Rosh Hashanah usually falls in September — as early as September 5th, or as late as October 5th, thanks to the Hebrew calendar having a leap lunar month (unlike the all-solar Gregorian). You can watch the night sky, and the phases of this Elul moon, to track its arrival. This year Rosh Hashanah starts right in the middle of its range, with the new moon the night of September 18th.
So early September equals Elul, this preparatory prelude time. It’s fitting for those of us on the academic year, with the return to school — such as that is, this time around! And it’s fitting meteorologically, as the peak sustained heat of summer abates, and poet Rachel Shapira invites us in “Shir Tishrei” to “come home, quickly, with the first cool breeze — bo habayta, bimhera, im ha’ruach ha’k’rirah.”
Poet Paul Simon traces a cycle back to April (“… come she will, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain”), with the progress of spring and summer now finally solidified: “September, I remember: A love once new has now grown old.” We too are reaching a new inflection point in our own cycle of the last two seasons — since the madness this March, and the accelerating acceptance this April.
May we mourn our losses and channel our righteous indignation over the handling of the crisis into productive change. And may we also count our blessings, chart our growth, celebrate our resilience, and recommit with patience and resolve to staying strong as long as it takes, for the public good and for the long-term health of all.
Three lessons from all this: First, may we live as Jews, Americans, and Earthlings, all at once — aware of, and enriched by, all three rhythms — of the Hebrew calendar, the Gregorian year, and an orbit around the sun with all the changes it brings to our mid-northern latitude. Let’s make the most of each transition: From summer to fall; from break to school and program; from the year that was (including its bummer of a second half), to the year that will be — the year, that is, that will be whatever we choose make of it, playing the hand that fate deals us.
Second, as Sam Cooke wrote (and Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and Al Green all sang), “change is gonna come.” Personal or political, social or spiritual, change is the true constant. Gam zeh ya’avor, holds the famous saying —“this too shall pass”— this pandemic, this administration, this year, and all too soon, this lifetime. Knowing that change will come, let’s get ahead of it, and make sure it’s the change we want, the change we need.
And finally, on the eve of the first shabbat of September, I wanted to simply read into the record Marge Piercy’s brilliant poem, aptly entitled “Coming Up on September” — such an evocative work that it’s in our Reconstructionist machzor, page 291. She reminds us that amid all the turning and change of this season, the most important transitions are internal: and those are entirely within our power. Mid-Elul, nearing the full moon, let’s quicken the pace of our introspection, and get closer to becoming the yet more moral spiritual beautiful people we deserve to be.
Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb
Coming Up On September
By Marge Piercy
White butterflies, with single
black finger paint eyes on their wings
dart and settle, eddy and mate
over the green tangle of vines
in Labor Day morning steam.
The year grinds into ripeness and rot,
grapes darkening, pears yellowing,
the first Virginia creeper twining crimson,
the grasses, dry straw to burn.
The New Year rises, beckoning
across the umbrellas on the sand.
I begin to reconsider my life.
What is the yield of my impatience?
What is the fruit of my resolve?
I turn from frantic white dance
over the jungle of productivity
and slowly a niggun** slides,
cold water down my throat.
I rest on a leaf spotted red.
Now is the time to let the mind
search backwards like the raven
loosed to see what can feed us.
Now, the time to cast the mind forward
to chart an aerial map of the months.
The New Year is a great door
that stands across the evening
and Yom Kippur is the second door.
Between them are song and silence,
stone and clay pot to be filled from within myself.
I will find there both ripeness and rot,
what I have done and undone,
what I must let go with the waning days
and what I must take in.
With the last tomatoes, we harvest the fruit of our lives.