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Susan Levine


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L’Shanah Tova and a thank you to our Earth Etudes for Elul Contributors

Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time when we review our lives and think about how we will live the coming year. Many of these earth etudes actually connect our earth with the spirit of Judaism–Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We would like to thank Rabbi Katy Z. Allen for bringing together these awe-inspiring contributors, whose essays, poems and thoughts help us understand the meaning of our lives and how we can repair our world. ...


Earth Etude for Elul 29 –Waking up to the Climate Crisis

by Rabbi David Jaffe ~ My guess is that many readers of the Elul Etudes are fully awakened to the climate crisis and read these blogs with the hope of gaining perspective and spiritual resilience to keep facing the crisis without panicking and burning out. This blog post is for a difference audience – those, like me, who intellectually understand the crisis but don’t feel the urgency.  Despite reading articles and watching videos about the ...


Earth Etude for Elul 28 — Swimming in Circles in Life

by Rabbi Judy Kummer ~ Every August I participate in a 1-mile breast cancer fundraising swim at a pond on Cape Cod. I have done this swim every year since 2007, training each summer day to swim further and faster.  I especially delight in swimming outdoors. Sometimes my practice swims are in daytime, sometimes at “golden hour” as the sun is setting,  and sometimes at dusk, when I can watch the moon rising, cycling inexorably ...


Earth Etude for Elul 27 — A Vegetarian Journey

by Susan Levine ~ When I think about Elul, I think about things I have done over my lifetime and the most important thing I’ve tried to do is to become a vegetarian. But let me start at the beginning: Both my parents grew up in kosher homes and when they got married, they had a kosher home. But it wasn’t kosher enough for my father’s mother who would visit my parents but wouldn’t touch the food. My mom didn’t see the point of being ...


Earth Etude for Elul 26: What do animals feel and think? Who are they?

by Rabbi David Seidenberg ~ That’s too broad a question by many degrees, but the difference between asking “who are they?” and “what are they?” is the gulf between civilizations, between epochs, between a world in which humans dominate and destroy, and a world in which humans collaborate with other species in the great project of the universe--Life. Since Descartes, the idea that the other animals (besides human beings) are not subjects ...


Earth Etude for Elul 25*– To the Silent Stones

by Sarah Chandler ~ Do you count your days in footsteps? In strollers? In sunlight? Cement and concrete Below my feet I take a peek at the patterns And the places Where tiny rocks gather Solid, safe, secure What was it was like To move your entire being From a quarry of friends To this square of sidewalk? City stones Bricks, brownstone, marble Are your family now You The eyes of Our neighborhood My commute My shabbat walk Sometimes ...


Earth Etude for Elul 24 –If Not Here, Where

by Maggid David Arfa ~ For Reb Bob in honor of his ordination Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? If not here, where?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14+ The High Ledges Audubon Sanctuary, Shelburne, MA Ok, he didn’t say that last part. He didn’t have to. Back in the ancient world it was not so easy to get lost in the global view. Today it is different. The ...


Earth Etude for Elul 23 — The Prayer for Rain

by Rabbi Louis Polisson ~The Hebrew month of Elul is well-known as the month of preparation for the Jewish holidays Rosh Ha-Shanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). In Jewish literature, it is often called a month of teshuvah (repentance, self-improvement, and returning to the good parts of ourselves). However, one might also view Elul as a time to prepare for the fall harvest festival of Sukkot (which literally means ...


Earth Etude for Elul 22 — Lessons from Alaska

by Rabbi Suri Levow Krieger Alaska... Hut in Alaska surrounded by flowers. I expected to be awed by the Glaciers. I was not disappointed.  I anticipated being enLightened by 22 consecutive hours of sunlight. It was outstanding. What I did not expect, was day after day of 80 degree weather. And the following week… Anchorage registered 90 degrees as a massive ‘heat dome’ hovered over the city. This topped the previous record ...


Earth Etude for Elul 21 — A Little Omer on the Prairie

by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein ~ I live on the prairie. In the Prairie State of Illinois. On a summer’s day with large clouds towering over the cornfields, it is spectacular. Awe-inspiring. I remember to be grateful. For several decades, I have followed the practice of Rabbi Everett Gendler of planting winter wheat, rye or barley at Sukkot and harvesting it during the counting of the Omer, the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot. I have done ...


