Jeremiah Gems: Sanctuary

Thoughts from our community members, leading up to the High Holy Days

Jeremiah Gems: Sanctuary

As we enter the Hebrew month of Elul -- the month leading up to the High Holy Days -- it is a time to reflect on the past year. This year, we will be using our new High Holy Day prayerbook (machzor) for the first time, entitled Mishkan HaNefesh, which translates to "Sanctuary of the Soul."

In our "Jeremiah Gems: Sanctuary" series, you'll read short reflections from members of our Jeremiah community, published daily during the month of Elul.

13 September 2015

The physical sanctuary space


Unlike the majority of the individuals who have written about “sanctuary” throughout Elul and have touched on spirituality, their connection with family, or even the warmth of the holidays, I view sanctuary in a physical way. Part of my role here is tending to the physical sanctuary space that we gather in to learn and pray. As the congregation soaks in the sermon at Erev Shabbat Worship, I am scanning the room to see if there is someone who might be struggling to see because the lights are too dim. I listen for faults like “pops” and “hissing” from the microphone. I can smell and taste if the air is too warm for comfort. I am fulfilled as a Jew knowing that I can make someone else’s Jewish experience meaningful.

12 September 2015

Sanctuary much!


“Sanctuary much!” Growing up in one of the punniest families I know, this was a common saying between me and my mom as we entered synagogue together when I was younger. Her sister wrote the LA Times Sunday crossword puzzle for 30 years, so wordplay definitely runs in the family.

11 September 2015

Let’s not take ourselves too seriously


When I hear the word “sanctuary” the first thing I think about is The Simpsons. In one of my favorite episodes Homer is being pursued by the bloodthirsty minions of PBS (who are sponsored by the Chubb Group). In an attempt to evade his pursuers he runs into the church yelling, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” He ends up being sent as a missionary to a remote tropical island and the usual Simpsons silliness ensues (the episode is called “Missionary: Impossible” if you would like to watch it). What does this have to do with Elul or the High Holy Days? Maybe nothing. Or, perhaps, it is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of approaching this time of year with joy and even a little levity.

10 September 2015

Sanctuary on the Edens Expressway


I absolutely love working at Temple Jeremiah, and I also love the neighborhood where I live – Lakeview, almost 20 miles away from Jeremiah. For many, an hour-long commute could seem like a nightmare; but for me, it’s my own personal sanctuary.

09 September 2015

Those who hold me


What a lovely place this is -- my perfect sanctuary. I feel so free here. It is warm and spacious. I am able to bounce and dance and kick and sleep. All my needs are taken care of. It is, however, often a bit noisy in here. First of all, there is a rhythmic pattern of vibrations -- not bad, once you get used to it. But then, there is a rumble now and then. It is not unpleasant, I suppose, and besides, is soon followed by more food for me. Right now, I cannot see very much, but, since it is so dark, it does not matter.

08 September 2015

You'll never walk alone


We all have ups and downs in our lives and looking back over the past 61 years, I'd say thankfully I have had more ups than downs. A low point in my life, however, occurred in 1988 when I realized my marriage was in trouble. I was going to join the statistics of divorced women. I was afraid, I was stressed, and I felt very much alone.

06 September 2015

Sanctuary: A poem


A canopied umbrella in the rain
My grandmother’s arms
The swing beneath the grand elm tree

05 September 2015

Fear of the unknown


To me, “sanctuary” evokes feelings of comfort and familiarity. In reflecting on this word the last few days, I have been considering the plight of Syrian refugees and the freedoms afforded in our country. In spite of the crimes regularly appearing in the local and national news, I generally don’t think much too much about my own safety at home. I feel protected by our laws, protected by the overall wealth of our country and our opportunities.

04 September 2015

Sanctuary is in the music


In the Conservative synagogue in New York where my family belonged, the rabbis seemed to come and go. But Cantor Stambler was the constant. Despite the horrors he experienced as a Hungarian refugee, his spirit was unmatched. He knew how to connect with kids who would have preferred to be anyplace but Hebrew school. Whether it was the “Who can find the Hebrew word first” game during the mini-Musaf service at the end of the Hebrew school day – always with a piece of delicious candy waiting for the winner. Or whether it was his kindness and patience when teaching Bar/Bat mitzvah students their Torah/Haftarah portions. Or whether it was his seemingly ever-present smile. But mostly I remember the songs he sang, the prayers he chanted. I can still hear his voice – bold, rich, sweet – no microphone, no organ, all heart. To this day, those songs, those prayers, that music, create sanctuary for me.

03 September 2015

Moments in time and space


Many summers ago, I was teaching microbiology to nursing students during the day. We covered the subject from sub-atomic particles to viruses, bacteria, fungi, and helminthes. Some are so tiny. Since the classes were over by mid-afternoon, it gave me the opportunity to go up the road and take Astronomy at Northwestern at night. There we observed objects so large and spaces so vast that they were difficult to comprehend. So, what does this have to do with the concept of sanctuary for an individual larger than a microbe by far and smaller than space by far? I thought about my place in the universe for many years.

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