Weeds, Yom Kippur, and a New Year

Writing about Weeds and Yom Kippur in the same sentence may seem strange, but I do not believe it to be so. The series finale of Weeds recently aired and a week later I am in New Hampshire trying to write down some thoughts and reflections as we approach Yom Kippur and begin the year 5773. Linking the two seemed to start making sense.

You see, I started watching Weeds during the summer of 2008 while on Boy Scout summer camp staff (which could also be a strange pattern of events). During “post-camp” we would watch Weeds when we had breaks or were done working. I sat in a tent with some of my best friends and watched what I thought was an absurd show.

Over time, though, I learned that the essence of Weeds, what continued to draw me to it, was that it is not so much about marijuana, but about relationships. Weeds is truly a story about people – family, friends – and what you care about and do for one another. I finally understand why every episode of Weeds makes me think back to that tent in 2008. We were friends. We were a family. And while not so extreme, we also learned and grew together. Just like I continued (and continue) to do with other friends and with my family.

I find it oddly appropriate then that Weeds concluded with an episode about a Bar Mitzvah on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. That Jewish twist in the show was always a plus for me. The characters have had quite a journey in eight years, but what Nancy cares about and what Nancy is trying to accomplish in the last episode is the same as the first: take care of and be around the people she loves.

The conclusion of Weeds is sad for me. It feels like the end of an era. I keep trying to find ties back to my days on camp staff but another one is over. Nevertheless, I keep telling myself that I live my history every day. What I have done is a huge part of who I have become and who I will be in the future. Everyday I strive to be a better person. Some days go better than others. That leads me to today.

The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time for reflection: for thinking about the past year, asking for forgiveness, and making goals for a better next year. As I think about Weeds, I consider the most important things in my life: family and friends. It has been a good year for me with family and friends. I’ve been able to spend more time with family, keep old friendships, and make new friends. I’d like to strengthen those bonds this next year and need to focus on people, not things.

I have had an amazing amount of opportunities this past year. I am thankful for each of them. I am hoping this next year contains many more and is filled with personal and professional growth. Importantly, I want to do my part to help people get along. There is too much anger and hostility – and way too much inequality – in the world. To start, I need to be mindful of my situation and need to be less judgmental.

To all those whom I have offended this past year, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, I ask for your forgiveness. To those who have offended me, I forgive you.

Like, Nancy Botwin, I hope that I have done well for those about whom I care. In the last scene of Weeds, she is surrounded by her family. They laugh and they cry – but together. I hope to always be surrounded by the people who I care about and who care about me.

Thank you to everyone who made last year a great one. I hope I deserve the same, or an even better, new year.

Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur Reflections

Last night I went to see the movie 50/50. It was a fantastic and powerful movie.  I think what hit me was how real the story was – and how incredibly relevant it could be. I hope to never experience anything like that and I hope no one I know has to experience it either. Movies like 50/50 typically make me rather introspective. One of the things that I remembered was that I had yet to post some thoughts on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Jewish New Year.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. This period, including the days in between, is often used for reflection and exploring hopes for the year to come. Importantly, it is also a time of asking for forgiveness. So, I ask everyone with whom I have interacted in one way or another to please forgive me for anything I may have done, said, thought against you, whether intentional or unintentional, during the past year.

What a year it has been! I met some amazing people. I have gotten to be better friends with old friends and made new friends, some of whom I wish I had known much earlier. I have learned a lot. I graduated from college with two degrees. I traveled around the world. I explored my understanding and grew my experiences of diversity and inclusion. I started a new job and the next stage of my life.

It hasn’t been easy. I have had amazing people supporting me. Sometimes I have let them down or have done things I should not have done. I am and will constantly challenge myself to do better and to be a better person. I know that I repeat mistakes, but I am trying to learn from them.

This coming year has a lot of potential. The job is still new. I have the potential for a lot of travel – personal, in addition to professional. I am able to spend more time with family. I need to stay connected with my friends, wherever they may be. It will be a big challenge, but I hope my wonderful friendships can and will continue. I also need to meet new people and grow my community in St. Louis. Who knows where that will lead?

Steve Jobs recounted a quote in his 2005 Commencement Speech to Stanford: “If you live each day as if it were your last, some day you will most certainly be right.” He followed that by saying that he asks himself a question every day: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” This could be a little more of a negative outlook thank I like in some ways – but on the other had, I agree 100%. Life is short.  Make the most of it.  I hope that this coming year is one of life, happiness, health, success, and prosperity – filled with family and friends. I hope to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. But since I cannot know what my future holds, I need to do the best I can with the life I have.

G’mar Chatima Tova!

Rosh HaShanah Wishes

Earlier today I sent an email to family and some of my closest friends to say Happy New Year (We just completed Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year and according to the Jewish calendar, it is now 5772.). I know that I missed some people though so I thought I might share that message here as well.  I plan on posting some reflections during this coming week, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Dear family and friends,

Shanah Tovah!
I had hoped to send this before Rosh HaShanah but my computer did not want to help – just a quick note to say thank you for being a part of my life! Here’s a little e-card I put together: click here.
As we move towards Yom Kippur, I hope that you can forgive me for anything I may have said, thought, done, acted upon, etc. against you this past year, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
I hope you have only the best things in the year to come! G’mar Chatimah Tovah – May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!

Rosh HaShanah Reflections From My Synagogue

The video below includes a few Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) thoughts from my Rabbi, Rabbi Mordecai Miller, at BSKI:

Rosh HaShanah Rock Anthem

This is way too good not to share!

