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Thirty seven years ago (at the age of 18) I tried two things for the first time – I attended my first Yoga class and that Fall helped to lead High Holiday services at a synagogue. I have continued with my Yoga practice sporadically over the years. I have led High Holiday services every single year since 1971. I was ordained as a rabbi in 1979. Twenty one years ago I founded my own congregation in Jerusalem (Kehilat Kol HaNeshama). In October 2006, as the holiday season was ending (after Simchat Torah) I was aware that I felt I had given more than I had gotten. As someone involved in training (reform and conservative) rabbis studying in Israel I heard my own voice cautioning my students to be aware of the dangers of spiritual burn out. I was also aware that my congregation could handle my absence for one High Holiday season. I felt determined to go on a spiritual retreat for the High Holidays. I arrived at Kripalu Sept 1, 2007. The month I spent there was filled with contrasts. On the one hand – paradise! I was in a spectacular natural setting (every day the panorama from the mountain changed slightly as the leaves turned). The program offered two Yoga classes a day, organized hiking, biking and kayaking and endless amounts of wonderful vegetarian food. I went swimming in Lake Makeenac every single day. There was poor cell phone reception. There were hundreds of people in and out for various weekend or week long programs (meditation, health, wellness…). I ate all meals in the small silent dining room. Yet it was an unbelievably challenging month. I had absolutely no responsibilities. Amazing how I managed to generate anxiety even though there was nothing to be anxious about! I was determined to get the most out of every single day. I wanted to do Yoga, meditate, pray, study and enjoy all the activities offered by Kripalu. When I had to choose between a bike ride, a lecture or private study – I freaked! Besides the two Yoga classes a day, my only other agenda was an hour a day of Koran and an hour a day of Talmud. I reacted as if I was going to get a grade at the end of the month! Letting go of "achieving" was not easy. The other great challenge was "who am I?" I was pretty resolute in not telling people I was a rabbi from Jerusalem. To spend the month of the High Holidays NOT as a rabbi was a new and disorienting experience. (For the first few days I kept my cell phone with me AS IF someone might call me and I had to be available.) While staff and lay people back in Jerusalem were in the whirl of the High Holidays- I took my tallit (prayer shawl), a machzor (prayer book)and a shofar into the woods to pray on my own. What a strange experience to lead services just for me! Every page of the prayer book made me homesick for my community – the prayer book was designed for communal prayer not personal prayer. Instead of reading, chanting or singing all the words of the service, my prayer was mostly meditation in the woods, lots of trees and no Jews. The "not being a rabbi" was terrifying. It was a month without leading, teaching, explaining, guiding and worrying about others. What a gift, to discover there is a "me" who doesn't always have to be a rabbi. Every morning I did my own praying and meditating. There was a group meditation after the afternoon Yoga class. The focus was on breathing. (There was also "kirtan" – Hindu chanting a few evenings a week – but I was not interested in another devotional system.) There were some meditation sessions when I wept from struggling to let go. I had waves of homesickness – missing "home", missing my family…By the end of the month I felt pretty emptied, clean, and clear. I really expected that after some fifty Yoga classes I would be physically transformed. No such luck! I found I was still struggling though most of the poses. I did four private Yoga classes and that was brilliant. The gifted teachers helped me put together my own personalized flow that I could take home. As the retreat came to an end I felt relaxed and renewed and ready to get home. A flight, train and bus ride later I was in the middle of France at the ecumenical Christian monastery Taize (Tay- zay) fro another few weeks of retreat. But that is a whole other story. A whole year later and I have been pretty discplined about my practice - I meditate for half an hour every morning and do a 30 -45 minute Yoga flow most every day (and I attend two classes a week).
This year at High Holiday services I will introduce some of my Ypga practice to the congregation.