A New Year Begins: Reflection, Return, and Ingathering

For everything there is a season
And a time for all things in the world

– Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 3:1,

traditionally read during Sukkot

by Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit 

It is such a blessing to share the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) again with all of you, and with joy and commitment, to gather-in for the many celebrations of Sukkot. We welcome the wonderful diversity of new and prospective members joining     and exploring their spiritual and identity journeys with us.

I pray something will stir in your soul, your awareness, your longing for the world that can be; what will spur you into action in the year ahead? I encourage you to get involved in Mishkan Shalom in new ways.  Our Brit Mishkan asks every member household to contribute in our community. We want to define membership as more than an exchange of financial resources, though we must also be generous and committed with our resources as many of you have both in annual self-assessed contributions and in our Re-Generation campaign to be sustainable in the long run. 

As Rabbi Yael and I discussed In the September Kol Shalom, and as we will be sharing over these Holy Days, I see the invitation and the call that 5780 and this new decade in our larger cultural calendar provides as we reach 2020, is to see even beyond this time to the longer vision. Let’s be bold and claim this coming year with our eyes wide-open and the words of our mouths, and actions of our hearts opening to justice for all. Let’s not wait for hindsight vision and lament what we might have done for the sake of the planet, our nation and communities, the meaning and potential purpose of our own lives and those of our loved ones. 

The Festival of Sukkot that follows the Yamim Noraim invites us into a relationship with both time and space. We move into Sukkot, where we gather in vulnerability and celebration in an open-dwelling place - porous to the elements and welcoming to each other at the final harvest of the year. Through ushpizin, the tradition of welcoming in the spiritual presence of ancestors along with our family, friends and community, we reached   across time connected with the rhythms of the earth and seasons and locate ourselves together in space, albeit a temporary dwelling that reminds us of the impermanence and the preciousness of each moment and place. 

Dr. Yonatan Mirvis, International Director of the Melton School in Jerusalem writes about the immersion in ideas and relationship to time and space at this time of year, “Sukkot is a unique festival in that it “falls” on us with almost no preparation. Yom Kippur is the “Shabbat Shabbaton”, the day in which time is most sanctified. On Sukkot, we are directed to live in a temporary dwelling (dirat arai) and make an evaluation of our use of space.  In living in this sukkah and engaging in hospitality in an area, which is far less secure and probably far smaller, we suddenly find a very different relationship to our utilization of space.  Every conversation can be heard from the outside and the “roof” is not hermetically closed from neighbors above. For seven days when we move from our permanent home into the sukkah, we must be very careful about what we say, how we say it and how we behave within the confines of “home”.  There are no secrets in the sukkah.  This life adjustment becomes a paradigm for 

how we use space and how we should conduct ourselves in space….” 

Shemini Atzeret is the last stop on the Festival route where we are quiet and reflect on everything the holy days have brought to our attention - our relationships, community and the planet. We rejoice in our heritage at Simchat Torah, both in the particularity of Jewish life and Torah itself, and in the universal truths and diversity of life around us. At Mishkan Shalom we intentionally complete the cycle of the fall festival with Dorshei Derekh at Germantown Jewish Center, so we can celebrate together as Reconstructionist communities in Philly North West as a larger community.

We will need this wisdom to remain open-hearted AND not feeling complacent in our opinions or stories about another person or people, or even our own community, while remaining on the side-lines. We will need this resolve to keep open to change AND stay rooted in our mission. We will need this passion to grow our own community AND do so with an unwavering commitment to the ecological wellbeing of our planet, those seeking asylum across the world, and those who still fight for the right to racial justice and healing in our own backyard. 

Here’s to a wonderful month of Jewish celebrations and spiritually strengthening ourselves, each other and our communities together.

Shanah Tovah, Gmar Tov and Hag Sameah all rolled into one!



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