Writings

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Happy Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of Adar II! That's right, we've entered into the second month of Adar. We have two months of Adar this year because it's a leap year in the Jewish calendar. Though the Jewish calendar is considered a lunar calendar (because we count the dates based on the moon) the calendar is actually semi-solar because it's kept on track by the sun and the seasons. Certain holidays have to fall during certain seasons -- and Passover (which arrives next month on April 19th at sundown) must occur in the springtime. Having an extra month of Adar (7 times in every 19-year cycle) ensures that Passover will occur when it's supposed to (in springtime!).

Speaking of springtime, the first day of spring arrives on March 20th, the same night as the holiday Purim. The story of Purim, told in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Esther, takes place in Persia (modern day Iran). The first day of spring is also the Persian New Year, called Nowruz, which is celebrated with a feast of foods with special meanings. The Nowruz feast is similar to Passover Seder table or a Sephardic Rosh Hashanah Seder which also have special symbolic foods. Learn more about Nowruz with this cool video. There are even some theories that the Purim festival meal was originally a Nowruz feast eaten by the Jews who were celebrating the New Year in ancient Persia. I love learning about the seasons, holidays, and the connections between cultures. Last year at the Tasman family Passover seder in Louisville, KY, a dear friend of my parents shared about her family's Nowruz celebration and all of the special foods they ate (7 dishes which all start with the letter "s"). The number 7 is also special in Judaism and it was so cool to learn about the rituals of Nowruz and to draw connections with Jewish seasonal food rituals.

As we enter this second month of Adar, we have an opportunity to continue cultivating joy in our lives which is the theme of the month of Adar according to Jewish wisdom traditions. Sometimes it can feel hard to do that when we're stressed, sick, or the weather feels like spring will never get here. When joy feels hard to capture, I turn to gratitude. Thinking of the things for which we are grateful is a way to open up the heart towards joy. Pausing to take stock of the people, the opportunities, the basic necessities in our lives can inspire gratitude. The moments of kindness, connection, and support that come our way -- however small -- can be opportunities to notice and acknowledge and offer thanks.

Grateful for all of you!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a month of joy, good health and blessings,

Rabbi Sarah

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This past Saturday night, we had the first gathering of our new monthly series called Align. We gathered to celebrate the last few days of the month of Shvat since we'll be focusing on Joy and the month of Adar at our next gathering on March 2. We learned about the wheel of the Jewish year, seasons, cycles, and circles. Everyone had a chance to set intentions for what we want to bring into our lives through an art meditation and creating mandalas. We announced and blessed the upcoming month with our hopes and wishes that we manifested in our art work.

We welcome the new Hebrew month of Adar today and tomorrow with the holiday of Rosh Chodesh. It's a leap year in the Jewish calendar this year which means we have two months of Adar. Though the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle meaning we count a day as nightfall to nightfall, and each new month starts on the new moon, the calendar is also semi-solar. This means that certain holidays have to occur at their appointed season, rooted to our ancient agricultural calendar e.g. Sukkot must be in the fall and Passover in the spring. If you noticed that the Jewish holidays are on the early side, it's likely we'll have an extra month of Adar in order to even things out so that Passover doesn't occur too early. We have a leap year (or extra month) 7 times every 19 years, or every few years.

Each new moon and each new month is an opportunity for reflection, learning, and checking in with ourselves. According to Jewish wisdom traditions, each month has a theme. The month of Adar is all about cultivating joy, as the Talmud teaches, "when the month of Adar arrives, joy increases." With two months of Adar, we have an extra opportunity to cultivate joy. Next month, called Adar II (Adar Bet or Adar 2), I'll share more about how we might increase joy in our lives.

We welcome you to join us for the upcoming sessions! Details and Registration are here.

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Chodesh Tov - Happy New Moon and Happy New Month of Adar

Each new moon and each new month is an opportunity for reflection, learning, and checking in with ourselves. According to Jewish wisdom traditions, each month has a theme. The month of Adar is all about cultivating joy, as the Talmud teaches, "when the month of Adar arrives, joy increases." With two months of Adar, we have an extra opportunity to cultivate joy.

What brings you joy?

How will create more opportunities for joy this month?

How will you help increase joy for others?

