Growing up, Pollyanna was one of my favorite books. I so loved the little girl who saw the bright side in everything. It was until I got older that I realized that the word “Pollyanna” had become a pejorative, as in “You’re such a Pollyanna,” or “That’s a bit Pollyannaish, don’t you think?” My glass-half-empty family and friends tried to lure me to the dark side – for my own protection, of course – by telling me that if I expected the worst I would never be disappointed. I persisted with my rosy outlook, with the lifelong motto that “no experience is a bad experience;” believing that the worse the experience, the more I would grow and learn.
It wasn’t until I started studying Mussar that I found a community of fellow optimists (or at least optimists-in-training) who were committed to searching for the good. Mesillat Yesharim became my new favorite book when I read in the Preface that “saintliness is latent in the character of every person.” Yes! I was hooked on Ramchal by page five. (Actually, to be honest, I knew Rev Luzzatto and I would be friends from the first line of the book: “I have not written this book to teach the reader anything new.” This resonated with me because I also believe that the best education draws out our innate wisdom rather than assuming we are empty vessels to be filled, but I digress).
And so, naturally, I have tried to find some silver lining to this horrible pandemic while not minimizing the tragic loss of life and livelihood of so many people around the globe. For me, as you may have read in my July message, it is finding new ways to connect with people virtually. Just yesterday, I was Facetiming on my iPad with my 4-year-old granddaughter when my 3-year-old grandson called me on Google Hangouts on my computer and we had a 3-way storytime of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (also one of my favorite books).
As we enter the month of Elul, it is beginning to dawn on me that the High Holy Day season will be quite different this year, but for me, that’s not such a bad thing. The truth is, I am a wandering Jew, having not been tethered to any one congregation for the past few years. My husband and I became empty nesters and moved into Center City Philadelphia three years ago and joined a very small congregation, while still retaining membership in our old suburban congregation in New Jersey. I also have been drawn to special contemplative or social justice services at other area congregations, as well as programs online and in the community. It has been a privilege to learn in such a vast community. This year, I will be expanding that circle to include my CCM community as well.
As of this writing, over 188 people from across the country have registered for our Elul program – ‘Preparing Our Souls for the High Holy Days.’ Last week, on Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Stone, Carol Daniels, Sonia Voynow and I taught an online series of workshops on Mussar at the NewCAJE conference, in which about 180 people participated. It is so heartening to know that CCM is able to engage so many people in integrating the teachings of Mussar during this period of reflection and transformation.
Starting this week, I am thrilled that the CCM community will have the unique opportunity of wandering the country – to Ashland, OR, Los Angeles, CA, Minneapolis, MN, New York, NJ and Philadelphia, PA — to study with the excellent rabbis of CCM’s Rabbinic Advisory Board who will be teaching our Elul series. I look forward to joining you in engaging in Cheshbon Hanefesh – an accounting of the soul – with you over the coming weeks.
As we enter this time of new beginnings, may we all find our glasses full to the brim with appreciation and gratitude for the gift of Mussar in our lives.