President’s Pen, November 2019

September and October were busy months for our congregation. We kicked off with the beginning of religious school which included the Brotherhood's picnic and games. That was followed by the family picnic celebrating our 60th year and the beginning of Selichot starting the High Holiday ‘season.’ And for both of these events the rainy weather let up so that we could enjoy our outside activities. The participants were grateful for the break in the weather.

The Rosh Hashanah service marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Then Yom Kippur. While we review our lives over the past year, the focus tends to be on those things that we should not have done. I find that while I review my ‘transgressions’ I also recall those things that went well and for which I am grateful. Those days were then followed by the joyful holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

As we look back, it is a good time to remember what this time of year has meant to each of us, and what it will mean going forward. We have our childhood memories of our families: Our parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc. As well, we have memories of any special foods that may have been prepared in our homes. These are the types of memories our children are building today. What traditions will be carried forward, what will be left behind, and what will be created this year? I am not suggesting that all the memories are happy and carefree. Each of us has the memories that have shaped who we are and what we hold important. This is the time of year that we can help pass our family traditions forward. We are fortunate to be here to carry on the tradition of our parents and grandparents.

Now we have come to November. The national secular holiday of Thanksgiving is at the end of the month, a day of being thankful and grateful for what we have....typically followed by 3+ days of holiday sales in retail stores and online.

These months are a time to reflect and remember, to be grateful for what we actually have. Twelve years ago I was in a dark place. Among other things, my dad was in hospice dying of cancer. My doctor had me on an anti-depressant. I was still struggling. Then our rabbi gave me an assignment. The assignment was simple: For the next 30 days, write down five things each day for which I was grateful. There were two rules: 1) No repeats in the 30 days, and 2) pick a set time of day and place to do the exercise without interruption. So I had to come up with 150 individual items. The first 35 were fairly easy, the next were more difficult and became increasingly difficult. It forced me to look closer at my life, and what I truly had. I also picked up a book titled Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert A Emmonds, PhD. It discusses how regularly practicing grateful thinking can increase a person’s ‘set-point’ for happiness as much as 25%. You may want to try this exercise. If you start on November 1st, you will have 135 things for which you are grateful the day before Thanksgiving. You might be surprised, as I was, at the ‘boost’ you get from a simple task. And it is one that can last you a lifetime just by remembering for what you are grateful.