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While the concept of the new year being a good time to review your life and set new goals, in practice, the middle of winter is a very difficult time to do this for many of us. Winter is a natural time when we may want to hibernate, when we need stores of food and shelter to sustain us through the winter. So rather than making big, radical changes in our lives, or setting big resolutions to change our diet or workout routines (can often feel like fighting against the season), here are some suggestions and tips for incorporating more connection, intentionality, and creativity in our lives.

1. Embrace Winter

This is a hard one for me, but once I learned about the Danish lifestyle concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-ga), I began to see the light. Hygge is all about creating a space and environment that feels comforting and cozy. Most homes in Denmark are designed with this in mind - making sure there are spaces in your home where you can relax, have a warm meal, or cozy up under blankets to read or write. Lighting fixtures are soft and candles are abundant. Restaurants in Denmark are even rated by the level of how hygge they feel . The idea here is not about luxury, it's about being intentional about our time and space, cultivating a lifestyle that nurtures us. It's about supporting ourselves in our downtime, especially throughout winter, and making that time and that space something that really nourishes our spirit. So bring out your blankets and pillows and set up a hygge corner in your home, make a cup of tea, and get out your favorite book or write a letter to an old friend. Or create an intimate dinner party or potluck and invite over a few friends. Light candles, get some plants or flowers to add a little freshness and reconnect. You don't have to spend a lot of money to create more hygge and more connection with yourself and your loved ones in your life and in your home.

2. Tap into the cycles of the moon.

The Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle. This means that a day starts at sundown and ends the next day at sundown. This is why Shabbat starts on Friday night and ends of Saturday night. So too, each Hebrew month is counting according to the moon. Each month starts with the new moon and is 28 or 29 days. The start of each new month is called Rosh Chodesh, literally meaning head of the month. According to Jewish wisdom traditions, each Hebrew month has special attributes, often corresponding to the season or to the holiday that occurs that month. Cultivating a practice to take a little bit of time each month to notice the cycle of the moon and the new moon can have a profound impact on our lives. Taking the time to learn about and meditate on the themes of that month can help us feel more grounded. Following the cycle of the moon also reminds us there is a natural waxing and waning to what life brings our way. Remembering that the moon goes through phases - and so do we - can help us move through challenges or different emotions. It's easy to feel like our days and years are passing us by, but taking the time each month to slow down and pause, can help us take stock and check in with ourselves. Adding this into your life as a spiritual practice can help us live more integrated, holistic lives. Doing this in a group can also help us feel more rooted and connected with other like-hearted individuals where we can support each others spiritual practice and personal growth together.

3. Express yourself

Often in my workshops and classes, I build in time for students to write or make art. Some of my students have a regular journaling practice or have a natural creative ability and love to make art. However, many of my students don't necessarily identify as an artist or with a creative talent. And that's ok. So many of us found joy in the freedom to draw, paint or make collages as a child but somewhere along the way we were told or decided for ourselves that we were not good artists. I see this a lot. Somehow, growing up we got it into our heads that good art should look beautiful. Often I try to "unteach" this or help my students "unlearn" the idea that art needs to look a certain way. The art and writing we do in my workshops is more focused on the creative process, taking the time to express yourself in a medium which you may not often use in your daily life as an adult. The process of allowing yourself to make something with your hands, to express a thought, feeling or image in your heart and then to put it on paper is very meaningful and profound. It can also feel vulnerable to do this, but there is growth that comes from cultivating the ability to express ourselves in different ways. Engaging in this kind of practice - whether it's for 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes can be incredibly rewarding - simply for the sense of unfettered engagement in the activity at hand and the sense of accomplishment. So whether it's an adult coloring book, writing in your journal, taking your art supplies our of the closet or cutting up an old magazine - give yourself the opportunity to get your creative juices going and get in the flow. See what happens. Reflect on your work with love and self-compassion. This process provides us with care, healing, and self-growth.

If you're interested in tapping into any of these practices, sign up for my newsletter, reach out to me to find out more about private spiritual coaching or join me for Align: a monthly series starting Saturday night February 2, 2019 at 7:30pm at the Center for Mindful Living in Washington, DC. Each monthly workshop gathering will include ritual, teachings on the season and the month, and have time for creative expression and intention setting - all designed to help you align with the seasons and cycles in your life. This is a wonderful opportunity to integrate more rootedness, spirituality and creative expression into your life. For details and registration, click here.

