I always view the months of August and September as the perfect months to rejuvenate our family in a Jewish sense. We always start out the new Jewish year, which is accompanied by a new year of religious school, youth group events, and temple programming, with a bang and usually go strong for a few months until the spring. Then, our busy secular lives often intervene. Once the religious school and youth group year ends, we find ourselves putting our Jewish activities on the back burner while other things move to the forefront.
In August and September, however, our attention turns to the upcoming High Holy Days and start of a new Jewish year. Being a person who thrives on goal setting, resolutions, lists, and opportunities to reorganize and refresh, I view the start of the new Jewish year as the perfect opportunity to redefine and refocus our Jewish lives, similar to the way we all do that at the start of the new calendar year and the start of the new school year.
So, what do I mean by this? Shouldn’t we always be focused on our Jewish lives and goals? Isn’t our Judaism such a central component of our lives that it is just part of our being and shouldn’t need to be redefined in any way? Ideally, yes, but in today’s world, in our predominantly secular society, that is often difficult even for the most observant.
There are many things we can do to revive and refresh our Jewish sides. For starters, the summer months are an excellent time to go to temple. These months are typically referred to as the “temple shopping” period, where all of the area synagogues offer special events and programming designed to introduce those who are looking for a new temple home to what they have to offer. If you go on the websites for any of our synagogues in Orange County, you will find a wide array of programs ranging from potlucks to Shabbats at the Beach, Shabbats under the Stars, special lectures, and other fun and interesting programs. These programs are an excellent opportunity to see the “personalities” of the different temples, meet the members, and get a “taste” of life at that particular synagogue. Even if you’re already a member of a synagogue and have no desire to make a move, it’s fun to attend services at one of the other temples once in awhile and enjoy some different programs. All temples are very welcoming of visitors at any time, but the summer is an especially good time to do this, because these programs are designed to welcome and greet visitors and prospective members. These summer time events are also an excellent time to make it a point to attend your own temple’s services and programs – you can help greet the visitors and prospective members, reconnect with friends from temple and probably make some new friends!
In addition to attending more events at the synagogues, summertime is the best time to celebrate Shabbat at home or with friends. With nice weather and longer days, it’s easier for those who work to get home in time to have a meaningful Friday night Shabbat experience and there are no (or at least less) school or sports events to interfere! Be creative and invite some friends for some Shabbat fun, such as a Shabbat potluck and game night, a Shabbat barbecue, or a Shabbat bonfire at the beach or the pool. The opportunities are endless, and, as I type this, I’m already thinking about who I can email when I’m done with this article to set up some Shabbat plans.
The more relaxed (hopefully) summer months are also an ideal time to prepare spiritually for the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days. A walk on the beach or even an afternoon at the pool can provide an excellent venue for your spiritual thoughts and can afford you the opportunity to think, reflect, plan, repent, and prepare for our most sacred time of the year. We also enjoy making Jewish “resolutions” with our children — about the kind of people that we want to be, rather than things we want to accomplish. We take stock of our values and how we are living our lives and set goals such as performing more mitzvot, becoming more observant of Shabbat, and resolving to be more kind, more tolerant, less impatient, less materialistic, less busy, and other such ideals.
Late summer is also an ideal time to explore groups with which you haven’t yet become involved. There are so many Jewish groups and organizations in the Orange County area – ranging from service organizations that perform mitzvot, to many different youth groups, to social Jewish organizations, to professional business Jewish organizations. Attend some meetings, check out some calendars, and see what appeals to you.
Tikkun olam (repairing the world) is also a great thing to do in the summer months when you might have more time and certainly have more daylight. Volunteer to help clean up at the beach or a nearby park. Not only is it rewarding and relaxing, but it is so helpful to our environment. Or, contact an animal shelter or rescue center and see if you can take a dog for a walk or help bathe the animals. These types of activities are equally enjoyable as a solitary activity, where you can be with your own thoughts and reflect upon things as you do them, or as a group activity, which can be an opportunity to socialize and have fun with friends and meet new people.
As you can see, the summer months can provide a wonderful opportunity to refocus and reenergize, set goals, meet new people, relax and have fun – all in a Jewish sense. I would love to hear YOUR ideas of Jewish things you might do during the summer. Please email me at email@example.com, and I would be happy to include them in future columns.