One of the delights of where I’ve been nestled over the past year, in downtown Montpelier, VT, is the garden out back. It’s a common area, shared with two sets of neighbors, encircled by our houses and other small buildings. There’s a secret quality to the space, oasis-like; passing by streetwise, from any angle, you wouldn’t know it even exists.
I’ve spent hours over the past year measuring the seasons by the happenings in this space. Squirrel prints tracking through the snow; the first crocuses pushing up through the bared ground; the flush of blooms sprouting full and wild within a broad swath of verdure lovingly designed and planted long before we arrived here.
This summer, I’ve passed treasured Shabbat afternoons tracking the travels of plump bees zigzagging heavily towards nectar, white butterflies nimbly spiraling up in pairs towards the branches of the apple tree, a family of skunks shuffling along the edges of the compost bin, reaping their harvest from the decaying remains of our suppers (sometimes with effluvious results).
I’ve yet to be here for the season of turning, of return, but its coming is evident in the fallen brown leaves accumulating on the Adirondack chairs, and the heightened pitch of the crickets at night. This year, reading poet Marge Piercy’s “Coming up on September,” (printed below) I see our yard and my time there reflected in her words. And, like in other years reading this poem, I’m humbled by the way she leads us, inclines us, invites us – purposeful as a mating dance, coiling as a creeper, clear and enlivening as cold water — to turn towards the next threshold.
Rosh Chodesh Elul begins tonight, Friday August 26th, and ends at nightfall on Sunday, August 28th. On this eve of the new month, I am writing with joyful anticipation of seeing you all in just a few short weeks for the High Holy Days. I’d also like to share news of Elul programming to come.
EMJC will host two special Elul events this year, one in person on Sunday September 11th, from Noon-12:45pm. Please mark your calendars for this date to join Rabbi Sam Levine and Education Director Audrey Korelstein in the EMJC Courtyard for Part I of our series Ring Them Bells: The High Holy Days through the music of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and the voices of other modern musical prophets. This event will also be accessible via Zoom, so if you can’t make it in person, you’ll still be able stream in. Part II of this program will take place virtually, via Zoom, on Wednesday, September 21st, at 7:15pm, with Rabbi Levine, Audrey, and myself in attendance. More information on each of these events will follow; we hope you will join us for both.
We approach the “great door” of the New Year together, and tonight I am wishing each of you a ripe and meaningful entry into this High Holy Day season.
With blessings for a peaceful Shabbat,
Cantor Julia Ostrov
by Marge Piercy
White butterflies, with single
black fingerpaint 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.