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During the Art & Visioning workshop I led on January 1, I had a few moments to sit down, breath and do my own artwork. The room was full of participants working on their own visions - drawing, writing, or searching for images that spoke to them from the collage supplies. My teachers in Rabbinical School used to tell us how inspiring it was to walk into the Beit Midrash (the house of study) and see all of the students studying together in chevruta (with a partner) translating texts, deciphering meanings, studying commentaries. The room was abuzz with students trying to figure things out, make sense of things, understand each other's opinions and reasoning for how to read a line of text as a statement or a question. The sights and sounds of the Beit Midrash inspired my teachers and reminded them why they loved learning Jewish texts so much.

I have experienced the same as a teacher. When I lead a group in meditation or contemplative reflection and then give each person an opportunity to write or create art, I see each person inspired by what we have learned or experience and engaged in their own creative process. Those are my some favorite classroom moments as a teacher and as a rabbi.

Those very moments remind me of being a young Arts & Ideas major, in the art studio at the Residential College at the University of Michigan. I loved being in a creative space where each person was working on their own projects, yet all of us were experiencing the act of creation collectively. I liked the solemnity of people focused on the work self expression through art. Perhaps there was some music on in the background, maybe a hushed conversation here or there or a question for the teacher, but there was a quiet reverence in the room, a focus on creative invention happening in real time.

During the recent New Years Day Art & Visioning workshop, when I looked around to see everyone working, I was filled with that same sense of inspiration, of creativity and flow. Once everyone found their art supplies and were tucked into their own pieces, I sat down to create my own.

For years, I've practiced what I call "Art Meditation" - not unlike a walking meditation or mindful eating, there is an activity at hand in which I am fully immersed. I have a practice I return to over and over again of creating tree collages. I find different scraps of paper and tear them into small pieces and different shapes. I arrange them to form the trunk of the tree, the branches, the leaves and flowers, and either roots or grass that firmly ground the tree into the earth. I find that I return to this image of the tree, this art meditation on the tree - as an image of something completely grounded and rooted, strong and yet it is in perpetual change with the seasons.

The tree is rooted and solid but it also reaches out, the leaves change and turn with the seasons, the fruits grow and bloom and the flowers blossom in the springtime. It reminds me that the only constant is change. Sometimes I choose paper based on the colors I am feeling, or another motif speaks to me. At times there are images in the paper, perhaps a sunset or an ocean or figures that I build into the story of the tree. Sometimes the roots are a mirror image to the branches.

At this time of year, when it is is cold and snow covers the ground in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it is hard to imagine the tree with flowering buds. The cherry blossoms that grace the tidal basin in Washington, DC seem like a faint memory and too far off into the future. This may be so, but in the Jewish calendar, we celebrate the month of Shvat and the holiday of Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees. This year year Tu Bishvat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) falls on Monday January 21. We celebrate it at this time of year because the very first almond trees in Israel begin to flower in Shvat.

There is an adage I come back to again and again: "the seeds that are planted in Shvat bloom in Nissan" which means the seeds planted in the month of winter bloom in the month of spring time. I love to think about this metaphorically each year and ask myself what are the seeds of intention I want to plant right now so that they will bloom this spring? This tree is an art meditation on this intention of planting seeds now so they will bloom this spring.

My intention this winter and spring is to lead a monthly art and spirituality workshop that gathers in synchronicity with the cycle of the seasons and the moon. I hope to plant the seeds and nourish the seedlings of this opportunity allowing students and seekers to express their own creativity so that they may bloom in their spiritual and creative practice. I hope you will join me at this special series.

Happy New Year!

We had a beautiful New Year's Day Art & Visioning workshop with 30 people who came to get creative! The room was filled to the brim with energy and inspiration. Thank you to everyone who participated for your presence and support of each other's visions for the new year ahead. I hope to see you again soon.

If you weren't able to join us but would like to do a private session with me including visualization, art & writing, or if you need any help, guidance, or support in identifying your intentions or creating a life where you can live directly from your intentions, please reach out. I am working with clients for spiritual coaching and private learning, as well as launching new workshops and classes this year designed to nourish and support you in body, mind, and soul.

