Teachings and Intentions

The 10 days from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) though Yom Kippur (the day of attonement) are called the 10 Days of Teshuva or the Yamim Nora'im, meaning the 10 days of return or the 10 days of holiness/awesomeness. That name, Yamim Nora'im is where the phrase High Holy Days comes from, or more colloquially, High Holidays. Additionally, the Shabbat (Sabbath) in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called as the the Sabbath of Return, or Shabbat Shuva in Hebrew.

What does Sabbath of Return mean? This can raise a lot of questions. Who is returning? Why? What for? Is it just about humans or what about G*d? The way that I think about is this. It's all of the questions and all of the possible answers. It's the earth turning, it's the seasons changing, it's people returning to synagogue each year, it's G*d turning G*d's attention back to us when we turn our attention to G*d, it's us turning towards ourselves to take an honest look at our lives, it's each of us coming back to our families or loved ones, or coming home to our truest selves.

I'll add one more meaning. This afternoon, before getting ready for Shabbat, I dusted off my yoga mat and rolled it out. I got back on my mat, and immediately my body sank down into a child's pose and just started breathing. It's like I hadn't been breathing until I stepped back onto the mat. My breath deepened, my body, moved, I began to sweat, I picked up the pace and then slowed down again. As I began to move through my asana (movement) practice, my breath synced up with the movements. Inhaling as my limbs expanded, exhaling as my body contracted.

A thought arose during my practice. Wow. It feels so good to come back to my practice. Truth be told, it had been a while. Spiritual and physical practices ebb and flow, but it had really been while. But I was almost surprised how good it felt just right coming back to my practice.

And then, another thought arose. Shabbat Shuva.

Shabbat of Return.

Returning to my yoga practice, turning to my self-care, returning to my body and breath. It felt so good to be doing this just for myself. Something purely for my own health.

After my practice, I laid on my mat a little longer instead of getting up right away after savasana (final resting pose). I put on one of my favorite Kirtan (Sanskrit chanting) songs, Baba Hanuman, by Krishna Das, and I just allowed my body to move and breath. My hands moved like a conductor, then swam through the air. I lifted my legs as though I was dancing. And just enjoyed my body moving in any way it wanted to. I didn't think too much except to notice how free, peaceful, and joyous I felt.

Shabbat Shuva.

Coming back to my practice.

Coming back to myself.

Coming back to my soul.

And maybe that's what Shabbat Shuva is all about. However you get there, it's about returning however you need to. It's about returning to your soul however you get there.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Sending blessings on this last Shabbat of the Jewish year 5778 as we prepare to enter the new year 5779 on Sunday evening, with the start of Rosh Hashanah. May you find new growth, deep meaning, joy, creativity, and love in the coming year.

Monday, September 10, 2018 - I'll be leading family services for the New Synagogue Project. The service will include a guitar, fun songs, a story for Rosh Hashanah, shofar blowing, and apples and honey. It's not too late to register for services (tickets are free/donations appreciated) with this start up congregation in Petworth. The main service is led by NSP's founder Rabbi Joseph Berman and guest Rabbi Monica Gomery (classmates of mine from rabbinical school!). Visit their website to sign up: https://newsynagogueproject.org/

Looking for some Rosh Hashanah resources you can use at home with friends or family? For funny, irreverent, secular-spiritual resources to download from JewBelong.com, click here.

For easy to use/print free Holiday booklets from InterfaithFamily to use at a meal or gathering, click here.

If you are looking for a full body ritual to prepare yourself fully for entering the Jewish New Year, or spiritually getting ready for Yom Kippur, or another life transition, consider making an appointment to at the mikvah for a ritual immersion in water. Visit adasisrael.org/mikvah for more info and to schedule. (Please note, the mikvah is not open on Shabbat or Jewish holidays).


This Sunday is the full moon of the month of Elul, my favorite month of the calendar because it's all about spiritual preparation. It's the time for starting to look towards Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Sunday, September 9. For tips, suggestions, resources for writing prompts and reflection questions, read my most recent blog post on Rosh Chodesh Elul.

What can the full moon tell us?

In the Jewish calendar, the new moon is the first of the month and the full moon is the 15th of the month. The full moon or the 15th is half way through the month. Looking up and noticing the full moon of Elul reminds us that Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New year is in 2 weeks!

For those of us who always feel like the Jewish High Holidays sneak up on us no matter how late they are, you may be thinking, ONLY TWO WEEKS?! You may be busy with the end of summer, getting back from vacation and the start of the school year, new job or family responsibilities, and overall feeling like it's a crazy time of year. Well it is.

