Kismet, Pixie Dust, or Divine Providence?

When we first launched this community in 2006, my co-founder Suzi LeVine often told me about her desire for Kavana to create Jewish experiences with the same kind of "pixie dust quality" that she associated with Jewish summer camp... in other words, warm and magical experiences. For me, the High Holidays we're just coming off of really hit the mark in this regard.

When we first launched this community in 2006, my co-founder Suzi LeVine often told me about her desire for Kavana to create Jewish experiences with the same kind of "pixie dust quality" that she associated with Jewish summer camp... in other words, warm and magical experiences. For me, the High Holidays we're just coming off of really hit the mark in this regard.

In addition to high-quality services and programs, smooth logistics (even with so many details to manage!), and the sweet community feel, these chagim simply had a magical quality about them! How is it possible that in a year when we needed to be able to offer outdoor programming to keep our community safe, we just happened to have extraordinarily gorgeous weather on both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, with a string of very rainy days beginning just hours after Neilah?! (So many of you joked that we must have placed just the right weather order from God!) How can we explain the fact that on Rosh Hashanah day 1 -- as we were streaming the Torah service but struggling because the sound system hook-up at the venue didn't permit us to plug in a computer charger simultaneously -- our laptop battery held out until the final note of Etz Chayim Hi, the screen fading to black just as we ended?! (Cue up the analogy to the oil lasting eight days in the Chanukah story!)

On Friday, I had another one of these amazing experiences, which perhaps we might chalk up to kismet (fate), pixie dust, or Divine providence. In my Yom Kippur sermon, I spoke about Kimonti Carter, an incredible human being who is incarcerated in the Washington State prison system and has created a transformative educational program called TEACH. If you haven't had a chance yet, I invite you to watch, listen to, or read the sermon -- entitled "'Easy to Appease': A Yom Kippur Intention" -- here. (In addition, if you keep reading below, you'll find details about an opportunity to screen and discuss the film Since I Been Down next month.)

Anyway, this past Friday -- the day after Yom Kippur -- I found myself on a planning call with Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum and Dr. Mark Jones (the founders of the Beloved Community Black/Jewish Clergy group from which this effort sprung), with Gilda Sheppard (the filmmaker) and a couple members of her staff, and with my colleague Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown (Senior Pastor of Plymouth Church Seattle). We were working out the details for the October 24th program about the film... talking about which questions were the best ones to center on, how to focus our action steps, etc. At several points in the conversation, we voiced that we wished we could ask Kimonti himself to weigh in, but alas, he is incarcerated and reaching him isn't simple. And then, all of a sudden, Gilda's phone rang, and it was Kimonti! She patched him into our Zoom call, and moments later we were introducing ourselves to him and talking about our efforts and listening to his wisdom on how to tackle the radical inequities of our society and effect real and lasting change... and he really is an inspiration. How is it that he happened to have called Gilda right then?! As we exchanged words of hope and blessing with one another, I felt like the universe was winking at us... a moment of grace.

Tonight we begin the week-long festival of Sukkot. The Torah (Leviticus 23:42-43) states: "You shall live in sukkot (booths) seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in sukkot, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt."

In the Talmud (BT Sukkah 11b), a famous debate transpires about the nature of these sukkot in which the Israelites dwelled. Rabbi Akiva says that they were "sukkot mamash" -- actual booths or huts. Rabbi Eliezer claims, instead, that they were "ananei kavod" (clouds of glory) that surrounded and protected the Israelites while they wandered in the wilderness. If we follow Rabbi Akiva's interpretation, the holiday of Sukkot functions primarily as a re-enactment of an important historical event. If we follow Rabbi Eliezer's opinion, though, we might conclude that building a sukkah today is more about acknowledging the miraculous ways, both then and now, that God has sheltered us. In this understanding, Sukkot becomes a celebration of Divine providence.

This theme came through in our High Holiday liturgy, every time we ended a service with the Psalm for the Days of Awe. Psalm 27:5 reads: "ki yitzp'neini b'sukoh...," "For God will shelter me in God's sukkah on an evil day, grant me the protection of God's tent, raise me high upon a rock."

As we move into Sukkot tonight, somehow, it looks like the rain and winds we've had over the last few days are going to subside and give way to a full week of absolutely perfect weather. I can't explain it... I certainly wouldn't be so brazen as to claim that this is a direct manifestation of God's will, but I also can't say with certainty that it's not.

For now, I think I'll just choose to reside in the open possibility. As I sit in my sukkah tonight and look up at the stars, I will be feeling the sheltering presence of the ananei kavod, the clouds of glory. If you come visit, you might see my strings of fairy lights twinkling... or perhaps it'll be the universe winking at us all, yet again.

Wishing you a magical chag, filled with the security that comes from residing in God's sheltering presence... and perhaps a dash of pixiedust, too.

Chag sukkot sameach,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum