Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's Art, It's Renewal: Jewels of Elul

This post is part of Jewels of Elul, which celebrates the Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days of the month of Elul to growth and discovery in preparation for the coming high holy days. This year the program is benefiting Beit T'shuvah, a residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. You can subscribe on Jewels of Elul to receive inspirational reflections from public figures each day of the month. You don’t have to be on the blog tour to write a blog post on “The Art of Beginning... Again.” We invite everyone to post this month (August 11th - September 8th) with Jewels of Elul to grow and learn.

It's Day 3 of Elul, Do You Know Where Your Apples & Honey Are?

The inspiration for this post, "The Art of Beginning ... Again," gives me a very literalist punch, and I hate being a literalist (don't tell the rabbis), but I can't help it; art has always been the gas in the automobile of life for me (nice, eh?). When I think about art, it's a frenzied, frenetic examination of emotions and thoughts splattered together onto one ginormous canvas. The canvas, for some, is literally a canvas. For others its a wall or a newsprint page or a spiral-bound notebook. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an artist, the traditional kind with pencils and charcoal and clean white sheets of paper filled with images of people and plants and animals and life. I figured out in high school that that dream wasn't necessarily realistic because my emotions had started to plant their feet in the written word. In college, still, I found words the most beautiful art out there, and I began, again, in the form of spoken word -- slam poetry. I discovered a power in words I'd never known before, and then slowly they seeped back onto the page in the form of this blog. My new canvas. The art, then, is life, and the canvas, is this blog. Every time I sit to write a new blog post, it's as if I'm planning the next great masterpiece, the work that will catch every reader's heart and pull. My thoughts, frenzied and frenetic still, find their way onto new avenues each day, with each post, in the form of Judaism. Jewish thought. Israel. Judaism in academia. Jewish food, observance, quirks. The art is ... beautiful.

I've discovered that this art of mine allows me to begin again each and every day, or sometimes twice a week, or sometimes less often -- life, you know, gets in the way of art. But I consider myself blessed. I don't have to wait until Elul each year to reflect and learn from my every-step in life. Like many bloggers in this series, I went back and looked at all of my past Elul posts over the four years of this blog, and the funny thing is that I really get into Elul. Although, shouldn't I? I've had more beginnings and start-agains in my life than I can count. More schools and homes and addresses and cities and friends and religious awakenings than can easily be enumerated here. And, of course, there's the two conversions I pushed myself through, which are ultimate steps in teshuvah (repentance, or returning) that only begin when steps are taken out of the mikvah. I look at every day as a chance for renewal, reevaluation, a reconsideration of who I am and where I'm going, based largely on where I've been, who I've touched, and how I've moved others to move myself.

This blog, for me, makes that happen. You, the readers, who constantly push and question and -- yes, sometimes -- infuriate me, make considering me possible. And, of course, there's always the text in my banner (שמע יי קולי אקרא וחנני וענני) that comes from Psalm 27, which Jews the world-over read every morning of Elul, that translates very roughly (and colloquially) as "Hey, G-d, I'm calling out, so be gracious to me, hear me, answer me!" Elul, then, is like one big, ginormous (man I love that word) experience of renewal and questioning, turning toward G-d and G-d turning toward us. It's like the last chance to ask yourself where you're going and who you are and what you want to be in the new year.

But if there's one thing I've learned about renewal and fresh starts, about beginning again, it's that it isn't a once-a-year occurrence. At least, it shouldn't be. Jews are blessed with the big holiday- and reflection-filled months of Elul and Tishrei where we ask for forgiveness, reflect on ourselves and our pasts and future, and ultimately get written into that big book of life or death that G-d keeps tugged away (surely) in his jeans pocket. And it's important to artfully and carefully extend ourselves, especially during Elul. But every day, every word that escapes our mouths, every step we take, every conversation we have, they're all chances for renewal and fresh starts. It's never not a good time to consider who you are, where you've been, and how you're going to move forward.

Happy renewal, folks. Use your own art as a form of exploration and expression, and let me know how it turns out in 5771.

Also: If you're interested in reading a few of my Elul blog posts, click on the year and you'll be transported to Chaviva of Years Gone By! 2009 AND 2006