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7 Things to Know About Elul

7 Things to Know About Elul

Four ripe pomegranates hanging on a leafy tree

Elul is the Hebrew month that precedes the High Holidays (Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur), a time of study and personal reflection on our actions of the past year. It also is a time when we seek forgiveness from those we have wronged or with whom we otherwise have “missed the mark” in our interactions and behaviors. This year, Elul begins at sundown tonight, Tuesday, August 22nd.

Here are seven things to know about Elul. Whether you participate in some, none, or all of these Elul traditions, may you find meaning and fulfillment in this month leading up to the High Holidays.

  1. Traditionally, the shofar is blown each morning (except on Shabbat) from the first day of Elul until the day before Rosh HaShanah. Its sound awakens the soul and kick starts the spiritual accounting that happens throughout the month. In my congregation, the shofar is sounded at the opening of each Kabbalat Shabbat service during Elul.
  1. Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s online initiatives #BlogElul and #ElulGram provide numerous opportunities to blog and photograph your Elul thoughts, reflections, and High Holiday preparations.
  1. Selichot (special penitential prayers) are recited during the month of Elul. In many Reform congregations, this service is conducted late in the evening – often by candlelight – on the Saturday night a week before Rosh HaShanah. This year, Selichot falls on Saturday, September 16th.
  1. Elul is the time of year during which Jews traditionally visit the graves of loved ones.
  1. Jewels of Elul are a collection of reflections penned over the course of a decade by individuals – some well-known, others not widely known – designed to provide inspiration at this season. This year's Jewels, Hindsight: The Art of Looking Back, follow no themes or patterns. Rather, they reflect the deep diversity of our community and the hope that each of us has the gift to offer insight into life’s journey.
  1. The Hebrew letters that comprise the word Elul – aleph, lamed, vav, lamed – are an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” a verse from Song of Songs that means “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Most often interpreted as love poetry between a man and a woman, the phrase also indicates the love between God and the Jewish people, especially at this time of year when God draws near to God’s people.
  1. Finally, it’s traditional to read Psalm 27 each day during the month of Elul. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, who blogs at Velveteen Rabbi, says listening to Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z'l, read this psalm is one of her favorite Elul meditations.

Shana tova u'metukah, a good and sweet year to you.

Jane E. Herman , a.k.a. JanetheWriter, is the senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. She is a graduate of Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and holds a master's degree in public administration from the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. She grew up at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, and now belongs to Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City. A proud New Yorker, she loves books, fountain pens, social media, Words with Friends, mah jongg, and all things Jewish. She blogs at JanetheWriter Writes.

Jane E. Herman
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