Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

On the festival of Shemini Atzeret (October 7), our world tilted on its axis. Dancing with the Torah that night felt like an act of resistance, connectedness, and hope, even amidst our tears. I know from our conversations that many of us are walking through the world in a fog of worry, grief, even despair. We are feeling so many emotions. Many of us are reliving trauma: our own, or that of our ancestors forced to flee, or that of our friends and family experiencing war far from here. (And then there’s whatever is happening in each of our own lives personally.) These are genuinely difficult times. I urge all of us to be gentle with ourselves and each other.

The Jewish people have lived through difficult times before. Though until recently, we weren’t deluged with a constant barrage of news and social media. Remember that studies have shown that exposure to traumatic events via news and social media actually spreads trauma. When I find that the news and social media feeds are making me feel too furious, grief-stricken, or despairing, I make a conscious choice to pause. Marinating in those feelings does not help those who are suffering. That’s when I make a point of petting my cat, chopping vegetables for soup, or starting a loaf of challah and singing Shalom Aleichem as I knead the dough.

I take comfort in knowing that even in the worst of times our traditions have helped to carry the Jewish people through. Making my own challah each week anchors me, and so does lighting Shabbat candles. Even if observing Shabbat hasn’t been part of your weekly practice, now might be a good time to give it a try. Here’s a primer from the URJ on the ritual, including a video of how to sing the blessings. Whether or not we light candles, we can remember the teaching from Proverbs that “the human soul is God’s candle”: we ourselves bring light into the world, just by being who we are. And we can be a light for each other in times like these that feel dark.

The planet’s orbit is taking us deeper into darkness too. As the nights grow longer, I hope you’ll find comfort and connection at CBI. Join us for Shabbat services, or join our choir (we’re about to begin preparing for a Tu BiShvat concert celebrating trees and the earth), or show up for pizza and social time before our Annual Meeting. November is a rare month without any Jewish holidays except for Shabbat. This is a good time to settle into spiritual practices that sustain us. For me those include singing, beginning each day by pausing to cultivate gratitude, and ending each day with the Shema and a moment of gratitude for something in the day now ending.

These practices are simple, but their smallness belies their significance. They can genuinely shape how we experience each day. Giving thanks isn’t something we just do on the fourth Thursday in November: it’s a daily opportunity to remember to be glad to be alive. (If right now you can’t feel that, may the day come soon when you’ll be able to feel it again. There are tools to help us regain equilibrium emotionally and spiritually. As always, drop me a line if you want to find a time to talk.) There’s so much for which I am actively grateful – including the opportunity to serve every one of you. Thank you, as always, for being a part of CBI.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel