Polishing jewels of Elul

What is the art of welcoming?

In the eyes of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, it’s his responsibility “to create a better place, foster an open and welcoming city and find the prosperity that lifts us all for generations to come.”

For music legend Quincy Jones, it’s the act of “looking until you find a door of welcoming that’s opening up.”

And for spoken-word artist Andrew Lustig, “It’s when you’re all around a dinner table. / Sitting. / And talking and laughing. / When nobody has their phone on.”

These are excerpts from just three of the contributions featured in this year’s “Jewels of Elul,” a program created by musician Craig Taubman to fulfill the mitzvah of preparatory study during Elul, the month leading up to the High Holy Days.

Taubman has compiled a series of “jewels,” or inspirational anecdotes, focused on a central theme. Now in their ninth year, they come from a wide range of famous and under-the-radar individuals. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

“In trying to get inspiration for the High Holy Days, we can look to many different perspectives,” Taubman said. “We live among different types of people, so we can get inspiration from different types of people, too. I try to reach out to a variety of people [in collecting passages for ‘Jewels of Elul’]. They don’t have to be Jewish, as long as they have something to say about that year’s topic.”  

Free daily e-mails, each with a unique jewel, are available by subscribing at letmypeoplesing.com/jewels. They began to be delivered to inboxes around the globe on Aug. 7, and will continue until the first day of Rosh Hashanah, on Sept. 5. A complete collection of 29 jewels is available for purchase in a printed booklet from the same Web site.

Development is under way for a “Jewels of Elul” app, “A Daily Cup of JoE,” which Taubman hopes will be released in the month of September. Inspiration will no longer be limited to the High Holy Days season — the app will serve up daily inspiration year-round, with new jewels added every day of the year, he said.

In previous years, proceeds of  “Jewels of Elul” — the booklets sell for $18 each — have gone to organizations such as Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, Beit T’Shuvah and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. This year, they will benefit Tabuman’s latest project, the Pico Union center.

Located in the building that served as Sinai Temple’s original home more than 100 years ago, Pico Union is an interfaith community center that strives to unite Jews and people of other religions in a variety of ways. Congregations of all faiths are invited to reserve the space for prayer, attend concerts and performances that the center plans to host and learn to cook as a community in the center’s Holy Ground Cafe, a teaching kitchen and full-service cafe. Since its opening earlier this year, Pico Union has been reserved by Korean and Hispanic churches for worship, in addition to several Jewish congregations, Taubman said.

“With Pico Union, we are fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing light unto all nations,” Taubman said. “Pico Union is about being gracious — not only to other Jews, but to humankind.”

This year, Pico Union will host a number of festivities during the High Holy Days. A Selichot service will feature dance, theater, music and spoken-word performances. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, there will be services led by Rabbi David Lazar from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a lunch catered by Paper or Plastik Cafe, Mama’s Hot Tamales Cafe and Art’s Deli. Later that day, 10 speakers will give their insight on how to start fresh in the New Year. Finally, the center will host a break-the-fast bash at the close of Yom Kippur. The party will feature comedians, mariachi and Israeli bands, and a DJ.

Taubman plans to split his time between the events at Pico Union and services at Sinai Temple, which he has helped to lead for 11 years. He will be at Sinai for erev Rosh Hashanah and the first day of Rosh Hashanah and during day services on Yom Kippur.

In other words, Taubman plans on doing a lot of welcoming in the coming days and weeks.