Mindfully Preparing For The High Holy Days
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Mindfully Preparing For The High Holy Days

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.

Editor's Note: We recently a new study that shows how mindfulness practice reduces stress, anxiety and depression in parents of children with special needs. Rabbi Yael Levy integrates mindfulness practice into Jewish worship and offers suggestions for how we can use mindfulness to prepare for the High Holy Days.

Q: What is mindfulness?

Rabbi Yael: Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention and being present to the moment … paying attention to whatever is happening. It's not only about meditation: It's a way of life that's about returning ourselves again and again to whatever we are encountering in the moment.

For example, my mindfulness practice means that when I'm walking through the woods, I'm paying attention to the woods and what’s around me. I’m not making a to-do list, going over a conversation, planning dinner, etc.

It's about being where I am. It's difficult. We think it would it be easy, but it's the most difficult thing to do.

Q: How do you make mindfulness into a Jewish practice?

Rabbi Yael: Mindfulness is a Jewish practice. I don't think it's putting something into Judaism that isn't already there. The main call in Judaism is the shema: Listen, pay attention, notice. In our tradition, we are urged to pause one hundred times day and offer blessings — that is a mindfulness practice.

When we say a prayer before we eat, we are being mindful. And we have Shabbat which calls us to pause in the busyness of our lives, to stop doing and be present to the day, to ourselves, to each other, to the wonders and majesty of creation.

Q: How can mindfulness practice help people prepare for the High Holy days?

Rabbi Yael: The holidays call us to be mindful of the preciousness of life and to examine what we are doing with this one treasured life we have been given. We are called to do teshuvah: To notice where we have gone astray from what we most value and do our best to return to ourselves, to what we most value and love. We will go astray, we will get lost, that is a natural part of being a human being. Mindfulness practice helps us notice when we are not living in a way that aligns with our values and ideals and it helps us return to the truths of our lives, with compassion and forgiveness.

Q. What themes will you focus on in your mindfulness services?

At Rosh Hashanah, we are reminded that we truly have no idea what this new year will bring. Yes there will be blessings, and yes there will be challenges but truly we do not know what life will ask for us. At our selves we will acknowledge this truth and cultivate the capacity to meet whatever life brings with awareness, strength kindness and compassion. We will lift our eyes to the beauty of creation and the beauty of each other. We will affirm that we are walking together through this wild maze of life and we are here for each other. We will remember that we are part of this mysterious and magnificent creation and everything we do matters. Our actions create the world for the people who will some day call us ancestor. We will inspire each other to act with love and devotion, for justice, well-being and peace.

Q. For people who are experiencing stress/challenges in their daily lives, can you recommend a mindfulness practice to help them? Perhaps one thing they could try for the new year?

Rabbi Yael: A good, powerful place to start is with a blessing practice. Take a moment every day to offer this blessing to yourself:

May I be blessed with love
May I be blessed with peace
May I be blessed with well-being

Then, say the same blessing for a person in your life whom you love easily.

And finally, say it for person in your life whom you have a little bit of pain with.

The blessing practice focuses our minds on love, compassion and our capacity to be loving, caring people in the world. Focusing on love and compassion reduces anxiety and fear and it calls forth our kindness and generosity.

Named recently as one of "America's Most Inspiring Rabbis" by the Jewish Daily Forward, Rabbi Yael Levy has been affiliated with Mishkan Shalom for 20 years. She has developed the A Way In Jewish Mindfulness organization over the past six years, creating and leading contemplative Shabbat and holiday services as well as retreats, weekly meditation "sits" and classes in Jewish Mindfulness. People from all over the world connect to A Way In virtually, through facebook and twitter.

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