Elul — the connectedness of it all

Elul — the connectedness of it all

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill is one of the three rabbis at the Orangetown Jewish Center in Orangeburg.

Concatenation: a series of interconnected things or events.

I savor new vocabulary words and was delighted by the need to look up “concatenation” when I read it in a recent essay by Susan Weidman Schneider, editor in chief of Lilith Magazine. It makes sense to consider the broad expanse of frightening, difficult upheavals in our world as interconnected. It certainly alleviates some anxiety. Could it be that our situation is not like a piece of fabric stretched too tight, becoming thin at the center and unraveling at the edges? Maybe world events are actually contained in one web of concatenated experience.

Concatenation as a front-page-of-the-newspaper conception makes perfect sense. Is it possible to consider a more personal formulation of concatenation? Is my place in relation to today’s world issues a result of interconnected ideas and events in my life?

What if my grandfather had not given me Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” to read when I was 12 years old? What if I had not felt deeply in my preadolescent soul the passage when Reuben Malter’s father explains the purpose of human life: “A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.” What if I had not come to understand that meaning-making was my responsibility?

What if my cherished childhood cantor, Kurt Messerschmitt, had not told me his personal Holocaust story when I was 13, just after I became a bat mitzvah? What if I had never accepted as my life mission protecting core Jewish values and loving the Jewish people?

What if Yisrael Serok, the shaliach in my hometown, Portland, Maine, had not shared with our USY chapter his experiences in the Israel Defense Forces in 1967? What if I had never come to identify Israel as my home, requiring my loyalty and advocacy?

What if my anthropology professor in college, Dr. Steven Piker, had not impressed upon the students in my junior year seminar our privilege and responsibility to make a mark for good in the world? What if I had never come to realize that the quality of my life can never be disconnected from the quality of lives all around me?

My own concatenation: a book, a Holocaust narrative, a Six-Day War experience and a professor’s lecture led me ultimately to a rabbinate anchored in a drive toward having an impact for good in my family, community, and world.

This past week began the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar, a time for soul-searching work before the High Holy Days begin. It is a time to consider the concatenation of the upheavals around us: a pandemic, confrontation with racism, anti-Semitism, economic and political crises…. Of course they are all interconnected. And it is a time to realize the concatenation of our personal experiences that have brought us to this moment in time.

For me, the work of Elul is always consequential. (I take deadlines seriously.) In this month before the High Holy Days, I strive for balance between the required quiet introspection and the necessary outward-directed energy as I imagine what my community needs to hear this year.

Can I be still enough to listen to the quiet yearnings of my own heart? Yet the more I listen to my heart, the more powerfully I am led not inward but toward action. Can I persevere and be optimistic enough to know that my own spiritual growth is intrinsically connected to the well-being of my fellow humans?

Healing myself requires that I participate in the healing of our families, communities, nation, and world at this very particular moment in time. And healing of the outer circles won’t happen without me. Or you. Or all of our families and communities. There is so much work to be done, and it begins with each one of us listening for the still small voice within.

In a recent study session with Rabbi Sharon Brous, she called our attention to the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel in “Who is Man”: “This is the most important experience in the life of every human being: something is asked of me. Every human being has had a moment in which they sensed a mysterious waiting for them. Meaning is found in responding to the demand, meeting is found in sensing the demand.”

I pray that we can be quiet enough to hear the question being asked. I pray that we can be powerful enough to embrace this moment, sense the demand, and find our moment of action.