Hey, Rabbi! An Elul Q&A with Rabbi Shoshanah Conover


We asked clergy across North America which music, books, art, movies and more help them get into a reflective state of mind as they gear up for the High Holidays. Here’s what Rabbi Shoshanah Conover from Temple Sholom in Chicago, IL, had to say.

ReformJudaism.org: Any favorite musicians you tend to listen to during Elul?

Rabbi Conover: For the past decade, Bach’s Goldberg Variations have been a constant companion during the month of Elul. They remind me that life can be varied and beautiful in its variations—that, similar to this one composition, within our one lifetime, we can renew ourselves again and again. My favorite version is a recording by Rosalyn Tureck released by VAI in 1988. It’s so intimate, there are times it seems as if I can hear her breathing. There’s an apocryphal story that it was recorded in the living room of a home. When I listen to this version, I connect not only to the deep spirit of the music, but to Tureck’s creative life force. In that way, when listening to this recording, I feel closer to God.

What is God – Part 9 – God as Voice

OK, if we admit that we are hearing voices, we can get into trouble! Of course, that isn’t the point. I don’t actually hear God say to me “Well, Dan, did you have a Good day? And how many mitzvot did you perform today?

Yet, as I have said repeatedly in this series of blogs, I do have some experience of transcendence. For instance, I believe that people have a right to healthcare. Where did we get that right? Certainly not just because a bunch of us agreed on that, because then it could be taken away if the agreement were to change, and that does a lot of damage to the notion of “inalienable rights.” (Something that is “inalienable” can not be separated from the whole. It is not something you can remove.)

Rabbi as Values-Based Jewish Executive

Someone very wise once said that Jews and Christians need not argue about which religion is correct. We should simply enjoy eachother’s differences and, when the Messiah arrives, politely ask him, “Shall we say, ‘Welcome’ or ‘Welcome back.’”

End of the discussion.

Ten Minutes of Torah: Yom Kippur Amidah


In each Amidah for the Days of Awe, including Yom Kippur, there is an insertion regarding remembering us unto life. This imagery of the Book of Life is an important reminder that the Days of Awe are designed to help us deal with both the uncertainty of life and our responsibility to become better human beings. Nevertheless it is easy to mistake the imagery as reflective of a reality in which we are judged by God and, if found wanting, are punished with death. This is a theology that I do not find helpful.

Who Wants Ice Cream?!

As said by Rabbi Goldberg, ” I put ice cream in my GPS and it took me here.”

Here was Trebes Park where Mishpacha had a fantastic ice cream social on Sunday afternoon to kick off their 2013-2014 calendar year. There were bubbles flying, balloon animals being created, baseball games being played and new friendships being made. Sixty-five people gathered in the park to enjoy ice cream and what will hopefully NOT be one of our last beautiful summer afternoons.

It was a warm and welcoming afternoon to many new Temple Sholom families and families new to Mishpacha. There was a perfect mix of new and current Temple members who mingled while the children played in the park. A fabulous time was had by all and we look forward to seeing these families and many more at our next Mishpacha event….a Welcome Back to Religious School Sunday Social on Sunday, September 22nd at 9:45am in room 406. Enjoy the end of summer and we will see you in the fall!

What is God – Part 8 – God as Light

I grew up with the Gates of Prayer as my siddur. That is, when I started being serious about being a Jew, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, that compact blue book from 1975 was what we used at Temple Sholom, and it remains my image of a prayer book.

In it, I found a wealth of metaphors to educate my search for understanding God, as in this meditation:

“And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ This first light God made before he made the sun and stars. He showed it to David, who burst into song. This was the light that Moses saw on Sinai! But . . . this light, coming out of darkness and formed by the Most Secret, is hidden: ‘Light is sown for the righteous.’”


Wednesday begins the month of Elul, the month preceding the New Year. It means that change is calling us. It means that the tough question we have put off so long must now be addressed, if we wish to live authentic lives. Here is the question: what will you change in your life? What about your self should be improved? To be alive means to keep growing. Standing still is not an option. The only issue is if we change with mindfulness or with obliviousness.