Climbing our Pyramid through Learning

DCL’s Drash from Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald, Director of Congregational Learning

The month of Elul begins this Wednesday evening. As Cantor Wallach mentioned last week, we are supposed to begin preparing for the High Holiday season with cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. We are to engage in a period of intense reflection on what we have been and to imagine what we can become. It should be our goal to think about our relationships, our goals, our hopes and dreams – to be prepared to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged and to plan how to engage in healthier relationships with ourselves, other people, and God in the year to come.

Yet here we are, still in the middle – or maybe still the beginning – of a pandemic. A time when we are uncertain of so much around us and living with anxiety and trauma every day. In psychology, we learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow explained that each lower level of needs must be satisfied before one can move to the next higher level. Later psychologists acknowledged that there can be movement among the levels – that we can find ourselves back at the bottom level.

The practice of cheshbon hanefesh is meant to be a process of reaching toward self-actualization. This feels next to impossible this year, when so many are worrying daily about the bottom two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. How can we focus on our spiritual needs and desires when we are worrying on a daily basis about whether to return to work or school, to restaurants, to visiting family and friends? We are in a place where each of us, each family unit, is called upon to assess our own individual risk tolerance and make our own judgements about our comfort level with a return to “normality.”

And yet, how can we not engage in this period of contemplation, reflection, and envisioning what we want for the year to come? As we are planning for all levels of education at CBI, we are determined to offer as full a range of programs as we possibly can, while making sure that opportunities and programs are accessible to all. CBI Preschool is scheduled to resume in-person learning on September 8, after our successful (and joyous!) day camp — albeit with smaller, limited classes to allow us to follow health and safety protocols that exceed state guidelines. BBRS is in the planning stages for robust and meaningful religious education, including the introduction of a new, online, teacher-guided self-paced Hebrew/Tefillah program for weekday learning. If we are unable to be together in the building, we know that we can be together online in engaging, interactive ways for Judaics education. Lifelong Learning is planning a wide range of programming, online to start, including all ages and stages — and with exciting opportunities to engage with Rabbi Isenberg, Cantor Wallach, and educators across the country if not around the world. Our youth groups are ready to move ahead with regularly scheduled programming under the auspices of Aly and Mike Greenstein, who are always engaging whether in person or online.

While we can find ourselves often back at the bottom of the pyramid — such as during the multi-day power outages many of us suffered through after Hurricane Isaias — we are resilient people. Let’s embrace this month as a time to breathe deeply, accept our current limitations, and look beyond the moment to reach for moments of self-actualization through our process of cheshbon hanefesh.

Kol tuv, all the best,
Rabbi Julie