Taking It to the Streets: Shofar Pilgrimage Elul 2020 Daily Chronicle

SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 29, September 18: Inner Ear

The shofar is not sounded on the final day of Elul but, in the silence, I looked inward and heard one in my mind’s ear. I have reached the end of my Elul pilgrimage, but not the end of my exploration. L’Shana Tova.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 28, September 17: Gates of Awe

“Open the gates of righteousness for me so I may enter them and praise the Eternal.” Psalms 118:19

פִּתְחוּ־לִ֥י שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶ֑דֶק אָֽבֹא־בָ֝ם אוֹדֶ֥ה יָֽהּ

Today is the final day the shofar is sounded until we welcome the new year. As we approach the open gates at the threshold of Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe, we have an opportunity to turn to the innovative spirit and resilience of our ancestors to find meaning and hope. My prayer is that this year, 5781, we discover new Gates of Awe to guide us.

Coming up On September by Marge Piercy

The New Year is a great door

that stands across the evening

and Yom Kippur is the second door. Between them

are song and silence, stone and clay pot

to be filled from within myself.

SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 27, September 16: Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial.

Today, I am standing at the Holocaust Memorial which honors those lost, and is also a tribute for Rhode Island’s remaining Holocaust Survivors. The Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial was created in response to all that we have lost and all that we have learned. By honoring the dead and celebrating the living, the mission of this memorial is to build a bridge from the past for young people and for all who seek insight, peace and solace. By providing a place for meaningful reflection, and by sharing the lessons of the Holocaust, we can only hope that the Memorial will help create a kinder world.

Also today, the Claims Conference, which coordinates restitution and reparations payments for Holocaust survivors and sponsors Holocaust education, published a survey. Trying to gauge Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z, a cohort ranging in age from 18 to 39, the survey determined that of 1,000 respondents across all 50 states, more than one in 10 American adults under 40 believes that Jews caused the Holocaust. 11% of the respondents believed the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust, 15% said they thought the Holocaust was a myth or has been exaggerated, and 20% said people talk about it too much. “If anything can, it is memory that can save humanity.” Elie Weisel

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 26, September 15: Black Lives Matter, downtown Providence. Today my pilgrimage intersects with art birthed in response to George Floyd’s murder, which launched this
summer’s series of Black Lives Matter marches of resistance, rage and grief. The shofar is indeed a call to action; let it be heard far and wide, and may Their Names reverberate in our collective consciousness.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 25, September 14: Temple Beth-El Providence. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” Like other synagogues, Beth-El is closed for in-person services. But a bonus of sounding shofar outdoors was the chance to really look at this striking column, by artist Jonathan Bonner: “Strength comes from the column’s cross-section, the Star of David.”

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 24, September 13: Sons of Jacob. I imagine it has been a long time since the shofar was sounded here, certainly not by a woman, but I did so today, in honor of this synagogue, constructed in 1906- the surviving remnant of what was once a large Jewish community in the Smith Hill neighborhood of Providence. The congregation which built it was formed in 1896 by Orthodox Jews who immigrated from Russia. During that same era nearly two dozen synagogues were chartered in the city, and this building is the last one standing. The Providence Journal reported in 1906 that thousands of people had lined the streets to cheer on the procession, led by a marching band and nearly 300 Hebrew school children, when Torah scrolls were transferred into the newly erected building. May efforts succeed to restore it to its former glory.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 23, September 12: The shofar is not sounded on Shabbat, but I looked over and saw one.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 22, September 11: 9/11 8:46 a.m. The 19th anniversary of the moment the first World Trade Center tower was hit. Living in New York then, the smell, sounds and sights of that day are forever branded on my soul. Today, in Providence, I am at the Wall of Hope, memorial tiles displayed outside the Convention Center, adjacent to a Covid testing center protected by uniformed Air Force, Army and an armored truck. The staff sergeant and his men stood when I sounded the shofar and saluted. They thanked me for my service.

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Shofar Pilgrimage Elul 21, September 10: Sic Transit, Kennedy Plaza Transportation Hub, Providence. Teresa, a health-care worker who was “killing time anyway” waiting for her bus, offered to film this video when she saw me setting up my tripod.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 20, September 9: Transparency. Brown University campus. Monument by Martin Puryear, 2014. “This memorial recognizes Brown University’s connection to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the work of Africans and African Americans, enslaved and free, who helped build our university, Rhode Island and the nation.”

