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Rabbi Anne Brener

Rabbi Anne Brener

Polish the Soul for Elul

Elul is traditionally a month for polishing the soul. During this time, we search ourselves for blemishes. Then, through the process of teshuvah, we polish and refine ourselves. The culmination of this refinement is the fast of Yom Kippur, from which we hope to emerge shining and radiant.

Finding Tools That Give Life Meaning

Accepting life\’s ambiguity has gotten me through a lot over the years, particularly this year, as the extremes of experience challenge any vestiges of hope I have held for things to have predictable outcomes. Say what you will about Katrina and cancer, they can be excellent teachers.

First Person – My Upfsherin

The upfsherin (hair cutting ceremony) took place on the last day of Shevat — an auspicious time for a healing ritual. The day before Rosh Chodesh (first day of the month) is observed, in the medieval mystical practice of Yom Kippur katan (little Yom Kippur) — a day for cleansing, purification, and preparation — just what shaving my head represented, as I began my fifth week of chemotherapy.

Invitation to a Ritual

I have spent my career making visible things that are often carried silently inside. To wear a wig, so that the world would not know that I have cancer and to protect those who see me from the reality of my illness, would betray my work and my values.

Hineni

I expected to be dealing with an empty nest when my daughter started college. I projected my availability to friends who had yielded my attention during my childrearing years. I dragged writing projects onto my computer\’s desktop to await the plane ride from NYU to the rest of my life. Instead, the levees broke in my hometown. I spent the next three months as a relief worker with the Red Cross and the New Orleans Jewish agencies in service to those displaced and/or traumatized by Katrina.

City’s Plight Brings Flood of Memories

In New Orleans, the Jews are the only ones buried in the ground. Others, if their mourners have any means at all, are laid with the expectation of eternal rest in stone crypts to protect them from rising waters. My mother used to say, \”Someday, we Jews\’ll all be floatin\’ down the river.\”

Just as in California, where we know that one day \”the big one\” will come, in New Orleans, we knew that someday the water would overtake us. But the denial overtakes the wisdom, and we stay and build lives. I think of Pompeii. New Orleans was so beautiful.

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