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Pilgrimages and Journeys in Community

09/01/2022 09:02:06 AM


Tami Raubvogel, President

This summer, my husband and I went on a three-week trip through Spain and Portugal. We hiked part of a famous trail called the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is a network of trails that have been used for centuries by Christians to make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Many religious Christians take this pilgrimage as a form of spiritual growth. Although hiking can be a spiritual experience in and of itself, we made this trek simply because we wanted to see a beautiful part of the country with amazing scenery, culture, and food. However, it got me wondering about the pilgrimages Jewish people take and the reasons behind them.

According to the Torah, God commanded the Israelites to take three different pilgrimages to Jerusalem at three different times of year. In the spring we celebrate Pesach, which commemorates the liberation from slavery in Egypt. In the summer we celebrate Shavuot, which remembers the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. In the fall we celebrate Sukkot, which reminds us of the 40 years the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land after escaping slavery. Each of these pilgrimages are connected to harvest. We gathered to share gratitude for harvest and to share the bounty with the priest and those in need.

These days most people do not (or cannot) travel to Jerusalem to celebrate these holidays, but I don’t think you need to get on a plane to take a pilgrimage. I believe a pilgrimage can just be the opportunity you take to mentally reconnect with your spirituality or religious practice. For me, it is a time for personal reflection, which allows me to take stock and think of where I can grow in different parts of my life.

The preparation before these pilgrim holidays provides each of us an opportunity to reflect and make adjustments in our lives similar to what we would do if we took an actual pilgrimage. For example, we swap out dishes and remove chametz in the days and weeks leading up to Pesach. We spend time thinking about patterns of eating and how we will accommodate our lives to include Kosher for Passover foods. We also spend time thinking about those who are currently enslaved and how we might help them.

Sukkot and Shavuot also have preparations which allow time to reconnect, reflect, and adjust daily practices. Whether you build a Sukkah and invite family and friends to share a meal in that Sukkah, or have cheesecake and stay up all night reading Torah, the act of reconnecting and reestablishing your everyday practices and spirituality right before and during the holiday is that time for reflection and reconnection. It can be a time when you take an internal trek to rediscover what is most important.

I see the upcoming High Holidays as a perfect opportunity to get ready for an internal pilgrimage for Sukkot. It is a time to reset, build or reinvent.

What are you thinking might be part of your internal pilgrimage as you prepare for the High Holidays? Do you need a reset from the chaotic pandemic mindset that bombards our everyday life?

As I’ve said before, getting people back into the building and providing opportunities where we can make meaningful connections is a core tenet of my presidency.

I encourage you to think about your relationship with the whole Beth Jacob community. Do you feel like you are a welcomed and valued member of the congregation? If not, what do you need from us to help you feel more connected?

Community is important to our emotional and spiritual health, and it serves to enhance Jewish life for everyone. As we enter this high holiday season, I hope you will take time leading up to the holidays to reflect and reset your relationship with CBJ.

Thu, September 28 2023 13 Tishrei 5784