For others, you may be thinking, oh, good, I've still got two whole weeks to get ready. That's still two weeks of summer, labor day, and time do some journalling and intention setting for the New Year. And figure out how you want to observe and celebrate the high holidays this year.

The full moon of Elul is reminder to set aside some time to be in nature, reflect on the year gone by, and check in with yourself. Check in with your self-care, your habits, your relationships - and - think about where you need to let go, reach out, or make amends. Then, notice what you feel like. Do you feel lighter, freer, more grounded, more ready for what's next? Does this process allow you to make some space in your life for what you really want?

So, we've got two more weeks til Rosh Hashanah. As one of my coaches, Pleasance Silicki, teaches: you've got all the time you need. In fact you've probably got more time than you think. You've got 168 hours each week, how do you want to use those? Just make sure you're using your time in the way that is best for you and your life.

How will you use your time during the next two weeks of Elul?

Shabbat Shalom and warmest wishes,

Rabbi Sarah

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The Hebrew month of Elul begins August 11-12 with the new moon. Rosh Chodesh Elul (literally head of the month or beginning of the month) marks the turning of the seasons toward the Jewish new year which will fall a month later with Rosh Hashanah on Sunday September 9th.

The month of Elul is a time for reflection, meditation, and "spiritual accounting" of the soul (in Hebrew, Cheshbone Hanefesh). This means taking stock of the year gone by, what went well and what didn't, considering relationships and where you might need to make amends or do some repair work, and how well you did with the goals you may have set for yourself last year. All of this spiritual preparation is necessary for entering the upcoming new year with a clean slate, as your best self, with room to set new goals and intentions for who you want to be in the world.


That sounds intense!

Well, yes, it can be.

That's why we have a whole month for this spiritual work. One of my coaches talks often about this hard reflection stuff. The act of examining oneself, really holding up a mirror, is not easy. That's why Byron Katie calls it doing "The Work". It's not supposed to be easy. But through this process of self-inquiry and reflection, we can grow.

A month seems like a long time, but it goes by fast, especially with vacations, getting ready to go back to school, new life transitions and everything else that comes with the changing of the seasons.

I encourage you to set aside sometime during Elul. Perhaps it's once a week or once a day to do some journaling and reflection. If you're new to a daily or month long practice like this, schedule the time on your calendar. Right now. Ask a friend to do it too and be accountability buddies. Or let me know how I can help you.

Here are some more Elul resources!

If you're gathering with a group for the month of Elul, check out At The Well's Elul Moon Manual with an article I wrote on mindful practices for Elul.

My spiritual writing teacher of over 10 years, the brilliant Merle Feld is now offering her weekly Elul writing prompts online at Starting on Sunday, August 12. View them here.

My friend, Rabbi Jordan Braunig has been offering daily Elul writing prompts for the last number of years. He writes, if you'd like to jump into our Elul journey, please fill out this form.

If you are looking for other Elul resources or personal Jewish life coaching, please let me know!

Warmest wishes,

Rabbi Sarah


I always thought the "Dog Days" of summer referred to the end of the summer, when days were long and hot. Images of folks sitting on the their front porches in rocking chairs drinking ice tea come to mind. Sometimes it's a Norman Rockwell painting or wafting memories of listening to the News from Lake Wobegan that are conjured in my mind. I can hear the whir of a fan or hum of an AC window unit in the distance as melted popsicle juice runs down chins of the children running through the yard.

However, this year, I learned that the Dog Days refers to the 40 days that fall more or less after summer solstice, beginning July 3rd and ending of August 11.

According to the The Old Farmers Almanac The phrase “Dog Days” conjures up the hottest, most sultry days of summer. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days: the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. The rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather (some of our hottest and most humid days occur after August 11), but for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile’s flooding, so they used the star as a “watchdog” for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time: “Dog Days bright and clear / indicate a happy year. / But when accompanied by rain, / for better times our hopes are vain.”

I love this Canis Major Constellation by Adam Johnson that I found on Pinterest.

This year, the official end of the Dog Days of summer coincides with the new moon of the Hebrew month of Elul, marking the beginning of the month of contemplation, meditation, and reflection before the Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Sunday September 9th, 2018 at sunset. The month of Elul is a time for spiritual preparation, in which we are to review the year gone by, work to repair relationships, and consider our deeds as we prepare for the New Year and the Days of Awe (which are the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Elul is also a time to begin thinking about our goals, intentions, and hopes for the year to come.

May your Dog Days be bright and clear bringing with it a happy new year.

Happy Summer!

