Sisterhood Blog

Rosh Hodesh, Maui-Style

By Elana Maryles Sztokman

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Somewhere between Philly and Phoenix, I picked up a nasty cold. It started as a small sniffle as I was squished between two large men during the take-off during this second leg of my 28-hour journey. If I had been on my way to anywhere else other than Hawaii, where I was once again invited for by the Jewish Congregation of Maui to consult on Jewish education and development, I might have considered that this wasn’t worth the effort. By the time I took off from Phoenix, I clearly had a temperature, as well as that horrible lump in the throat which felt depressingly like strep, and I begged the flight attendant to switch me to a row with no other passengers so I could just lay down for six hours and nurse myself back to health in the clouds. It’s terrible to be sick anytime. But when you’re on your way to a mere 14 days in paradise, you don’t want to waste even one moment.

I learned this lesson from my relatively new but deeply cherished friend Leslie Granat. Born in Brooklyn — like a remarkable number of people I’ve met here — Leslie retired to Maui several years ago after a series of very successful business ventures. When Leslie realized I was still coughing my second night here, she gave me some tissues to use as a mask, in order to make sure that neither she nor any of her friends would catch my germs. “We’re a bit fanatic here about not getting sick,” she explained apologetically as I breathed out the window. “When you live in paradise, you do not want to lose even one day.”

Unfortunately we were already halfway to our destination “up country” in the town of Kula before I realized how much my presence threatened Leslie’s tranquility. Plus, I really did not want to miss the event — the women’s Rosh Chodesh group at the Maui Chabad house. (Not to worry, I covered my face the entire time and sat far away from people, near the window).

I sometimes think that in my next life I want to come back as a Chabad shaliach. Travel the world, have everything you need in arms’ length, and be driven by a mission that every single aspect of your life is doing God’s work. Chabad on Maui — now there’s a good gig. Putting aside my snootiness (it was the fever talking), I must say that Rebbetzin Schusterman is lovely and learned, a caring and gentle educator who homeschools her five children (all under the age of five, including newborn twins). The home exudes warmth, love and Jewish education, and every decoration revolves around the children’s learning. If you’re looking for a meaningful and all-encompassing Jewish life without moving to Israel, this is certainly one way to achieve that. It’s a model of bringing Jewish community to you rather than seeking out community. It is compelling.

This Rosh Chodesh group, in which 12–15 women of all ages, backgrounds, and geographic origins (though not one, tellingly, was Maui-born), came together in this eclectic version of Hawaiian-Jewish spirituality. After learning a bit about the significance of Tevet, the history of Hanukkah, and the origins of the Jewish star, the rebbetzin passed around a plate of tea candles, and gave instructions for each woman to light a candle as she expressed her “intentions for the coming month”. This use of “intention” was a lovely combination of the Jewish concept of kavana [meaning or intent] and a Buddhist concept of meditative consciousness. Totally Maui.

Although some women’s intentions were about health, I decided that it would be a waste such a special moment to focus on my little cold. Instead, I expressed an intention for balance, wisdom and clarity of mission. I don’t have many days left here in Maui, and there is a lot I want to do. Mostly, I want to figure out how to bring some of this paradise back to Israel, where we can most certainly use some of the magical healing powers of Maui.


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