Elul: The Call of Forgiveness

As a child growing up in a traditional community in Israel, I looked forward to this time of the year. Every year when the month of Elul arrived, I would wake up early in the morning to the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn). In traditional Jewish communities, the custom of getting up early, hearing the shofar and praying are central to the month of Elul, the month preceding the High Holidays that marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. In Jewish tradition, the month of Elul is dedicated to spiritual preparation for the High Holidays through self-reflection and self-improvement.

As an adult, I no longer wake up early in the morning to hear the shofar blasts during Elul. It’s all too easy to miss out on taking the time to pause, look back on the year that is about to end and think about what I’d like for the year to come. The special prayers for this time of the year are called Selichot, which literally means “forgiveness.” Traditional services are dedicated to soul searching and asking for forgiveness from G-d.

With Jewish practice at the OFJCC, we don’t just follow tradition; we embrace innovation and evolution. And although the traditional custom of Selichot focuses on the relationship between man and G-d, we’re also encouraged to focus on the relationships with those around us. Whether or not G-d is not a part of your spiritual life, you can transform the traditional Selichot ritual into one of reflection on your relationships with others and asking for forgiveness if they have been mistreated or hurt. It may also be a good time to forgive yourself for areas where you feel you have been too critical and take some time to care for yourself.

Join us during this time for personal reflection and spiritual preparation for the New Year.

A meaningful way to prepare for the New Year and begin a better year is to follow the Jewish value of focusing on others, completing tikkun olam (social change) and making ourselves and the world better.

To get the most out of this special time of the year, I invite you to join us for Elul at the OFJCC, a rich program of lectures and workshops that help us reflect, get into the spirit of the holidays and simply take a moment for ourselves. We’ll have innovative musicians, a “text and texture” ceramics class, a taste of Mussar and more. Nourish Café will be offering Rosh Hashanah-inspired foods, the yoga room will have quote cards with inspiring words and there will be a “cave of silence” for these who wish to breathe, meditate and pause for a moment out of their busy lives.

As a child in Israel, I woke up early every morning during Elul to hear the shofar’s call. As an adult, I no longer do this. While our ways of observing this time of year may change throughout our lives, I believe that the clarion call for personal reflection, engagement and self-care can still be part of our Elul ritual.

Wishing everyone a meaningful Elul month and a wonderful new year.

— Tova Birnbaum

Tova Birnbaum is the Director of Jewish content at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, was one of the founders of the secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv and the Central Shlicha (emissary) to North America of the World Zionist Organization. Her Husband Yishay and baby daughter Arya share her enthusiasm for contemporary Judaism but don’t quit get how a Talmud class could possibly be better than going out for ice cream.