Rabbi Sarah

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According to the Jewish calendar, each month begins on the new moon and is a time for learning about the wisdom of that month and setting an intention. Each month has attributes and characteristics that often correspond to the season. The month of Av falls at the height of summer in the northern hemisphere and can be a difficult month. The holiday of Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av) commemorates the destruction of the Temple and many terrible things in history. For many, the three weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av are considered a time of mourning. However, the energy of the month shifts on the full moon as we celebrate Tu B'Av (the 15th of Av) or the closest thing to Jewish Valentines Day when matches were made. It may feel like a roller coster of emotions as we move from brokenness to wholeness, destruction to love. Notice your energy and emotions.

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In honor of the summer solstice, I offered a Summer Refresh Art and Yoga retreat on June 22 at the Center for Mindful Living. Here is a recap of some of the tools I shared for keeping calm and cool when the heat of summer feels like it's at full blast. Let me know if any of these tips have helped you or if you have other practices.

  • Pranayama (yogic breathing) called Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing. If you need a refresher, check out this video from Yoga with Adrienne (I love her yoga videos as well - great for practicing at home and special topics). This is great for relaxing or before you meditate or practice yoga. It is also especially good if you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. It can also help clear sinuses, deepening the breath and support immunity. Try it for 5-10 minutes and see how you feel. Even just closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to let the body, mind, and breath settle can be so helpful.
  • Restorative and Gentle Yoga is grounding, relaxing, calming and cooling to the body. This is great to practice at any time, but especially in the summer when it is best to avoid hot yoga or higher-intensity yoga. You can utilize pillows and blankets you have at home and experiment with what poses feel good. Even a few minutes on your mat to move the body, lubricate the joints and match breath with movement can be great for you and support flexibility. Check out these resources from Yoga Journal that you can do at home.
  • Essential Oils - these are natural plant and herb essences that are used for aromatherapy, healing ailments, and to support your overall health and wellbeing. Some are invigorating and some are relaxing, and others have specific benefits and uses. I shared frankincense (all powerful, healing, and good before prayer or meditation), lavender (de-stress), peppermint (cool down, lowers fever, aids digestion), tangerine (fresh citrus, pick me up), and breathe (opens the sinuses). You can learn more at Doterra.com or ask me any questions. If you are interested in buying some essential oils there are two brands I recommend: Doterra and Young Living. Those are two reputable and respected companies that produce high quality essential oils. But don't be surprised that they aren't inexpensive. I purchased a Family Essentials Kit (10 bottles) from Doterra in 2012 and it hasn't run out yet. If you are interested in exploring these more or have questions, feel free to let me know. You can also find less expensive brands at Whole Foods and many other retailers including TJ Maxx but I cannot vouch for the other brands.
  • Rose Water Spray can be nice in the summer for a refresh and to keep skin hydrated. You can even find it at Trader Joe's.
  • Ayurveda - this is the sister science to yoga and it's all about self-care that is right for your body, your energy, your personality and your dosha (your mind-body-energy constitution). Learn more on the Banyan Botanical's website or let me know if you are curious or have questions. Additionally, each season is associated with a dosha. Summer is connected with Pitta, the dosha associated with fire. It's good to be mindful of this in the summer when the natural Pitta in all of us can be exacerbated.
  • Eat cooling, refreshing foods, especially seasonal fruits and veggies to balance the season of Pitta. You might find your appetite is different in the summer. See how you feel increasing season, cooling, water-filled fresh foods and minimizing hot, heavy foods. Watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, cucumbers, etc.

Shabbat Shalom! We had a wonderful day at the Summer Refresh Art and Yoga retreat. Hope you have a relaxing weekend.

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According to the Jewish calendar, each month begins on the new moon and is a time for learning about the wisdom of that month and setting an intention. Each month has attributes and characteristics that often correspond to the season.

Iyar is a month of healing as the name of the month is an acronym in Hebrew for "Ani Adonai Rofecha" meaning "I am G*d your healer." What kind of healing do you need this month? As you take a few deep breaths, consider your mind, body and spirit. How can you nourish each of those parts of yourself? What kind of self-care can you do to support your own healing? Who can you ask for support in your healing journey?

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According to the Jewish calendar, each month begins on the new moon and is a time for learning about the wisdom of that month and setting an intention. Each month has attributes and characteristics that often correspond to the season.

Sivan is a month of warmth, springtime, flowers blooming, and unification (which makes it a popular time for weddings). We also celebrate the holiday of Shavuot this month and commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. As you notice the flowers and trees, the weather becoming warmer, take some deep breaths. What is the Torah (instruction) you want to receive? What teaching do you need in your life now? Breathe deeper and you make space in your heart to receive.