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August 30, 2013

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 30, 2013 I What children can te00!(;h us at Rosh Hashanah By Dasee Berkowitz NEW YORK (JTA)--A deep spiritual life is hard to find. While opportunities abound for spiritual connections (yoga, meditation, retreats and the like), for most of us it doesn't come easy. The noise, unfinished to-do lists and the distractions of everyday life interfere with quieting our minds, letting go of our egos for a moment and connecting to something far greater than ourselves. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we notice just how difficult it is to connect spiritually. As we log in hours of prayer at our neighborhood synagogues, with unfamiliar liturgy and an unfamiliar language, we can easily letthe longing for spiritual growth morph into a longing for the service to be over. But for some, the Spiritual life that we crave comes natu- rally. This is especially true for children. Yes, they may be running through the synagogue's aisles and "whispering" too loudly, but this time of year they can become our best teachers. We just need to slow down enough to listen to them. Cultivating a relationship with God comes easy for chil- dren. As an adult, a relation- ship with God has never been central to my Jewish identity. It might sound strange be- cause I live an observant life and prayer is important to me. The weekly holiday cycle punctuates my family's Dasee Berkowitz Perhaps Yael Berkowitz-Morris, shofar at the ready, can teach her mom, JTA contributing writer Dasee Berkowitz, a few things at the High Holidays. calendar and Jewish ethics frame much of my behavior. Still, I seldom credit my observance to God. Judaism is important to me because it adds meaning to my life. And if I start speaking about God, I start to feel self-conscious, too "religious" and slightly fundamentalist. Then I notice how easily my kids speak about God. At 3, my son periodically gave a high five to God and "Coronation Day." In the rab- binic mind, the metaphor of crowning God as Ruler and giving God the right to judge our actions was a powerful way to galvanize Jews to do the hard work of repentance, or teshuvah. While the image of a King sitting in judgment might mo- tivate some, the Rabbis also knew that God is indescrib- able. Throughout the.liturgy, they struggled to find other explained to others what a images that might penetrate blessing was. "A bracha," he would say, "is like a group hug." With his simple young mind, he experienced both a level of intimacy with God and recognized that connecting to God helps one develop a sense of intimacy with others. Rabbis call Rosh Hashanah the hearts of those who pray. The famous medieval piyut (liturgical poem) "Ki Anu Amekha" portrays God as a parent, a shepherd, a creator and lover. The images continued to proliferate in modern times. The theologian Mordechai YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS! 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The liturgy on Rosh Hasha- nah challenges us to confront the meaning of God in our lives and then develop a level ofjntimacy with the Ineffable. While I am still not sure what God is, I am coming to appre- ciate the view that God is what inspires us to live our lives in service to others. Children have a natural ability to be awestruck. There is so little that they have ex- perienced in life that it must be easy for them to experi- ence wonder. We watch their delight as they find out how a salad spinner works, or when they find aworm squirming in the dirt, or when they observe how flowers change colors as they enter full bloom. These are not simply the sweet moments of childhood. These are ways of being that have deep theological reso- nance. t Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel recalls in "Who is Man" (1965), "Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the ref- erence everywhere to mystery beyond all things. It enables us... to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple: to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal." Would that we could de- velop that sense of awe by first simply noticing our surroundings instead o( be- ing preoccupied with what comes next. We can .make space this Rosh Hashanah to begin a journey toward wonder, whether you notice the can- tor's voice as she reaches a certain note, or hear the crackle of a candy wrapper, or connect to the sound of your own breathing during the standing silent Amidah prayer. Take a walk sometime during the High Holidays and notice the leaves on the trees, the sunlight refracting from a window, the taste of holiday food at a meal or the voice of a loved one. Notice the small things and consider for that moment that they have ulti- mate significance. Consider the concept that Rosh Hashanah marks the birth of the world.Act as if nothing existed before this moment. Slow down, focus in, be silent and you may experience awe. Children forgive easily, grown:ups not so much. The central work of the period of the High Holidays is teshu- vah, or return. We return to our better selves and make amends with those whom we have hurt in some way. Every year I recognize how uncomfortable I am to ask for forgiveness from family mem- bers, peers and colleagues. "So much time has passed" or "I'm sure they forgot about that incident" are common rationalizations I offer. What takes an adult days, weeks or even years to let go of resentment takes children a