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Return from Sabbatical

09/01/2023 05:00:00 PM


Bill Futornick, Ritual Director

I’m back! My sabbatical has been so fulfilling and I am overwhelmingly filled with gratitude. Thank you to the clergy and staff here at CBJ who did so much while I was gone. Most important, thank you to all of you who are part of the CBJ family. It was truly life-changing to have had the time to explore various peoples and places of the world. You made it all possible, and it is with deep appreciation that I return to CBJ.

Many people have asked me what the highlight(s) of my time off was. This is of course a very difficult question; there are so many! (Although listening to our Aboriginal guide playing the yidaki (didgeridoo) in a cavern in Western Australia is hard to beat.) It may take a little while to unpack all of my experiences, but I did write about many of them, albeit mostly in note form (which I have been turning into story). I will be sharing my learning in services, in writing, and personally with anyone who wants to listen. Here is one particular highlight:

At the Melbourne Museum, there is a display of a cloak made out of possum skins. Possum skin was common in Aboriginal Victoria and New South Wales, and had many uses, e.g., coats and blankets. This particular cloak belonged to an elder in the 19th century and had more than 80 skins sewn together. When someone was born, they would be swaddled in possum skins, which then would become their first coat. As a person grew up, more and more skins were added to this coat.

The skins were more than just a way of keeping warm, though. Each skin would be decorated, as a panel on a quilt might be, with each new skin depicting a person’s story as it evolved. A person who was a particularly skilled hunter, there might have hunting scenes on their skins. If they were in a negotiation with other tribes, they may have that encounter on a skin. If they had committed an offensive act or crime, that would be recorded as well.

As I viewed the exhibit, I couldn’t help but think about how we carry our own stories with us. Some people physically carry depictions on their body, through tattoos (listen to “Rose Tattoo” by Dropkick Murphys for an excellent explanation of how this works). Others prefer to record their stories in memoirs and journals, in drawings and paintings, in oral histories.

Understanding our own stories is how we understand who we are in the present. These stories which form us also help us create our future. Who will we be? As we approach Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, our tradition guides us to exactly this question. We look at ourselves with an honest eye, and think about what the next skin we sew onto our cloaks will look like

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784