Broken and whole: a d'varling for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot
A first visit to Cuba 1: What do I know?

Preparing to enter Cheshvan... in Cuba


By the time we reach the end of the Jewish holiday season, I'm always tapped-out. Exhausted b'chol olamot, in all the worlds (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual). The holiday season is a marathon. The workload is significant. And while I'm trying to facilitate a meaningful spiritual experience for all of my congregants, I'm also trying to ensure that I'm having one, too. I can't lead others into a place where I myself am not also going. Even if everything goes perfectly (whatever that means!), it's a lot.

And by the end of the season, I'm always emptied-out. I've come to understand this post-holiday tiredness as part of the ebb and flow of the Jewish year. During the seven weeks between Rosh Chodesh Elul and Shemini Atzeret I try to make of myself a clear channel so that what my community needs -- words, prayers, intentions, sermons, music -- can flow through me. By the time the holidays are over, I feel like a dry reed, like an autumn leaf that has shone with its brightest colors and now is ready to fall.

Enter Cheshvan, the month that -- for me at least -- contains no holidays at all. (In the Ethiopian Jewish calendar there is a festival known as Sigd, but that's never been part of my lived Jewish experience.) Cheshvan begins next week. As October ends, we'll enter what I think of as a Jewish fallow season. But this year my Cheshvan is going to be different than usual. This year I'll ring in the new month of Cheshvan in Cuba, with members of two small synagogues and the Cuba America Jewish Mission.

We're bringing bags of donated medical and pharmacy supplies as gifts from our communities to theirs. We'll visit five places over the course of our stay (Havana, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara, and Camagüey), and we'll meet members of Jewish community everywhere we go. I'm looking forward to the learning, the beauty, and the music. I'm especially eager to learn from and with a community of Jews who have persevered in joyful Jewishness through challenges we can scarcely imagine.

When our two congregations planned this trip, several months ago, we placed it on the calendar after the holidays because that's when the rabbis who were organizing it could manage to take the time to be away. I remember thinking, "oh, sure, end of October, I'll be tired -- it'll be a nice time for a change of scenery." But I don't think I wholly remembered how wholly emptied-out I always feel in the first week after the long round of holidays has finally come to its close. It's a postpartum feeling. 

In this moment, I'm experiencing the timing of our trip as a gift. There's something powerful about entering into this adventure of learning about, and with, and from a new (to me) Jewish community when I feel so emotionally and spiritually emptied. What better time to open myself to travel -- new sights, new sounds, new experiences -- and to being changed? What better time to trust that encountering a different way of being Jewish will make my spiritual cup feel replenished, running over again?