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 19, September 8: Ten Thousand Suns, Providence. This public art installation affirms the the transformative and regenerative power of art. It is one of the many charms we encounter living in the Creative Capital. Ten Thousand Suns is a summer-long botanical performance started in the Summer of 2016 in which over 10,000 sunflower seeds were planted and nurtured over the course of the summer months on land that until recently sat under a highway, with high compaction, low-organic material, and embedded with toxicity.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 18, September 7: Miriam Hospital, Labor Day. Every single day is a day of awe and gratitude for the front-line workers everywhere who care for us.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 17, September 6: Masjid Al-Kareem Mosque, Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement, Providence. “In the Name of God, Most Widely Merciful, Most Deeply Merciful.” There is an unimaginable amount of work to do, and we must join hands to do it.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 16, September 5: On Shabbat, the shofar is not sounded but I looked across and saw one.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 15, September 4: JCS Kosher Nutrition, Jewish Alliance. Concluding the second week of my Elul pilgrimage sounding shofar for older adults arriving for lunch, vegan ice cream and connection provided generously by Kosher Nutrition Service, Neal Drobnis, JCS Kosher Nutrition Coordinator.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE 14, September 3: First Baptist Church of America, Providence. Today’s fog is slowly clearing, externally and internally. Sounding the shofar on the lawn of the spectacular First Baptist Church, founded in 1638 by Roger Williams. It remains a living monument to religious freedom.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 13, September 2: VOTE, Avenue Concept Mural, Ship Street, PVD Rain didn’t even come close to stopping me as I walked, with my shofar, to see the splendid new mural, just unveiled downtown. And rain must not stop any of you from voting on election day, whatever it takes. Four Rhode Island BIPOC artists, Angela Gonzalez, Kendel Joseph, Jessica Brown and ABOVE designed this powerful new work of public art that promotes civic engagement and citizenship. A lovely and inquisitive passerby ended up offering to record today’s sounding. I didn’t recognize his masked face at first, but my new friend turned out to be the remarkable Arnell Milhouse, Brown University’s Nelson Center Entrepreneur-in-Residence. See what can happen when you take a walk in the rain?

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 12, September 1: Underground passage, Providence Place. The subterranean spiritual work of Elul is uphill, crooked and disorienting. Twelve days in, without a map, other than my heart.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 11, August 31: The Potato Famine. “This Memorial is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1851. It also pays tribute to their immigrant descendants who, generation after generation, have so greatly enriched the life of America in general and of Rhode Island in particular.” Bound for America, in the wake of the Great Famine, thousands of sick, hungry and dispossessed people boarded “coffin ships” and embarked on the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the Bowl of Tears. Off of Dyer Street, at the intersection with Friendship Street is an alcove devoted to this period in human history, as is today’s sounding.  #rhodeislandirishfaminememorial

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 10, August 30: And the Temple shall be restored. Temple Emanu-El Providence, RI. Covid-19 has temporarily closed the doors of many religious institutions. The synagogue of today is an active, meaningful virtual space, although we all long for the in-person. In the meantime, although the grand sanctuary is empty, I felt like paying a visit to Emanu-El, to check in on the progress of its transformation, and to sound the shofar for phantom minyans.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 9, August 29: On the Sabbath, the shofar is not sounded but I looked out and saw one on the rocks.

non shofar

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 8, August 28: Swan Point Cemetery, Temple Emanu-el of Providence section. When I was a child, and frightened of a cemetery we’d drive by on weekly trips for dinner at my grandmother’s house, my father said, “There is nothing to be afraid of in there; it’s the living you need to worry about.” Today, unafraid, I sounded the shofar for those no longer with us, and anyone else within earshot. Maimonides heard this message in the shofar’s notes: “Awaken, ye sleepers, from your slumber, and ponder over your deeds; remember your Creator and return in penitence.”

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 7, August 27: Rush hour, Providence Amtrak Station. No one to be seen upstairs in the waiting area, or on the train platforms below. Taped, static announcements repeat on timer/loop reminding the requisite masks, and the arrival and departure times of empty trains no one is going to board.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 6, August 26: Water Place Park Basin. A young man came running toward me after I sounded the shofar today. He had heard it all the way over at Kennedy Plaza, where he had just gotten off the bus. When he heard the sound, he thought is was a call to him, a call to prophetic revelation. Kevin and I had a long talk about holiness and awe. He said the shofar inspired him to proselytize, which was what he had taken the bus here to do. I wished him well in his ministry.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 5, August 25: Prospect Terrace: Standing at the feet of Roger Williams the statue and above his remains buried in the ground below, today’s shofar sounding resonated with the past and the present. From Providence’s early days, this hilltop has been a strategic location. First the site of a beacon to communicate between settlements along the Narragansett Bay, it later became part of the fortification and defense of the area during the Revolutionary War. After I sounded the calls, a young woman thanked me, saying it was the first time she’d gotten to hear the shofar this season, and it had meant a lot to her. As my pilgrimage continues, I seek to connect, with those of all faiths, in shared moments of holiness, in the spirit of the founder of our state, and his devotion to tolerance and justice. Prospect Terrace Park

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE Elul 4, August 24: R.I. Statehouse, under the watchful eye of the Independent Man, and numerous masked tourists from Azerbaijan, and assorted picnickers. “To hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernment.”

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE: Elul 3, August 23: Pedestrian Bridge over the Providence River. Sun, sweat, gulls, gondolas, strong breeze, masked community.

