These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Reflection before the High Holy Days

Posted on August 30, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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By Amber Ikeman

As the summer winds down and school starts up again, the High Holiday season is upon us. 

“Already?! Don’t we have another month ’til Rosh Hashanah?”


Actually, our tradition teaches us that the Hebrew month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish calendar, is a designated time to begin introspection and preparation for the High Holidays. As if we don’t spend enough hours in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur reflecting on what we’ve done wrong and asking for forgiveness!


With the beginning of Elul, I have started to reflect on the past year. Last Elul, I was just settling into my new home in Jerusalem, where I was to spend the next 6 months studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. I vividly remember a lesson I heard from Rabbi Daniel Landes on t’shuva.


T’shuva is often mistranslated as “repentance,” but its direct translation is, “returning.” Rabbi Landes taught that t’shuva requires us to look inside ourselves, admit that we are not perfect, and that we’ve done things that have kept us from being the best we can be. It’s not just about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s about recognizing what has distanced us from God, from one another, and from our best selves, and doing something to bring us closer once again. We are always going to make mistakes, but what’s important is that we keep returning to who we really are, who we strive to be.


Pardes was the perfect place to begin my spiritual return to myself. I wanted to study the primary sources of Judaism, to interpret why we do what we do and don’t do in my own way, understand where it all comes from, and therefore be able to make educated decisions about how I want to live my life as a Jew. I saw the history of my people and our traditions in the pages of our texts come to life as relevant, contemporary lessons. Learning brings me back to the essence of who I am: a Jew. It inspires me to be a more thoughtful, compassionate, understanding, confident, stronger person – qualities that we all have the potential to exhibit. Learning about such an important part of myself makes me feel empowered and spiritually elevated. Now that I’ve physically returned to my home in Sarasota, I am exploring the ways that I can continue returning to my best self, and I’ve found that one of those ways is teaching. I am honored to give back to my community as the Administrator and one of this year’s instructors for the Federation’s CommuniteenCHAI program. After all, I do believe that teaching is the best way of learning.


As you begin your reflection this month, what will you do to return to your essence, your highest potential? Will it be learning more about how your personal Jewish path enhances you as a human being? Perhaps this year you might do a little extra research before High Holiday services to find out what all of those prayers are really about and what they mean to you when you say them. Maybe you will commit to spending more time with your family, to practicing patience, or to smiling at people who pass by. Now is the time, not just to apologize, but to constructively find ways to better ourselves so that we will be ready to return with the birth of the new year.


Amber Ikeman is the Teen Programming and Israel Advocacy Associate at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. She recently returned to Sarasota, her hometown, upon graduation from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in Music and a minor in Judaic Studies. She attended the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in 2011-2012.