Earth Etude for Elul 20 — Past and Present Pain

by Rabbi Katy Allen ~ What if...the feelings we have when we pass through...zones of destruction are actually arising from the land itself? What if it is the grief of the forest registering in our bodies and psyches—the sorrow of the redwoods, voles, sorrel, ferns, owls, and deer, all those who lost their homes and lives as a result of this plunder of living beings? What if we are not separate from the world at all? It is our spiritual responsibil...


Earth Etude for Elul 19– Teshuvah in the Desert

by Rabbi Mike Comins ~ In order to acquire wisdom and Torah, one must make oneself hefker, open and abandoned, like this desert. (BaMidbar Rabbah 1) Of the many reasons our tradition offers for why the Torah was given at Sinai, one is particularly relevant for Elul. The desert is an optimal environment to do Teshuvah. More than that. To reach our full potential, we are advised to become like the desert. Why does the desert have the power to ...


Earth Etude for Elul 18 — What I Hope to Be

by Joan Rachlin ~The temperatures, sun, moon, breezes, trees, grasses, plants, and flowers all signal that change is in the air. We’re moving into a new season and a new month, Elul, with its promise of transformation and its possibility of renewal. Elul is when we can hit the reset button and begin again. Sounds easy, but we cannot appeal to the “better angels of our nature” without engaging in Teshuvah, or “return.” ...


Earth Etude for Elul 17 — Slow Down

by Nyanna S. Tobin ~ Slow food folding like a snail over her slime. I remember my Dad in his slow down days. Even his deep lined smile crept slowly over his face. A thought made Jack Benny sound like a whirled-gig. Perhaps my Dad was waiting for his angel, While she was waiting for him to scream her name. And he never did. He seemed to be a life-long prisoner of Fear. But my ...


Earth Etude for Elul 14 –Inner and Outer Climate Change

by Rabbi Robin Damsky A local toad finds a home in the pot of a rooting African violet (yes, the leaf got displaced). ~It’s been a year of change. Not just a move, but a move to a new climate zone and a very new culture. I moved from outside Chicago to Durham, NC, the South. The trees here are glorious – pines everywhere, wisteria in April blooming in the wild, crepe myrtle in vivid fuchsia and pale pastels just now. It’s hot. Average days ...


Earth Etude for Elul 16 — Prayer for the Two-Leggeds

by Daniel Kieval To listen or join in prayer: This is the time for us to finally come home This is the time to know that we are not alone To find our selves in a deep ancient web This is the time to be embraced by the land Kissed by oceans, taken by the hand Rooted down into this deep ancient web Receive us now Retrieve us now Redeem us now This is the way that we awake from a dream Wander out into life's ever-flowing stream Listen ...


Earth Etude for Elul 15 — T’shuvah is an answer.

by Andy Oram ~ At High Holidays we speak intently and repeatedly of T’shuvah (תשובה), by which we mean repentance or returning to God. T'shuvah does mean "return", but it also means "answer." We have to answer both God's and a world that is dying before our eyes. How can we answer? How can we approach the High Holidays with the urgency demanded us of from the modern world? In these times of imminent destruction, we also seek an answer to our ...


Earth Etude for Elul 13 –Spiritual Lessons from God’s “Art Museum”

by Rabbi Dorit Edut “Ma rabu ma’asecha, Adonai; kulam b’hochma aseeta; malu ha-aretz kinyanecha-- How numerous are Your works, O Lord; with wisdom You fashioned them all; the earth abounds with Your creations!” These words from the weekday morning blessings before the Shema prayer, were on my lips constantly as I traveled through “God’s Art Museum” in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon this summer. At every turn was another gasp ...


Earth Etude for Elul 12 –Two Poems

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D. Urban Garden ~ Urban garden tiny patch of heaven nestled amidst brick and stone; kales and chards salute the sky bok choy sentry elegant, celery, parsleys hold court while lettuce species dance, each offering a breath of life oxygen of garden’s greens infuses air lungs spared inhale may urban gardens grace this world, edible planted prayers of green reviving life and city air; urban garden blessing ground and all U...


Earth Etude for for Elul 11– Return to Our Values

by Deborah Nam-Krane ~ In 2017, I heard LaDonna Redmond, founder of the Campaign for Food Justice Now, speak at the Annual Gardener’s Gathering in Boston. An organizer working at the crossroads of food justice and racial equality, she laid out a familiar story: her child was allergic and/or sensitive to many foods, but to provide him with the food he needed, Redmond had to step out of her neighborhood because fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t ...