We have entered, as a community, the month prior to the Holidays. The Hebrew month of Elul now confronts us. I use the word advisedly. We are confronted by the need to take the coming period of the Holy Days quite seriously. Maybe more seriously than in recent memory. Elul, we are reminded, ushers in a period when we begin to turn our souls and spirits to the themes of reflection, repentance, renewal and, it is hoped, a return to the spiritual centers of our souls. In essence, it is a not so subtle spiritual “pre-season” in which we are called to begin to prepare for our annual taking stock of self. It is quite a challenge in a world where so much seems in flux, conflict and transition. This is a time that challenges us.
I was reminded of all of this in a very powerful way when I saw the new Spike Lee film (“joint”) BlackkKlansman. This is a very tough film. GO SEE IT. I left the film feeling a combination of anger and sadness. I have no intention of writing a review of the film, just to say that it brought home again the serious challenges of racism and anti-Semitism that rest close to (and often on) the surface of our society. The film is set years ago, but, it takes little to understand that the film holds up a mirror to where we are now. Many of our generation remember marching and protesting for civil rights issues and saw, gradual progress (we thought) as we matured. You cannot help but leave the theatre wondering how much of that progress was real and how much has been eroded. Yes, there are some not so veiled political statements. However, there is also a call to remember the past and to be challenged to be on guard against bigotry and hate. A sadness of the film is that it reminds us how few people seem to read or study history, for history does repeat itself and to not know what was, opens the door to those actions becoming a new “what is”.
Elul reminds us of that, I think, in its own way. The Torah portions that accompany this month remind us of the power of choice and that we get the life and society that we choose. The choices that face us as individuals who are aging, and a society that is in the midst of a grand transition; those choices are fraught with significant consequences. There is no vacation from these choices. As we enter this season, I hope we can take some time to reflect on our lives and the paradox of options that confront all of us between blessing and curse, life and death, good and evil.
Rabbi Richard F Address.
PS: If you see the film, make sure you do not leave early, the last 2 minutes are riveting.
PPS: Go to Alden Solovy’s “To Bend Light” for his recent offerings of modern Psalms of Protest. Powerful.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.