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SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE: ELUL 2, August 22:  On Shabbat, the shofar is not sounded.    But I looked up, and saw one in the sky.  Downtown Providence.

cloud shofar

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  SHOFAR PILGRIMAGE: Elul 1, August 21: Courtyard, Stillman Street.   Embarking on a new project today, the first day of the month of Elul. During this month on the Hebrew calendar, leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the shofar is sounded in synagogues daily, except on the Sabbath. This practice serves as a ‘wake up call’ encouraging the spiritual reflection and inner work of preparation for transformation and renewal. This season, in the era of Covid 19, the synagogue venue is not possible. My Shofar Pilgrimage will entail a walk to a different location daily, in and around Providence, where I will sound the traditional calls of the shofar. It is considered a blessing to hear the shofar, and I hope it’s sound reaches people I encounter along my way, seen and unseen.

 
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, shoes, sunglasses and outdoor
 
 
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Elul: A Time to Search and Destroy

“It does not do to leave a dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul, the shofar is sounded every day except the Sabbath, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jews at the time months were first named, Elul means “search.”

The entire month, blasts of the shofar serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to begin our internal search- the deep, spiritual work of the season. However, the day before Rosh Hashanah the shofar is silent. It is said one reason for this change in pattern is to confuse Satan, who may have viewed the daily repetition as mindless routine and is rattled by  the sudden stop. Befuddling Satan, throws him off his evil game.

The pregnant pause in the pattern also provides us with the opportunity to reset, to collect our intentions for the resumption of the shofar, which, before it is sounded in the Torah service Rosh Hashonah mornings, is introduced by the recitation of a series of six Hebrew verses. The acronym formed by the first letter of each of these verses spells out the phrase Kra Satan, “rip up [destroy] Satan.” This declaration expresses the desire to  rid ourselves of our own debilitating negativity and the evil influences in our midst.

According to gematria, the numerical representation of Hebrew letters and words, the Hebrew word for “Satan” equals 359. The word “nachash” (the snake in the Garden of Eden) equals 358. Kabbalah teaches that in tabulating the numerical value of a word, the number one may be added to represent the word as a whole. Therefore “Satan” and “nachash,” both equalling 359, may be viewed as synonyms for negative energy or evil.   The spiritual counterbalance to the primordial snake and Satan is the Messiah, whose name, fittingly, also equals 359.

The upcoming Jewish new year, 5780, contains the number 80, the numerical value for the Hebrew letter pey,  meaning “mouth,” and by extension, “word,” “expression,” “breath.”  The number 80 is the same numerical value of the words yesod and gevurah, “foundation” and “strength.” There seems to be more and more evil in our world, whether in the form of dragons, snakes or human incarnations of Satan. It won’t do, to leave this tragic reality out of our calculations. It will take a foundation of creativity, courage, strength and leadership for us to banish Satan and begin the holy work of repair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’Shana Tova 5779: Come As You Are

East Side Bus Tunnel, Providence, Rhode Island, 2018

The series of sounds of the shofar, helps us prepare for the work of the year ahead.

Tekiah: we are whole

Shevarim: we are broken

T’ruah: we are shattered

   Tekiah g’dolah: we are whole; transformed through the holy work of repair, reinvention and renewed commitment to making our lives a blessing.

Elul: The Heart of the Matter

amy-shofar-pvd-b

Now, in the Hebrew month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the time to get to the heart of the matter. This is a time of awakening ourselves (aided by the sound of the shofar every morning but Shabbat) to the task of a thorough personal accounting, from the year that is ending, of our deeds, our relationships and our souls.  Elul is also seen as a map to our inner heart potentially serving as the key to the depth and power of our inner heart. The Hebrew letters that make the word “Elul,” aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” This sacred song has been thought of as analogous to the love between a married couple, our relationship to the Divine and our relationship to keeping the Sabbath. I think it can also symbolize our relationship with the self we hope we can become, the marriage of who we have been and who we strive to be.

At the start of of Elul, according to the Zohar we are achor el achor, meaning “back to back.” The work of the month is to be panim el panim, “face to face.” In a year that has perhaps been difficult in our personal and professional lives, our country’s political life and a challenge to hopes for peace and repair of our planet, we are, appropriately, deeply discouraged. Hopeless, that our prayers have not been heard, we turn away from our dialogue with the Divine presence we define as God. But we also turn away from ourselves, in despair, turning our backs on our goals and dreams.

My Elul prayer for us all is that during these strange and dispiriting times that we do not also become disheartened. Instead of losing heart, we must use this opportunity our tradition provides to do an “about face.” May our reflections, re-evaluations and dreams during all the days of Elul and the yamim noraim 5777, provide us with humility, insight and optimism for the year ahead and always.

Shanah Tovah

LeShanah TovahI am wishing you a happy, healthy and holy New Year. Click on the link below for a short Youtube video to partake in the mitzvah of hearing the sound of the shofar. I am doing the series of traditional calls sounded during the month of Elul, leading up to the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

http://youtu.be/r65MJQTWW9o

Portrait Amy with Shofar

And, from my blog archives:  https://amyartcohen.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/have-shofar-will-travel/