Each month, I post a teaching for the Hebrew month. Each Hebrew month arrives with the new moon and has different themes and attributes connected with the season and the holidays of that month. See below for this month's wisdom for the new moon of Shvat and planting seeds in the New Year. Catch up with my writings, upcoming events, and other news on my website, www.tasmancenter.org, and follow on instagram and our Facebook page.

With warmest wishes and blessings,

Rabbi Sarah

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According to the Jewish calendar, each month begins on the new moon or "Rosh Chodesh" in Hebrew. This time is an opportunity for learning about the wisdom of that month and setting an intention. Each month has attributes and characteristics that often correspond to the season or the holidays that fall during that time.

The month of Shvat begins at night on Sunday, January 6th, 2019 with the new moon, and is also observed and celebrated during the day on Monday, January 7th.

Though the month of Shvat is still in the midst of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrate the New Year of the Trees with the holiday of Tu BiShevat on the 15th of the month (on the full moon). This holiday celebrates the first blossoming of the almond trees and is a time for planting seeds.

An old adage teaches that the seeds planted in the Hebrew month of Shvat, will bloom in the Hebrew month of Nisan (a few months away in the beginning of springtime).

What seeds of intention are you planting in your heart and in your life? How will you nurture them to grow and bloom?

New Years are opportunities to check in with yourself, to take stock and do some reflection and to also set intentions. But I am not a fan of "new years resolutions" which often come from a place of self-judgement, self-criticism and self-restraint. These resolutions often set us up to be hard on ourselves.

Rather than setting a resolution, I see each New Year - and each new month in the Jewish calendar - as good times to set intentions. Living in alignment with the cycles around the sun, and each cycle of the moon, can be very powerful and help us feel more centered and grounded in our lives. Each new year or each new moon gives us a chance to either recommit to an intention you set earlier or set a new intention.

The Hebrew word for intention is kavannah, which comes from the verb l'kavven, which means to direct your heart. So my question for you this year, is how do you want to direct your heart? How do you want to feel in your day-to-day life? How do you want to be? What are your core desired feelings? And then once you have identified those words and ideas, let yourself make decisions and choose from there.

Let your intentions direct your thoughts and actions.

What are you intentions for 2019?

I'd love to hear what your intentions are for this year.

If you need any help, guidance, or support on identifying your intentions or creating a life where you can live directly from your intentions, please reach out! I am working with private clients for spiritual coaching and learning, as well as launching new workshops and classes this year designed to nourish and support you in body, mind, and soul.

With warmest wishes and Blessings,

Rabbi Sarah

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Warmest Wishes for Winter Solstice and Shabbat Shalom!

Winter Solstice has long been one my favorite holidays. Truth be told, I don't do well with the cold and darkness of the winter season, but there is something hopeful to me that in once we get through to Winter Solstice - the shortest day and the longest night of the year - the days will once again get a little bit longer. The knowledge that the days will grow longer, even if just by a minute per day, helps me psychologically. I am not alone in this feeling. This time of year can be incredibly difficult for many people. Read more about the Talmud's take on Seasonal Affective Disorder on my website.

One of my favorite quotes for Winter Solstice comes from the TV show Northern Exposure. This show was a Tasman family favorite growing up and has special resonance for me since I served as the rabbi of a small Jewish community in Fairbanks, AK in the summer of 2011. I felt much more at home than Dr Joel Fleishman in the TV show. In the show, one winter, Chris Stevens, who is at once a disc jockey, preacher, poet and, artist, creates an enormous sculpture in the town square out of all of the lights he can find. His opening kavannah (words of intention), which is one of my favorite quotes, reads as follows:

Goethe's final words: "More light." Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that's been our unifying cry: "More light." Sunlight. Torchlight. Cande light. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier's field. Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we're supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." "Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on!" "The night is dark, and I am far from home." "Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come." Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.

Check out the scene on YouTube.

Wishing you and your families light, warmth, connection, hope, healing, and joy.

Warmest wishes, Shabbat Shalom, and all my best for a bright 2019,

Rabbi Sarah Tasman

Winter Solstice is this Friday December 21, 2019.

