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Elul: Cycles of Mourning and Memory

Every Thursday at noon, one of the Lab/Shul ritual team takes turns facilitating a sacred circle of community called the Virtual Kaddish Call. It’s an opportunity for folks to call in from all over the world to ground themselves with others who are traveling the path of mourning, and those who support them.  I have not only facilitated each third week of the month but I have also benefited from the community as a recent mourner. 

I would like to dedicate this teaching to my mom’s memory – Madalyn (Naiman) Less – who would have turned 79 today, August 18. 

While my mom wasn’t terribly Jewishly literate (she joked that she tried to learn Hebrew three times and failed) she absolutely prioritized Jewish learning for my siblings and me – she modeled life-long learning through her participation in the Melton program and the monthly study group she and my dad have been a part of since I was 10 (and they are still going strong). 

We are just days away from entering Elul – the 6th month – and Elul has some practices that I think connect to our mourning, grieving and memory practices. 

I’d like to highlight three such customs of Elul:

1. the shofar is blown every morning till (and through) Rosh hashana – waking us up to being present, to who we were this past year and who we want to grow to be in the coming year. And part of that wake up is the acknowledgment of time passing – including those who are no longer with us. 

2. The word Elul is an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3).

I think that there is the opportunity to look for belovedness in our hearts – to search for and draw in memories of our beloved ones and to connect to the larger love in the world and in the divine, however you understand it. 

3. Some folks say Psalm 27 each day which includes the powerful meditative line “shivti b’beit Adonai kol y’mei chayai” – loosely translated as – sitting in the house of Adonai all the days of our life – in a God-optional way, what does it mean to be present to divineness every day? To find that source within our houses (our bodies and souls) and to be part of a larger house – including this house of mourners gathered such as the one gathered in sacred circle at our Virtual Kaddish yesterday. 

Also – during this time many folks go to visit the graves or memorials or place dedicated to their loved ones who have passed. There’s a cyclical consciousness of the year coming around and of time passing which, at least for me, means time further away from the time my mother was  physically with me. So it’s not a surprise during this period of time for a fresh round of grief, longing or different memories to surface. And to take that all in and breathe it out with self love and compassion. 

So I invite you on August 21 to step into Elul – whether through some of these ancient spiritual practices and technologies or rituals and moments that you create for yourself. 

And thank you for the deep privilege of teaching in honor of my mom’s memory. May her memory live on through her quality of greeting each person you see with a cheerful disposition. 

– Naomi Less
Associate Director and Director of Storahtelling