker
The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish
Tevya the Dairy Man, Shalom Aleichem
Jephte’s daughter, Naomi Ragen.
The Seventh Beggar, Pearl Abraham
The Liberated Bride, A.B. Yehoshua
Enemies, A Love Story, Isaac Bashevis Singer
As a Driven Leaf, Milton Steinberg
Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman
A Tale of Love and Darkness, Amos Oz
If you are having a hard time finding one of these books or movies please let me know! I can help you find them. If you are going to take on one or both of these challenges please let me know so I can check in with you at some point during the next 5 months.
God created humans because God loves stories. This is an old Yiddish saying. And we too as humans love stories. We learn and grow through stories. We are moved and transformed by the story.
Through this challenge, you will take in new narratives, new voices, new perspectives, new places, and experiences. And you will be made anew with each book or movie.
So as we travel together, amid the pandemic and societal transformation, at home cozy and warm, let us enrich ourselves: Jewishly.
May the month of Cheshvan
be a month of blessings:
blessings of goodness, blessings of joy,
peace and kindness, friendship and love,
creativity, strength, serenity,
fulfilling work and dignity,
satisfaction, success, and sustenance,
physical health and radiance.
May truth and justice guide our acts
and compassion temper our lives
that we may blossom as we age
and become our sweetest selves.
May it be so.
Many blessings in the month ahead!