Winter Solstice has long been one my favorite holidays. Truth be told, I don't do well with the cold and darkness of the winter season, but there is something hopeful to me that in once we get through to Winter Solstice - the shortest day and the longest night of the year - that the days will once again get a little bit longer. Even the next day, even if the sun sets just a minute later, if the next Shabbat comes in just a little later, it helps me psychologically. I am not alone in this feeling. This time of year can be incredibly difficult for many people.

In the great compendeum of Rabbinic Literature, The Talmud (Avodah Zarah, 8a), there is a story about Adam the first human being. "When Adam -- who was created in the beginning of the year, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (e.g. on Rosh Hashanah) -- noticed that during the first three months of his life, the days were getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is to me! The world around me is being darkened and is returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this must be the kind of death which has been sentenced to me from Heaven!' He took upon himself to pray, fast, and look within. After eight days, he noticed the Winter Equinox (the Tekufat Tevet or the season of the month of Tevet), and saw that indeed the days were beginning to lengthen again. "So this is the way of the world!" he exclaimed, and he celebrated for eight days." When I read this, I thought, wow. The rabbis who compiled the Talmud must have really understood Seasonal Affective Disorder. This was also another way thay they thought about Hanukah.

This is also how I think about Solstice, that it's an opportunity to celebrate the light, a way to reinforce the light in the darkness at this time of year (a continuation of Hannukah this year since Hannukah came earlier in December this year).

It is believed that Winter Solstice has been celebrated since the Neolithic period (12,000 years ago). According to Wikipedia, Astronomical events were often used to guide activities such as the mating of animals, the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter reserves of food. The winter solstice was immensely important because the people were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as "the famine months". In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. For more information check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice

Even if you no longer live in an agrarian society, what does Winter Solstice mean for you? What does it mean to be aware of the cycles and the seasons in this way?

How do you mark the passage of time?

Warmly,

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 new moon and new month of Tevet fall December 8th and 9th.

The new moon of Tevet always fall at the tail end of Hannukah making Hannukah the only holiday to span two months. Just as the moon is at it's darkest, our candles burn the brightest. There is also a beautiful Sephardic custom to celebrate the Festival of Daughters on Rosh Chodesh Tevet in honor of Judith the heroine whose story is associated with Hannukah,

This month, how might you honor the women in your life? How might you promote gender equity in your world?

How will you dedicate your Hannukah?

The Hebrew word Hannukah literally means dedication, referencing the (re)dedication of the Temple over 2500 years ago after it was desecrated and destroyed in the battle of the Maccabees against the army of Antiochus. The re-dedication was enacted with the lighting of the 7 branched menorah in the Temple. Later, because the 7 branched menorah was not supposed to be outside the Temple (Talmud Menachot 28b), and in connection with the symbolism of the Talmudic version of the story when the last tiny cruse of oil miraculously lasted 8 nights (Talmud Shabbat 21b), an 8 branched Hanukkah holding 9 candles, aka a Hannukah menorah, was instituted.

I'd like to offer another way of understanding that word: dedication.

Perhaps while the candles are burning, we take the opportunity to just be. Just be in the moment, in the present. Hannukah is a holiday but it's not like Shabbat or other chagim (festivals) where we miss school or work. In this way, Hannukah integrates the sacred and the every day. Perhaps Hannukah can be an opportunity to remind ourselves the power of integrating small rituals into our daily lives, to bring more holiness into our routines.

According to the laws of Hannukah, women are to refrain from work while the Hannukah candles are burning. Reasons for this are two fold: firstly the candles are intended simply to celebrate and publicize the miracle of Hannukah and must burn for a minimum of 30 minutes and are not to be used in a utilitarian way to provide light for work. Secondly, this was seen as a reward for women to be exempt from work while the candles are lit, in honor of the heroine Judith, whose book, along with the book of Maccabees, is not in the Hebrew bible but is part of the Jewish apocryphal literature, but is a female heroine associated with Hannukah.

Perhaps this is why most Hannukah candles only last 30 minutes, unlike most Shabbat candles which last hours providing light all night and are often still burning when it’s time for bed. There are times I wish the Hannukah candles burned longer, but alas. We must savor the light while it does last.