Almost Rosh HaShanah

In about two weeks it will be the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah.  Here is a video to start getting in the mood:

Some Thoughts On The New Year And Asking For Forgiveness

It is now 5771 — Happy New Year!

I was not ready for Rosh HaShanah to be here this year.  It seemed to be too early – school had not yet even started!  How could it be Rosh HaShanah?  Shortly after Labor Day, it seemed to confirm that summer is over and fall has begun.  Yet, I am not ready for fall to be here.  Slowly though, I realized that I am not in control of such things.

As I attended services, I became more and more aware that it really was Rosh HaShanah.  The readings, poems, prayers, and sermons all make it so real.  It may even be that the timing is perfect for me, as though Someone is looking out for me.  While I had to miss part of orientation to attend services, I did not need to miss school this year.  I definitely prefer this schedule.

I have so much to be thankful for.  I have so much I need to do better.  I have been told by some that I am a “good person” and that I must not have much for which I need to ask forgiveness.  I am glad that is the opinion those people have of me.  Nevertheless, I know that I have done things that I should not have done, not done things that I should have done, not performed my best, ignored people, hurt people, and not always done what I could (e.g. in relation to my understanding of others and trying to make the world a better place) during the past year.

I know that it is impossible to be perfect — but, I know I can do better.  And I will.

As the New Year begins, I am making a commitment to myself, to God, and to everyone with whom I will interact to improve and become a better person.  I want to use my influence for good.  I want to be less judgmental (non-judgmental would be ideal).  I want to not speak ill of others (or at least make significant strides in this area).  I want to be more understanding.  I am sure I will need reminders of each of these commitments throughout the year.  I appreciate those of you who will help ensure that I fulfill my commitments.

As is customary during the Ten Days of Repentance, I ask your forgiveness for anything I may have done against you this past year, any sins I may have committed.  I ask your forgiveness for anything I may have done to/against you whether in person or without your knowledge/behind your back, knowingly or unknowingly.  I apologize for any pain I may have caused you.  If there is something I have done that I have not proactively addressed, please let me know as I would be amiss in not doing so.

Thank you for being a part of my life, however large or small.  As we continue towards Yom Kippur I extend wishes of a sweet, happy new year full of health, peace, and prosperity.

May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Shanah Tovah! – Happy New Year 5771!

Tonight begins Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year – and the beginning of the year 5771. May you have a happy, sweet, blessed new year filled with nothing but the best and may the world become a better places during this time!

May you be inscribed in the book of life for good!

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah! – Have a sweet and good new year!

Rosh HaShanah Greetings From MASA Israel to Conservative Leaders

The following message was sent out via email to leaders of the Conservative and Masorti Movement:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This year, thousands of young Jewish adults will begin a personal journey in Israel by celebrating the High Holidays with peers from around the world. As participants of Masa Israel Journey’s more than 180 programs, they will immerse themselves in the unique atmosphere of the chagim in Israel, and create their own meaningful experience.

These young adults are tomorrow’s leaders, the ones who will determine the quality and character of Conservative Judaism in North America and its relationship with Israel for the next generation.

I wanted to share with you the stories of a few young members of the USCJ community whose Jewish lives have been enriched as a result of their semester or year in Israel.

This New Year, help us connect more young Jewish adults to Israel – through a Masa Israel Program, throughout Aliyah and more:

Joel Portman, St. Louis, MO

Synagogue: Brith Sholom Knesseth Israel, St. Louis, Mo

Masa Israel Program: Ben Gurion University of the Negev Year Program

In 2005, I traveled to Poland and Israel with United Synagogue Youth (USY).  The five weeks I spent in Israel were some of the best of my life.  But the experience I’d had wasn’t enough:  I wanted more, and I knew I would have to return. So, in 2008, I spent a semester studying at Masa Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev. And I loved every minute of it. Read more >

Gabi Gordon, Chicago, IL

Synagogue: North Suburban Synagogue Beth El
Masa Israel Program: Nativ

Aliyah to Israel: August 2010

Having been raised in a Conservative home in Chicago, Judaism was always a part of my life.  I attended Solomon Schechter for elementary school and then got involved in USY.  While a Junior in high school, I took part in the Alexander Muss semester program in Israel.  It was then that I decided I needed to return for another extended period of time.  After graduation, I enrolled in Masa Israel’s Nativ.  Read more >

Shana Tova u’Metukah.

Naomi Freedman
Shlichat Aliyah, Jewish Agency for Israel

Back in Denver

Yesterday, I arrived back in Denver to get started for the new school year! I moved in to a townhouse about a 15-20 minutes walk from class/work. I am renting a room from a friend who graduated several years ago. We met at Chabad and he is originally from St. Louis! It’s a nice place and after relaxing from moving in taking longer than I had thought it would (of course!), I like it a lot.

I am trying to catch up on life in Denver and with friends. This week is orientation, but because the schedule overlaps with Rosh HaShanah, I have to make up some sessions with other (earlier) groups which makes my life these next few days a little hectic. I have a lot of reading for orientation that I still need to do and prep work for my Statistics class, that I am a bit worried about. I’m sure everything will work out well though.

It is strange not living in a building that surrounds me with students. It is definitely a different feeling that will take some getting used to. Many of my close friends are not here so I will need to reevaluate what I am doing with my time – new friends, homework, involvement, job search, etc. After being unsure about spending all summer with the family at home, I thought it strange when I realized that I actually miss my family a lot, now that I am back here. Soon enough, I will be too busy to think about all that!

As I get ready for the new year of MBA classes and programs, I look forward to the future!