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Elul and the End of Summer: The Bridge to a New Year

September 4, 2020

Today is 15 Elul, 5780.

Wait, aren’t we in September, you ask?

Yes, technically, today is September 4, 2020. But according to the Jewish calendar, we’re in the month of Elul. The Jewish calendar does not follow Western calendar dates because it’s based on the lunar cycle. That’s why Jewish holidays always fall on different dates each year (but they’re always on the same date on the Jewish calendar).

The month of Elul, which goes from August 21 – September 19, is thought to be a sacred period of time. It’s the month that precedes the High Holidays, the start of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

During Elul, we take time to reflect on how we’ve lived our life and how we want to live differently in the coming year. It’s meant to be a time of reflection, a time to turn inward, a time to consider what was before and what is coming ahead. And during the Days of Awe (the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), we reflect, make amends with G-d, make a plan for the future, and begin the new year with a blank page in the Book of Life.

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Last month, I kept seeing an idea that spoke deeply to me, in a way it never did before. The idea was that August is a bridge … a bridge between summer and fall; between what the first half of the year was and what we want for the remaining part of the year. Around the same time this idea was marinating in my mind, I realized we are in the month of Elul.

Perhaps because 2020 has been … a year, in many ways, I welcome the idea and opportunity to look at what life this year has been for me and how I want to finish it. So much has been said about 2020 and what kind of year it’s been. And it’s true 2020 has been difficult, full of uncertainty and looked nothing like I thought it would on New Year’s Day.

But, to me, 2020 has also been beautiful, reflective, full of truly incredible and life-affirming moments, an opportunity for growth and change, and for me to learn so much about myself, and it made me slow down and really take stock of my life. … And the year’s not over yet!

I look at what’s happened in my life since last September 2019—my divorce, selling the first Indiana house (and last house my ex-husband and I owned), buying a new home on my own, running goals and accomplishments, my health, my writing, friendships and relationships, a global pandemic, Sophie and the start of her middle school years—and it does feel, to me, like a new chapter began last September. And now I’m here, at a natural place in time of ending and beginning.

I’ll give you two examples of how this time presents itself as a starting point. Three years ago, August 2017, was when I decided to take stock of my health and began living a healthier lifestyle, which also coincided to when I started to shed weight. After feeling quite stagnant in that health space for most of this year, last month, in August 2020, I sat down with my trainer/friend/counselor who helped me take stock of my life and health again. And together, we made a new plan for myself. It’s only been a few weeks, but I already feel better in that regard.

My running was a source of frustration in 2020. Every race and event I planned for was cancelled. Group runs ceased and running friendships changed. Twenty-nineteen was spent running predominantly with friends (in fact, that was one of my goals last year: to run and converse with people). This year, nearly all my runs have been alone. I seriously questioned what I wanted from running and whether it had run its course for me (no pun intended).

And then last month, something shifted in me. I found a new structure for my running that sparked some confidence and an excitement that I hadn’t felt in a long time, probably since last fall. It’s no coincidence that, two years ago August-September, was when I was treated for a leg stress fracture and it was that same time I rebuilt my running self to get to where I am now. And now I’m here, in that same time, ready to rebuild for whatever is meant to come for me.

During this time of Elul, I’ve been reflecting so much about this past year (much of it has been on runs, ironically). Honestly, I’d be doing a disservice to 2020 if I didn’t believe things happened exactly as they should have and it’s all led me to the point I’m at today. I know so much is out of my control, pandemics and politics being two big things.

But what is in my control is how I respond to the things I can’t control. What is in my control is how I choose to see what this year has given me … what I’ve learned about myself and others … and how I want to feel going forward. So that when the Jewish New Year starts on September 19, I’ll know I have made peace with a turbulent year behind me. And I will welcome a new season, new year and the remainder of the calendar year, with grace, appreciation, confidence and hope … for whatever may come.

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