You may find this practice of women’s exemption from work while the candles are burning to be sexist (implying they should be working all the rest of the time and that’s the only time they have “off”). Perhaps you find this a comforting, freeing, relief that gives you permission to take advantage of not working and to just enjoy the candles, (or perhaps a bit of both -I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions), I admit, I am inspired by the opportunity and idea of compulsory rest and reflection.

Whether or not you see yourself as “exempt” from work while the candles are burning or whether this idea is an invitation for exploring your spiritual practice, let’s use the time while the candles are burning as sacred time. So many of us don’t always get to take sacred time for ourselves for a variety of reasons.

Here is my challenge for us:

Dedicate Hannukah, or the light of the candles, or the 30 minutes when the candles are burning to ourselves.

How might dedicate your time? Here are 8 suggestions:

1. Curl up with a blanket and your favorite novel or book of poetry

2. Do some stretching or yoga poses

3. Meditate by the candle light (new to the practice? I recommend Calm or Headspace).

4. Have a nourishing meal with friends or a loved one (or just sit down to eat)

5. Take a bath

6. Journal about your dreams - the ones you have while asleep and awake. Or take the time to think about your core desired feelings for winter - how do you want to feel over the next few months and let that be a guide for decision making and scheduling for this season. Or carve out some time for thinking about the end of 2018 and transitioning into 2018

7. Revisit any intentions you made for 5779 back at Rosh Hashanah (remember those?) and use the secular new year to recommit or pivot your goals.

8. Dedicate each night to someone. Ever notice when a yoga teacher invites you to dedicate your practice to yourself or someone else? That feels special. It’s a way to sending positive vibes, loving energy, healing prayers toward someone else. It feels good. Maybe you dedicate your candle lighting each night to someone you love, someone you miss, someone who inspired you, someone you appreciate or someone who is in need of healing.

You may have read previous blog post on the Hannukah Dedication Challenge and thought, "Oh yes, I want to do this! I love a challenge. Bring. It. On."

Or you may be thinking, "That’s nice but I can’t do that. I can’t take time like that every night of Hannukah. I have responsibilities to my family and work and other commitments." Yes, of course we all do. This isn’t something easy. So it may take some planning.

Here are some tips suggestions to help you make this more doable:

Think about the things that get your time and energy every day. You deserve to put some of that time and energy back into your own wellness, nourishment, self-care and spiritual practice. That’s not being selfish. You’re a cup that needs to be refilled, not an endless stream.

  • Take a look at your calendar in advance. Block off 30 minutes each night during Hannukah for this. Add it to your google calendar or write it in your paper calendar. Considered this time sacred.

  • Set a daily timer or reminder. When you hear it, set aside what you’re doing and give yourself permission, encouragement and appreciation for taking this time for yourself.

  • If you can’t do it right at sundown, find another half hour that evening or that day and block it off.

  • Talk to your partner, parents, a friend or roommates to help you. Maybe you celebrate with your family or friends and then make sure you carve out of the time later that night or earlier that day for yourself. It may take some juggling in your schedules. If you have childcare duties, consider asking a partner, parent or a friend to help you make the time to do this - maybe you trade off so you can each have 30 minutes to yourself.

  • Encourage your partner or kids or roommates to also take time so that you can practice this recognition of the sacred individually and yet, together. Be encouraged and supported by each other's practice.

  • Can’t take 30 minutes? Try it for 20 minutes each day, or 10 minutes each. See what it feels like to give yourself this time EVERY DAY.

  • Struggle with a daily practice? That’s ok. Find an accountability buddy or give yourself a gold star each day you do it.

  • Take note. What might it feel like to replace 30 minutes of screen time with 30 minutes of doing whatever refills your well?

In the age of Facebook and Instagram it can be easy to use social media aa a distraction. However, it can also be a tool for motivation, accountability and support. How so? Take a photo of yourself, your book, your cup of tea, your journal or art supplies before or after your 30 minutes and use hashtag #redidicatehannukah . This may inspire others! And I want to see what you’re doing too! Please tag me so I am sure to see your post and can offer you encouragement and support.

