Elul Explorations From Southern Celebrants

Thoughts from Jackson, Mississippi, during the Days of Awe

A few of the ISJL Education Fellows shared some Elul-inspired thoughts, so here’s a #BlogElul round-up! L’shanah tovah, y’all! 


I’ve been thinking a lot about this poem:

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams


so much depends



a red wheel



glazed with rain



beside the white


In this poem, Williams describes a simple scene – a wheelbarrow standing next to some chickens, a moment frozen in time. It is an idyllic scene, one which encourages me to close my eyes and to breathe. To take it all in, to take a moment to myself, and to reflect on just how beautiful such simplicity can be. It isn’t just Williams’ poem that has me thinking this way, though. It’s the month of Elul, the special preparatory month of introspection that occurs just before the High Holidays.

Throughout Elul, my coworkers and I have been engaging in biweekly text studies. We have reflected on several different topics, from why we blow the shofar to what chesed (kindness) means and how we can bring more chesed into the world in the upcoming year. These sessions have provided us all with an opportunity to think about not only the past year, but also the year that lies ahead of us … the year that is about to begin.

As Elul drew to a close and the High Holidays were upon us, a noticeable shift could be seen, both in the office and the rest of the Jewish world. The days of preparation became significantly fewer, leading many of us to consult our detailed to-do lists and wonder how we could possibly get everything done before Rosh Hashanah. Reflection and introspection turned quickly into action, pushing us all to try and do more before the beginning of the New Year.

But even as the holidays closed in on us, I couldn’t help but return my thoughts to William Carlos Williams’ red wheelbarrow. The red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, which stood so idyllically beside the white chickens. The same red wheelbarrow on which so much depends. After painting such a vivid, still scene of preparation just after dawn, how did Williams feel? Did he, too, feel the rush of imperative excitement, the need to begin work for the day at hand? Or did he take one last moment to stand back, take stock of the landscape in front of him, and appreciate that frozen moment in time? I’d like to think of Williams choosing to do the latter … that just before the new day on the farm started, the poet didn’t rush to finish any last minute details and leave everything else behind.

Similarly, I’d like to think of the final days leading of Elul and the first few days of Tishrei not as a time to hurriedly finish old projects and begin anew, but a continued opportunity to pause, contemplate, and grow. Instead of rushing away these final moments of contemplation, let us ruminate and let the introspection linger. Let us take stock of the small, yet important, preparations we have made and appreciate the progress that we continue to make. These moments are ours to make the most of – so instead of letting them fly by, let us take a lesson from William Carlos Williams and appreciate the white chickens, the soft glaze of rain, and the red wheelbarrows in our lives on which so much depends.


What you are about to read comes from a selfish perspective—a perspective that doesn’t consider anyone’s feelings other than my own. Typically when I write, my mind constructs an audience of critics who hover over me, preventing me to type my true thoughts because the moment I do… backspace. But who is this audience that I’ve allowed to dictate my voice? Myself? Then what IS my voice? My internal discord was growing louder and louder causing my head to spin. I knew I had to do something differently otherwise who knows which version of myself would write this little blog piece. Why not, in spirit of the High Holiday season I might as well try to embrace this whole Elul thing.

So far so good, I am writing with headphones in and allowing music to take the lead.  The critics are drowned out by the sedative tones of Stevie Nicks, while my thoughts are in harmony with the rhythm. That simple act of putting headphones in my ears is helping me tune into myself. Words are now pouring out effortlessly. No longer am I writing to meet un-meet-able standards. In this moment I feel as if I’m in my car, windows down, singing at the top of my lungs without a care in the world.

You see, the month of Elul is about soul searching, it’s about exploring that one thing that frees you from all internal and external noise. Whether that means you are listening to music, going for a run, getting lost in a book, or diving head first into the ocean, during the month of Elul allow yourself to search for that place where you feel inexpressibly free.


To all of our friends,
The Jewish calendar always seems to know when we need a new year. While many of our communities are still recovering from the recent impact of storms and flooding, and all of us continue contending with everything life brings, we are so grateful to mark this moment of renewal and reflection. May the year ahead be a happy and healthy one for you and yours.
L’shanah tovah u’metukah 
(To a good and sweet year),
The Board and Staff of the ISJL 

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