New takes on ‘Jonah’
By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,
seymourforweb2I am always amazed at how each holiday, rabbis and Jewish educators come up with new things to talk and write about. Yet, sometimes I want to hear something that I have heard before. Often, we hear a thought or idea that we aren’t quite ready for, but the next time it is presented it reaches us. That is the amazing joy of Torah study: every time we read the same words, we hear them differently. We forget that, in truth, we are different at different stages in our lives. The story of Jonah is like that, which we read every year at the afternoon service on Yom Kippur. What are the messages that we get from this story? How can we find something new each year? Here are a few thoughts to get you going this Yom Kippur:

  • Jonah was a “reluctant prophet” — he didn’t want to do what God asked him to do. We all struggle with taking responsibility at times. Does it matter who gives you the task? Kids will say that you can’t run away from God but adults aren’t so sure. What was the challenge given to Jonah? Why did he run away? Before you try to give answers, ask more questions. Our questions help us delve deeper. Think about each part of the story: why a whale (or some say a big fish)? How did the sailors feel and why? How was Jonah sleeping during a storm? Each question leads to more thinking!
  • In a September 2012 post from, Maya Bernstein writes these questions: Has anyone recently asked something of you that felt overwhelming and made you want to run away? What does it feel like when someone expects something of you and you aren’t sure you can do it? These questions are suggested for children but they certainly make adults think as well.
  • Rabbi Ed Feinstein writes on in the same issue: Unlike every other prophetic book, the book of Jonah has no particular time or place. He lives in all generations, because the temptation to separate, divide and withdraw is always present. So, each year, in the middle of Yom Kippur, at the very moment of deepest self-absorption, when the stomach groans, the head aches and the feet are tired, we revisit the prophet in the belly of the fish to learn again that for the Jew, reaching to the soul within us and reaching to the world beyond us are the ways we reach the God who cares for us all.

What does the story mean to you? Read it — REALLY read it this year. Find the message that touches you this year as you prepare for the new year.
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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