Good luck! Warmest wishes and blessings for Hannukah,

Rabbi Sarah

Like the winter festivals of light in cultures all around the world, Hannukah falls at the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only are the nights growing longer but they are darker too, moving toward winter solstice. Additionally, Hannukah falls on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, at a time when the moon is waning in a further darkening night sky.

Hannukah encourages us to literally light a fire in the darkness, to kindle light at the darkest time year. For those in the southern Hemisphere where Hannukah falls in the summer time (what?!), the lighting of candles has a similar yet inverse meaning of celebrating, growing, and expanding light.

For so many of us, the winter brings with it seasonal affective disorder and depression. A poignant yet anachronistic midrash (rabbinic story) tells of Adam, the first human, who grew so sad the first year of his life as the light was decreasing at this time of year until the holiday of Hannukah provided some much needed light. The story of Hannukah itself, though not in the Hebrew Bible, records the military victory of the Israelites, and the retelling of it in the Talmud (the rabbinic compendium of Jewish legal discourse) layers on the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 nights as a foundational narrative of hope for the Jewish people.

For these reasons, the themes of Hannukah are at once universal, communal, and yet personal as well.

The personal act of the lighting the candles, adding one each night, is to see the light increase when it would otherwise be decreasing at this time of year, can be deeply meaningful.

I have memories of my grandparents coming to spend Hannukah with me and my siblings when were kids growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut. Even today, when I close my eyes and see their faces illuminated by the glow of the candles, it brings tears to my eyes.

The practice of pirsum ha'neis (literally “publicizing the miracle” of Hannukah) of placing the Hannukah menorah in the window, is to proudly (often defiantly or dangerously) display the lit candles to passersby. In doing so, we multiply the lights in the reflection of the window as well, and offer the light of hope and renewal to those around us.

May the lighting of your Hannukah lights increase the light in your heart and in your soul.

Rabbi Sarah

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This past week I participated in the Kenissa: Cross Training conference at the Pearlstone Retreat Center, outside of Baltimore. On Monday morning, I woke up early to lead services with Kohenet Keshira HaLev Fife. As I was walking to the main building, I noticed the sunrise coming up through the trees about 6:30am as I walked from my cabin to the main building. I loved seeing that breath of pink coming up from the earth in the distance.

For our opening and closing song we chanted Mah Norah HaMakom Hazeh (music by R’ Shefa Gold) with Keshira playing harmonium, which is a verse from this weeks Torah portion meaning “how awesome is this place”. In the book of Genesis, Jacob speaks these words when he wakes up from the dream of the angels going down and up the ladder and his encounter with G*d.

Truly it was an awe-some experience walking and seeing this moment of sunrise, and truly it was awe-some to lead the services together with some one who speaks my soul language, and truly it was awe-some to create a space and invite others in to show up fully as themselves with their strengths and vulnerabilities and they did.

Grateful for this awe-some experience, among many others this past week. With blessings for a Shabbat of peace and awe.

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With the new moon, we begin the Hebrew month of Kislev. Just like the moon, we go through phases and cycles. Pausing to notice where we are in the moon cycle gives us an opportunity to check in with ourselves. One thing I love about the practice of observing, celebrating and learning about Rosh Chodesh (the Jewish wisdom of the new moon), is that there is so much connection: the themes of the month often connect to the seasons and as well as what is going on in the Jewish calendar and year cycle.

With the new moon of Kislev, we can really feel a shift towards winter as the nights grow longer and darker as we move towards Hannukah on the 25th of Kislev. One major theme of Kislev is tapping into and kindling dreams, both the ones that happen when we sleep and the ones we envision when we're awake. Every Torah portion this month contains dreams.

What have you been dreaming of lately?

What are the dreams you are nurturing this month?

I know many of us are still reeling from this mornings news about the shooting at Tree of Life Or L'simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh that happened this morning. The last I heard 11 were killed including 2 police officers. As far as I know, everyone that I know in Pittsburgh is safe, but of course, they are shaken.

It's something that affects so many us - if not all of us. While it happened to their community, and they will be working to repair and heal from this devastating trauma, that pain ripples out from their community and touches us all. Whether we are Jewish or not, whether we live in Pittsburgh or not, whether we knew the victims or their loved ones or not. It touches us because we are human and human life is sacred. An act of hatred like this cuts so deeply into the sense of shalom (peace) and shalem (wholeness) that we strive to create and cultivate in our lives, for ourselves and our families, and in our communities.

