Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

It’s Elul: the month that leads us to the Days of Awe and the new year.

Ready or not, here we come.

Once again, the holidays will be a little bit different this year! (I look forward to the year when I no longer need to say that.)

In the first Covid year our gatherings were all-Zoom. In the second Covid year, we were hybrid with limited attendance onsite. This year we’re not limiting attendance onsite — though we are asking everyone to register in advance, both for contact-tracing reasons and for security ones. This year CBI member and cantorial soloist Ziva Larson will join me on the bimah, and at some services we’ll be supported by CBI’s new volunteer choir.

This year we’ll hold hybrid / multi-access services, as we’ve done for Shabbat and festivals over the last year, so you and your loved ones can join us either onsite or online. It has been a joy to welcome farflung friends and family into our Zoom services — that’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic, for sure.

And some things will be the same as always. We’ll thrill to the familiar cadences and melodies of the Days of Awe, and to the sound of the shofar. And another thing that (hopefully) never changes is the warmth and “heimishness” (homey-ness) that characterizes CBI. For that, I am grateful to all of you.

Elul is a time for getting-ready. It’s a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh — taking an accounting of one’s soul. Elul begins our season of teshuvah, turning ourselves around and seeing where we need to bring repair in our relationships with each other, with ourselves, or with our Source. This work intensifies during the high holidays themselves, though tradition calls us to begin it with this late-summer new moon.

Elul is a time when tradition says “the King is in the Field,” meaning that God is extra-accessible to us. It’s as though God were a sovereign Who leaves the palace during Elul and walks with us in meadows filled with wildflowers, ready to listen to whatever’s on our hearts. It’s an old metaphor, and I think a very beautiful one.

Whether or not we’re literally in the fields — though I think admiring CBI’s pollinator garden or walking the Al and Frances Small Memorial labyrinth definitely “count!” — I hope that this Elul will offer each of us opportunities to connect with the sacred. To breathe deeply. To notice who we are, and think about who we want to be. To loosen the shackles of habit that calcify over the year, and imagine what 5783 might be and who we might yet become.

I can’t wait to ring in the new year with all of you at CBI.

Blessings to all,

— Rabbi Rachel