by Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker
We return to who’ve we’ve always been, are meant to be, but have not yet become. (R. Dov Peretz Elkins)
The whole country was focused on the moon and the sun in August for the highly anticipated solar eclipse. We bought our special sunglasses, decided where we wanted to be the moment the moon passed over the sun, and some even drove to places where they could experience the total eclipse.
A group of female Jewish professionals in Minnesota had our eyes on the moon in a different way last August, as we prepared for Rosh Chodesh to welcome the new moon for the month of Elul. For Jewish clergy and educators, Elul is not only a busy month of spiritual preparation for the New Year, it is also a month in which we are occupied with the details of helping our congregants and students experience High Holy Days through worship services, classes, and programs. A common refrain among Jewish professionals is “after the High Holy Days,” as the rest of our work and our lives are put on the back burner until we can see clear of our myriad responsibilities leading up to the Days of Awe and the festivals that follow.
As you might imagine, our High Holy Day preparation leaves us little time to focus on our own spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. So, it was particularly wonderful for our group to prepare for and share a mikveh event in which we didn’t have to lead or serve anyone but ourselves.
Six of us gathered on a beach on Lake Minnetonka at Camp Teko, the day camp of Minneapolis’ Temple Israel. We sang and laughed, read poems, and talked as we prepared to immerse in the lake. Each of us pondered how we wanted to enter the water and how we wanted to emerge, what we wanted to leave behind from 5777, and what we hoped to experience as we entered 5778. After a brief ceremony, each woman wrapped herself in a sheet and waded into the lake. Everyone found her own space where she could let go of the sheet and immerse in the cool August water. We spent time on our own as the lake breeze kissed our cheeks and ripples caressed our shoulders.
We emerged one by one and gathered on the dock, basking in the marvel of our refreshed togetherness, even as we reflected on our personal experiences. As we formed a small circle, we joined hands and sang a Rosh Chodesh song written by Linda Hirschhorn. We felt more prepared to step into the New Year, even with the mountains of work that we faced. It was a holy and a wholly wonderful experience that left us feeling grateful and renewed.
Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker has served Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minnesota, alongside her husband, Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker, for 20 years. Cantor Spilker grew up in a musical family in Pittsburgh. She was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Sacred Music in 1996. She is passionate about showing people the depth and breadth of Jewish music as well as sharing life cycle events and pastoral visits with the members of her synagogue. She believes that Mayyim Hayyim is a shining star in the Jewish world, and she was privileged to be a scholar-in-residence there in 2016. Cantor and Rabbi Spilker have three children, Eiden (21), Mirit (19), and Liam (13).