matter of minutes before they are back to laughing with those with whom they once were angry. While it might be difficult to coax an "I'm sorry" from a child's lips, they rebound quickly. It is a lesson for us. Children offer their love freely. I am overwhelmed daily with the unbridled love that my 2 1/2-year-old daughter unleashes toward me as she jumps into my arms, hair flying, at the end of each day. For many adults, the doors of possibility seem to close more and more with every passing year. In contrast, the ecstatic joy and free spirit that children nat0rally exude is a lesson in being open to the fullness of what life can offer. This Rosh Hashanah, let the children be our 'teachers. As we do teshuvah, let's return to a simpler time and the more childlike parts of ourselves-- when a relationship with God was intimate, when awe came easy, when we didn't harbor resentments and when the door was open wide to forgive and to love. Dasee Berkowitz is a con- tributing writer to JTA. Lost in translation By Tami Lehman,Wilzig Back when I was growing up, the modern State of Israel was th center of the Jewish 'universe. It was at the core of being Jewish, tucked inside the greater American-Jewish identity. There were no con- tradictions. Jews were solid U.S. citizens, equally proud of their American heritage. But the.brutal sting of the Holocaust which had hit home more often than not, made the establishment and continuity of the Jewish state a prerequisite of daily life. Having just spent a semes- ter sabbatical in the United States, I unfortunately have witnessed a different state of American Jewry. Jews have never been so successful; the urge to integrate has seam- lessly transitioned into as- similation. The result? Today Israel is a blip on the Jewish- American radar screen, and for many there's a definite disconnect. When I brought this up to one rabbi his re- sponse was more troubling than I expected. "The discon- nect you sense," he explained, "is a byproduct of the general disconnect to Judaism." A cleric of a flourishing con- gregation, he confessed that he felt more like an entertain- ment director than a rabbi. "I have to constantly think up new gimmicks to draw the crowd in," he elaborated, while admitting that without the constant beat of bar/bat mitzvah celebrations bring- ing in hundreds at a time, weekly attendance would be down to a drizzle. Certainly, similar worries existed when my generation was growing up. Still, back then American Jews under- stood that with or without Israel, they were part of a nation within a nation. Un- fortunately, this fact seems to have been lost in translation over the past few decades. Not with the minority "who send their children to Jewish day schools, but with the majority shepherding their children to synagogue religious schools, if at all. It's not their fault alone. This latter educational framework either fell asleep at the wheel, or did not have the resources to ignite a sense of pride. While the holiday cur- riculum is important, it's become too humdrum and detached from the students' own lives. In this digital age with kids seeking links, what better tie-in for educators than Judaism's contribution to day-to-day living in the Western World. Believe it or not there are some techies who do a better job at getting this message across. Take Tiffany Shlain. A filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards, she was cited by Newsweek as "One of the Women Shaping the 21st century." Shlain declared sundown Friday t sundown Saturday to be her personal "Technology Shabbat." She explains on her blog: "The idea of taking one day a week off from responsibilities and work is a very, very, very old idea." What makes Shabbat so special? Tiffany hits the nail on the head: "Unplugging for a day makes time slow down and makes me feel very pres- ent with my family. I not only appreciate this quality time with my family, but it has also made me appreciate technol- ogy in a whole new way." Succinctly said. A day of rest removes stress, provid- ing time for a fresh and new perspective. That's the kind of "disconnect" Jewish professionals should be pro- moting; precisely the type of "assimilation" Jewish clerics should be encouraging. It's all about the ABCs of Jewish life and the gifts Judaism has given the world: the concept of a day of rest; the founda- tion for a socially just legal system; a commandment to respect one's parents and an annual reminder every Yom Kippur not to cast us away in our old age; an ecologi- cal love of the land coupled with humane treatment of animals. The list of ancient Jewish commandments and .values that are part and parcel of modern day life is impressive indeedl And the holidays? For those into meditation, noth- ing beats the soul-searching of Rosh Hashanah and Yore Kippur. Organic produce lovers should be directed to the harvest-dedicated holi- days of Sukkot and Shavuot; creatively ouple them with the Biblical laws of Shmita and Orlah and you have" a show stopper of a lesson. This is the kind of reverence Judaism deserves if it is to be properly translated into 21st century life. And then, once American Jews proudly reconnect with their religious-cultural heri- tage, bonding with the Jewish state and the greater Jewish nation will be a mere hop and skip away. Tami Lehman-Wilzig is an awardwinning, Jew- ish content children's book author. She has written 10 books and I children's book app. Her 11th book, Stork's Landing, will be coming out fall 2014. Visit her website: