Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Elul 5771: Renewing Our Days at Freedom Ridge Ranch
The Jewish year 5771 has been a year of changes. This has been reflected in my blog, in my daily life and in our family's approach to Jewish life. Last year, I completely missed writing a post about Elul at all, and the posts about our Jewish holidays have been short or entirely missing. Although we did celebrate them, our celebrations were different--especially in the springtime of the year, when we were caught up in the most protracted move I have ever made, complicated as it was by the Engineering Geek's retirement, surgery and frequent travel. However, this summer--as we got settled here on the ranch--we began some practices for our Jewish life way out here, far from any organized form of communal life.
Change, even good change, even planned change, is hard. It is endings and beginnings. For me, starting a business, investing in that business, buying property, moving out of a house I loved, learning, learning, learning--sometimes the hard way--all of these things create a lot of emotional stress. For the EG, retiring from a career at the National Labs, a work environment that was becoming increasingly bureaucratic and difficult to fit himself into, leaving the work itself--which he loved, learning how to organize his own work, forming his own Engineering firm and dealing with the financial changes this all entailed created stress that matched and exceeded mine. For the CIT, making the decision to move to a new school in mid-year, making that move, meeting new people, adjusting to small-town life, planning for life after high school, and taking a great deal of responsibility for animals and the infrastructure of the ranch, all made for his own adjustments.
The confluence of all of these individual changes definitely put great stress on each set of individual relationships--husband to wife, wife to husband; mother to son, son to mother; step-father to step-son, step-son to stepfather--and there was a great deal of family turmoil as all of these relationships had to be negotiated anew. For not only are the parents transitioning to a new phase of life--retirement, new work and new plans, but so is the boy becoming a man, planning his next moves, working out how to be up and out and yet remaining attached to the ranch, work that he wishes to inherit.
And of course, there is also everything that is happening in the outside world, a world that is becoming increasingly unstable as it approaches a Crisis period, the Fourth Turning of the Saeculum. Increasing financial stress upon our country, and the crash of economies in other countries; the increasingly dire realization that--like it or not--there is an implacable enemy out there that threatens our country and our world; and for us, the rise of the oldest hatred, the virulent antisemitism, expressed this time through a threat to the very existence of Medinat Yisrael--the Jewish State.
As the world labors to enter a new cycle of seasons, as the generations enter new phases of their own lives, and as we make huge changes, we have found the need to establish new ways of reconnection to our heritage and our religion. All these stresses, coming together as they are, require a strong central anchor, a place of coherence, in order for us to generate the faith in life and in ourselves so that we can weather what is coming with strength of spirit.
So as the physical requirements of the move receded into the past, and as spring became summer and the emotional turmoil began to manifest, we knew we had to establish a different kind of Jewish life. At one point in June, when the smoke hung in the air and the rumors of evacuation were upon us, we knew it was going to be divorce, murder or a positive evolution to our marriage. At this time, when it looked like we weren't going to survive ourselves, we happened to unpack our Ketubah--our marriage contract. And we read the contract we had made: to establish a household within the People Israel, and to nurture our lives through the cycles of Sabbaths and Holy Days.
So we began to turn again, a little earlier than Elul, or our Elul began a little before it begins formally. We are not certain which is true. So we each established for ourselves our own person ritual of prayer and study, more of less formal as we each felt we needed. As a family, we have always observed the Sabbath together, but during this past year it had become disorganized and perfunctory. Into this latent framework we breathed new life, making it a point to appreciate each other through the formal ritual of the Friday night Shabbat ritual. To this we added a casual, communal service on Shabbat morning, including Torah Study. As it has been summer, we have been praying this service together on the porch, developing our own minhag (custom) about who leads and who responds during the different prayers.
And then before we eat lunch, we make Shabbat morning Kiddush. And in the evening when three stars appear, we make Havdalah.
As always, I am amazed at the truth of the saying about Torah from Pirke Avot: "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it." Each week, the portion says something to us about the things we have been pondering, or about what is happening in the world. Soon we will celebrate Sukkot, our first here at the ranch, and this phenomenon of the eternal relevance of Torah to our lives and the life of the world is stated in the readings from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes): There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to events created out of the relationships of person to person and community to community.
There is nothing set in stone about this routine we are establishing. We still have to travel to Albuquerque to care for our house, to take care of other business, and to fulfill appointments. When we do, our comings and goings do not always go as planned. And so, when we are there instead of here, we reconnect with our now far-away Jewish community by attending Friday night services, and then having a more simple ritual at home.
There can be, we have discovered, Jewish life when one lives 30 miles from nowhere, and 200 miles from the nearest synagogue. The bands of connection to ritual life and community have to become elastic, and the ways that we relate to it must change. At the same time, we are learning that in some ways, those connections become more necessary and more important.
I have learned again that Jewish life changes with the lifecycle, that the cycle of the year and the circle of one's life are wheels within wheels, ever turning, bringing us back always to that stable and necessary center.
Blessed is the One who renews our days as in days of old.