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November 24, 2014 | 2nd Kislev 5775

Elul

Galilee Diary #300, August 27, 2006

Marc J. Rosenstein

 

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

-Joni Mitchell

The media are awash in the aftermath of the war. The endless posturing of the generals and political leaders – and the retired generals, would-be political leaders, and of course pundits – fill the talk shows and tabloid headlines. Did we win or lose? Should we have fought more, or less? Were we adequately prepared? Was there a plan? Are we better off now, or worse off? Is the political leadership to blame (for whatever went wrong, if anything did), or the military leadership, or the media? Would anyone else have done things any differently – and if so, how? etc., etc., etc. In Israeli public discourse we are partial to soul-searching, but we generally prefer that the searching be done in someone else’s soul.

And while this noisy, blustery circus spins on, there is a quiet change going on. Gently, inexorably, just under the radar, Elul has come in, and is passing day by day, bringing us ever closer to Rosh Hashanah. Suddenly (it seems) it is dark when I get up in the morning. And when I walk the dog there are clouds on the horizon. It is still plenty hot by mid-morning, but the light is different, and the air. There is a humid breeze. Summer fruit (much of which we missed, as it rotted on the trees as katyushas prevented the harvest) tastes like “after the season” except for the melons and grapes that are at their peak now. The pomegranates are bursting on our little tree. One can see on the trees that this year the olive harvest will be a bumper crop. Below the headlines about the repercussions of the war, the annual ritual of school budget cuts, classroom shortages, and of course strike threats, fill the papers, reminding us that the new school year is about to open (or not). Traditionally, the shofar is sounded every weekday during this month at the shacharit service; we don’t have a daily minyan at Shorashim, but my neighbor, who is our shofar-blower, practices every morning. Most significant, of course, the chatzavim (squill) have shot up their stalks of tiny white flowers – just in case you missed any of the other signs of the season.

Even though in our climate, fall is a season of hope, as we anticipate the beginning of the rainy season, a green time of growth and renewal, Elul seems to carry a shadow of sadness. Perhaps it is the dimming of the light, the cooling down, the transition to a time that is more changeable, uncertain, unpredictable. I really can’t tell how much this feeling is rooted in the spiritual calendar, the sense of impending judgment, of having to face our own soul-searching – and how much is related to the cycle of nature, the seasonal transition, the end of summer. Is it the turning of the spiritual year, or the turning of the seasons that reminds us of our mortality? I suppose the two are really inseparable.

It has been said that Zionism is about the Jewish people’s return to history. History is of course a great thing, and no one wants to be left out, but at times I feel that it has been overrated. From what I have seen of it, I’m not so sure why we were so anxious to get back in the game. Indeed, sometimes just the up-and-down of the carousel of the seasons seems about all I can handle; I’m not sure I’m ready for the roller coaster of history.

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