Tomorrow, Sunday, October 28th, I'll be joining Pleasance Lowengard Silicki, Rita Stevens and lil omm yoga for a community gathering. I'll be offering some opening words of comfort and blessings for healing. Please join us if you are in need of a space where we can hold each others pain. We are opening this gathering to anyone who wants to join us.

If you want to join us, we are gathering at 3pm-5pm at the BOLD Center in Tenleytown.

Come in comfy clothes to stretch and move, bring a yoga mat and a journal.

4000 Chesapeake St NW, Washington, DC 20016

Feel free to just join us, no RSVP necessary.

If I can be of support to you at this time, please let me know.

Rabbi Sarah Tasman

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Cheshvan is the month following all the holidays that occurred over the last month during Tishrei. There are no holidays other than Shabbat this month, giving us a chance to return to the rhythms of our daily lives.

For this reason, it's a time when and is considered a time to get back to real life, when the real work of being our best selves begins.

It's also a time of Autumn, when we notice the trees shedding their leaves, the wind picks up and nights grow darker in the northern Hemisphere

What are the daily practices that help you live as the person you want to be, or support you?

What's the real soul work you need to commit to?

Wishing you a meaningful month of Cheshvan,

Rabbi Sarah

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, so I didn't know what to expect. Spiritual and physical practices ebb and flow, but it had really been while. But I was almost surprised how good it felt just 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 physical and spiritual 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 while still laying on my back. I 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).

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Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is said to be eclipsed or covered over by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which falls on the first night of Tishrei. This also starts of the 10 Days of Awe (the High Holiday Days) culminating with Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement or At-one-ment.

Tishrei is so full of one holiday after another - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which are followed by Sukkot, the week long Harvest holiday and ancient pilgrimage festival, and ending with some additional festival days of Shemini Atzeret and Hoshanah Rabbah (said to be days of great supplication - so if you didn't get all your prayers by Yom Kippur you still have time), and end in Simchat Torah, celebration the conclusion and restarting of the yearly scriptural reading cycle including holding and even dancing with the Torah.

This new month and the new year invite us to see ourselves a anew, to celebrate and to take stock of our lives. We are also given the opportunity to let go the past year.

How will you let go of the past and celebrate the new?

What is holy in your life?

What fills you with awe?

Shanah Tovah U'Metukah / Blessings for a Good and Sweet Year,

Rabbi Sarah

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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.

Woah.

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

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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.
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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.

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Happy New Moon of Tammuz! I’ve been teaching about Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) for over a decade and it’s still one of my favorite spiritual practices! 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. Tammuz began yesterday and in the northern hemisphere is a month of heat, bright sun, and long days, coinciding with Summer Solstice (June 21). Notice when the heat arises for you this month. Maybe that heat will light a fire in your belly or maybe it will burn you. Be careful. Breath and try to balance the intensity with cooling, refreshing practices. Sending blessings for peace and relaxation, renewal and creativity.

What’s your intention, hope or wish for this month?

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When I served as the rabbi in Fairbanks, Alaska, during the summer of 2011, I experienced my first midnight sun. It was so bright most nights that I placed tin foil over the window to get some shut-eye before I discovered blackout curtains. But then I came to understand it was a magic time. We'd light candles for Shabbat at a fixed time since sundown was long after we'd gone to sleep. Gardens were lush and friends picked veggies for me at 11pm as a parting gift after a late evening. Sometimes we'd stay up late just talking after art night or finishing the last of the moose meat that had fed a family through the winter and spring. We made the most of the golden light of the never-setting sun. Summer Solstice, the longest day and latest sunset was a thing to celebrate. But in Alaska, I also learned that Summer Solstice was bittersweet. It was the turning point in the summer. After Solstice we knew the evening light would grow shorter and eventually the sunset would come a little earlier each night thereafter.

So my questions for you this summer, wherever you live, are how will you make the most of the light and warmth of summer? How will you savor it? What brings you light and joy and how will you bring that into the rest of your summer days and nights?