Summer vacation – a quiet time for synagogue life while many of us scatter to our various vacation spots, near and far. Some opine that God has gone on vacation in the summer, feeling the stillness of the synagogue, especially in August.

But it couldn’t be further from the truth. The glory of the ocean, the grandeur of the mountains, the companionship of friends, the joy of family time together and more – all resonate with heightened spiritual potential. The time “off” that we may squeeze out, whether it is a day, a weekend, or weeks, is a restful window into Shabbat, as we separate from the daily stresses of our ordinary lives. There is holiness there.

Some of us have spent time at Jewish camps or on trips to Israel that offer an organic Jewish rhythm of time around the sacred space of Shabbat. In the enveloping space, we find joyful, contemplative prayer. Some of our CBH kids have come home from Camp JRF telling me that their favorite part is “Shabbat.” They have internalized the power of these experiences. Folks coming back from Family Camp and trips to Israel are often filled with a sense of awe that wasn’t attainable in other parts of their lives.

So here we are, with summer about to end, and the spiritual air is electric. It is about to be Rosh Hashanah. How can we collect all of those sacred sparks and make the entrance into the New Year spiritually rich, engaging, meaningful and awe-some?

It is time to prepare. The final month of the year, Elul, is dedicated to self-reflection, in anticipation of the season of change and repentance. How can we bring the rested, spiritually alive, joy-filled experiences of summer to this contemplation? How can we hold onto the feeling of replenishment when we enter the season of new beginnings?

First, we can remain present. This takes conscious effort, but it’s well worth it. Use the time with family and friends to talk about the best experiences of summer and the opportunities for growth afforded by vacations. Share photos and keep them visually present in our homes and offices – the memories don’t have to fade as soon as we get back to school and work. This August I just made an album of the photos from last summer’s Vermont hiking trip that I took with my kids. Upon seeing it, my younger said remarked that he had no memory of there even being a camera on the trip. We smiled together as the pictures took us back to those four days up a mountain in the rain. We did it – together. Remembering it was like fuel for the upcoming days when we would all scatter once again to our separate and busy lives.

Second, we can bring the joy, the quiet, the love and friendship, and the warmth of summer to our High Holy Day worship. The High Holy Days are called “The Days of Awe”. Celebrating the metaphorical “Birthday of the World”, our hearts open to awe, gratitude and humility. This is where we find God – through the open-hearted feeling of wonder at the gift of life and possibilities for renewal of spirit each year, even each day.

Our Days of Awe are a re-creation of the spontaneous, multi-sensory experiences of prayer that grab us in the spaces between the tasks of our lives. Now we just have to remain awake – spiritually –to feel the transformation that awaits us in those experiences. Elul is a time to prepare – but not necessarily by a sharp turn in spiritual consciousness. Coming at the end of the summer, Elul is a call to remember and hold dear the touching moments of quiet. Now we are ready – it is time for the call of the shofar to move us to the next level. May it be filled with holiness, transformation, possibilities, and joy.

Leshanah Tovah U’me’tukah,
Warm wishes for a sweet and happy New Year.