Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year, the publicly gay rabbi featured daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”
“How do I make this life more present, happy, and helpful? Write love letters, one each day for the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur, to the who and what that matter most in my life: an annual check-in of what matters most.
Not with fear but with love. What is blessed? What is in need of fixing? I’m excited for this journey – one love letter a day.”
Day 1: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie kicks off Prepent 5776 with a moving love letter to his 22 year old self: “I found it helpful. Write one to yourself today?”
Day 2: The first lesson learned from Amichai’s favorite English teacher: “I will teach you how to write,” she barked, “starting with what not to write.”
Day 3: A tribute to Rabbi Kook: “Your legacy has been claimed by very different heirs and followers, celebrating and creating wildly diverse realities in the world.”
Day 4: A tribute to the unsung heroes of the airport: “I don’t want this to sound patronizing. We all do jobs and live lives that sometimes go invisible, unthanked.”
Day 5: Amichai honors the pastor who built the House of Rainbow and then had to flee Nigeria for his life: “When we first met in a room full of LGBTIQ faith leaders at a global interfaith conference, I didn’t quite know what to make of you: Big diva with big rasta hair and big confident smile – yet something seemed broken.”
Day 6+7: A a double Shabbat letter to his mother and the Sabbath Queen. “The country I’m now visiting has a queen on every stamp and mailbox but today I want to honor you – a sovereign not of space but of time.”
Day 8: Honoring the Dead. “As I stand here among my dead relatives, I think about those who have no grave.”
Day 9: Amichai shares wisdom on self love with newfound friends from London. “I am grateful to each of you for reflecting back to me how far we’ve come as a community to be more proud of who we are and how much more we’ve got to go to get beyond the homophobic culture that is still so hurting us.”
Day 10: A personal apology to a friend. “I’ll call you to discuss in person. Important and difficult conversations, good to remember, are best offline.”
Day 11: A gathering to deliver a letter to President Buhari at the Nigerian Embassy in New York to remind him of his campaign promise to #BringBackOurGirls.
Day 12: An apology to a mentor: “This time last year, I wrote to you with an apology for not visiting you often enough. Here we are again.”
Day 13+14: A double love letter to the pain the neck (“You have been with me for years”) and to a hammock (“When I first hung you up in my backyard several years ago it was with the best intentions of resting in you”)
Day 15: Better time management, including being more punctual and on time, is one of the things Amichai wants to work on this coming year.
Day 16: After a particularly bad moth infestation, Amichai reflects on the broader implications for his own life.
Day 18: Who’s on your forgiveness list today and what can you do about it? (“I can’t forget and I want to forgive but like so many other conflicts this one really takes two willing partners.”)
Day 19: Amichai apologizes for throwing out an old rug which symbolized much more than met the eye.
Day 22: How to best add joy and discipline to one’s life: “With every job that must be done there is an element of fun” sings Mary Poppins, the disciplinarian governess who knew also knew a thing or two about magic as she teaches the kids to make up their beds. “You find the fun, and, snap, the job’s a game..”
Day 23: Let’s meet where the trees begin to shed and our leaves leave what no longer matters behind on the branch.
Day 24: Hope, I believe and hope, can be taught and cultivated— this coming year, I want to take some extra lessons.
Day 25: We must take conflict seriously and proactively minimize your painful impact as much as possible.
Day 26: I pause to ponder what it really means to pray and how, perhaps, this coming year, I’ll keep perfecting this poetic art form in ways that will continue healing me and others.
Day 27 + 28: Peacemaking is something we all get to do and can all be better at, with more patience, and persistence.
Day 29: So many of us are yearning for the love that nourishes our soul. May we all dream big and learn to earn it.
Day 30: The Tashlich custom is one of the most embodied, primal, pagan rituals we’ve got on our calendar, a relic of the days of sacrifice.
Day 31: The second day of Rosh Hashana is the second of Ten Days of Return/Response and the response that is called for today is to the same demanding question: How can I bring about salvation both to me and to the world?
Day 32: Amichai writes a love letter to food on Tzom Gedaliah, a minor fast day, commemorating a political assassination and providing needed gastro-check in following the new year feasts.
Day 33: “Research shows that even faking you helps boost morale and it’s tried and true – a smile is one of those contagious gestures that can transform a room or road in an instant to more pleasant.”
Day 34+35: This coming year, I dream of many less distractions, better balance between online and real life, with all the quiet boring dark days that come with not always being ‘on’.
Day 36: An alternative to more dead chicken: With due respect to those who still deal with the birds, I choose to find new tools to take on regret and respond to the question of remorse with creative ways of my own.
Day 37: On this 37th day of Prepent’s journey into a more loving and balanced year, I celebrate the truth of honoring the pains, celebrating the diversity, telling truth and inviting more reconciliation into our fractured lives, today, this year, and for many generations to come.
Day 38+39: Our private and public words matter a lot. In this world of so many words, we are all guilty of misusing words in error, malice, rage or hurt. On Yom Kippur and on all days, I wish for us all to create and to discover sacred moments of intimacy, holy chambers within our heart, shared experiences with other pilgrims to this temple we call life, times for truth.
Day 40: Final reflections.