Reflecting on Elul and the Days of Awe with Alumni Sara Figueroa

Sara Figueroa (she/her) guides us into the Days of Awe as she shares about her journey, learnings, and thoughts on Elul.

Sara has been with Tisch from the beginning, and has supported Portland’s Jewish community in countless ways. Inspired by Rabbi Allan Lew’s book “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared”, she has stepped into regularly guiding fellow Jews through the month of Elul and into the Days of Awe and leading High Holiday experiences.

On Spirituality & Community

I have always been a spiritual seeker and experimenter. In my early 20s, I spent time with the Romemu community (a jewish renewal synagogue) and a meditation community founded in India. Both primed me to ask the question: what do I want for myself when in community?

One of the answers I knew when I arrived in Portland was – I wanted something different than what I grew up with (a Conservative Movement Synagogue experience – it had it’s good things!) But I still struggled to articulate what I wanted. That didn’t make me feel shy about visiting various synagogues, joining various Jewish orgs looking for community. I was looking for my peeps and I found them! 

Becoming part of the Alberta Shul and TischPDX helped me realize that I was looking for an inclusive, experimental, creative space to be Jewish and Jew-ish. I wanted to know what other people wanted and were also doing so that I could evolve too. I am so honored to have collaborated and learned from fellow Tisch cohort members. It has been magical to see them create amazing spaces, events, experiences and rituals as facilitator and teachers.

What She’s Learned On Her Journey

For formal workshops: Prep, get feedback, prep again, get feedback again and practice and then practice again!

For informal workshops: Less is more! I really felt this year (in my Elul workshops) that having more space and talking more time for activities made the whole experience so much more meaningful. I learned some deep truths about myself, and learned some profound things from participants that you can’t hear in any other context.

Her Current Interests

Food! I am beginning a journey with cooking all non-Ashkenazi holiday food so I am looking for Mexican and Puerto Rican dishes I can make at various jewish holidays that reflect my Latinx heritage.

Her Hopes & Dreams

Next year to do a backyard Tisha B’Av experience – it is so powerful working with grief as a catalyst for healing and transformation.  And I would love to think about some kind of summer retreat experience that includes this and maybe mixing in camping since everyone wants to get out of town 🙂 

Reflections on Elul

For me Elul is a time for re-prioritizing, making space and re-reading “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared” by Rabbi Alan Lew. Relying on the same text (regardless of the book’s and writer’s limitations) provides a pivot point for turning into a new spiritual year and being renewed.

I ask of the book’s spiritual messages: what am I seeking that is missing in this book? And what is still here that I am not doing that will make a difference? 

While imperfect, the profound spiritual seeking, questioning and evaluation of Rabbi Lew and the lessons he gleaned from his life and pulpit, for me provide a starting point to delving deeper in all I do during the high holidays. He says of Elul that it is “a time to gaze upon our inner mountains, to devote serious attention to bringing our lives into focus; a time to clarify the distinction between the will of God and our own willfulness, to identify that in us which yearns for life and that which clings to death, that which seeks good and that which is fatally attracted to the perverse, to find out who we are and where we are going.” And the tool during this time is cheshbon-ha-nefesh, literally a spiritual accounting or soul/spirit accounting (nefesh is spirit/soul in Hebrew).

My wish for you is that you find a path for you as you make your way toward the high holidays, in whatever form feeds your Jewish and/or spiritual transformation.