A Kaddish after Gun Violence: For when Humanity Fails Itself
A prayer for after the Election
A Prayer for during a Fire: Our God and God of our fathers and mothers, as the flames burn, wreaking havoc upon our homes, our hills, our fire fighters, our sense of security, we turn to You for comfort and support.
Prayer comes naturally to some, but is more challenging to others. Teen Leader Olivia Sharon, however, explains where she finds meaning in prayer.
by Rabbi Yael Buechler
Reposted from Ritualwell
I took care of myself, God.
I made sure to eat right, and tried to do a few less dishes.
I told the doctors about all of my aches and pains, just to be sure.
Just to be sure that the baby was okay.
Everything was fine if the baby was fine.
I was getting closer to my baby.
She and I would do lots of things together.
And sometimes she’d even try to get my attention while I was working!
That way, I knew the baby was fine.
And now this.
Now things aren’t fine.
Haven’t I suffered enough loss?
Why did this happen to me?
Why did this happen to us?
She was so beautiful, God.
She was so dear.
She was ours.
I got to hold her.
And now I have to let go.
I was supposed to give thanks at this time.
But I feel empty inside.
Give me the space I need to mourn this loss.
A loss that is so hard to explain, so hard to comprehend.
Give my body time to rest, God.
Let my body begin to heal, as it has undergone such trauma.
Allow me to take the time I need to regain my energy.
Give ___ and I the strength we need to get through this.
Continue to allow my ___ to be there for me, as ___has/ve always been.
When I am ready, let my friends bring me comfort.
So I can smile once again.
I did everything I could, God.
I was a good carrier!
Life was granted inside of me, and now it has been removed.
While there is no official ritual, or shiva,
Please provide ___ and I with love and comfort as we face this reality.
Protect us as we grapple with this loss.
Support us as we continue to look toward building a family.
Barukh Atah Adoshem, Rofeh Cholim.
Blessed are You, God, who heals.
Adapted from Mom’s 1st Day of School Prayer by 6happyhearts.com
La-a-soak b’deev-ray Torah…
To be involved in the study of wisdom.
Here we are again, O Source of Wisdom.
Their backpacks are loaded
and their lunch cards are full.
And I know you will walk with them, Eternal Nurturer.
You always do. But a parent still has to ask.
Will You walk with them?
Will You whisper to them what they need to hear, when I’m not there to whisper it?
Will You please cover their school with a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace,
the protection only You can give, and will You keep harm far away?
Will You make their minds strong and ready to learn?
Will You help them understand that hard work honors the One who created them all?
Will You guide their teachers,
giving them sav-lah-nut (patience), choch-mah (wisdom),
yi-tzee-rah-tee-oot (creativity), and more patience?
Will You bless their them for their efforts?
Will You love all those children there,
the ones whose stomachs aren’t full, the ones who feel alone?
Will You teach my children chesed (kindness), rachameem (compassion), tzedek (justice)?
Please teach them to love even those who are different from them.
Source of Life and Blessing,
I give them to You today and everyday,
Trusting them into Your care.
Baruch Ata Adonai, show-may-ah t’fee-lah.
Blessed are You O God, who hears our prayer.
What’s your prayer for your child today?
This year we have heard from too many people dear to us that they have cancer. The prognoses vary; the fear is too real.
And then there are those for whom the prognosis is:
Less than a year.
Between 1-3 years.
No more than 5.
The whole community is shaken: Those who receive the diagnosis. Those who hear about the diagnosis. Those who want to help and realize that there is really so little that we can do to make this better.
We vow to live life more fully. We promise to let go of the small stuff. And yet…
Reflections of a Man with Cancer
May we learn from Mike Moxness, a member of Congregation Or Ami, shares this reflection just after the one year anniversary of his diagnosis with cancer. Mike writes:
June 2, 2013… Dear friends and family,
It has been a bit over a year since I started this journey. While I am happy to celebrate a year of survival and I am grateful for the life that I lead now, the reflections on the past year have been difficult. I have learned to live in the present and not dwell on the past or worry about the future. It was challenging to think about those dark days when I had to be fed by IV and my time in the hospital. It scared me to think that the darkness may come again in the future. A year of survival is worth celebrating but I am much happier on a regular day, living in the present, being thankful for my current health and life.
I also thought about how I have lived over the past year and asked myself “would I make any changes”?
Not really. While I wish I had more time for exercise and spending time with family and friends, I think I have lived the best possible year under the circumstances. I will try to make the most of every day in the coming year and take advantage of my health. I wish I could bottle up and give everyone the peace that comes with day-by-day living.
I see so many stressed out about the future; all I can say is:
Let it all go. It will all disappear when you are confronted with your own mortality and you will realize how much time you wasted worrying about the small stuff. It is a hard transition to this new perspective and I often fall backwards. But it is easier getting back to the new frame of mind each time.
Thank you for all of your support over the past year. We are so appreciative of your role in our lives. Love, Mike
Today is the day,
G-d of old,
That I [begin to receive][begin another cycle of]
Treatment for my cancer,
This malaise that has invaded my body.
Grant healing power to the [surgery][radiation][and][chemotherapy]
To which I surrender myself with [courage][fear][hope][strength][and]
[_______ (add words that best describe your feelings)].
Reduce the side effects and eliminate any complications from this procedure
And grant me a full and complete recovery from this disease.
Grant me the clarity to make sound choices for my treatment and my life.
Grant my family comfort and relief.
Ease their burdens and ease their minds.
Grant my physicians insight and perseverance.
Grant my caregivers knowledge and skill.
Grant scientists and researchers tools and understanding to develop new treatments for this cancer, speedily, in our day.
G-d of compassion,
Grant me a path to healing.
See me through this day and the days ahead with dignity.
Strengthen my resolve to live fully and to love deeply.
Blessed are You,
G-d of health and healing.
Teens can be so surprisingly inspiring.
At home, we sometimes used to struggle to feed balanced meals to our 3 teenagers. Imagine trying to feed 1000 as these Jewish teens sat together to for Shabbat dinner. And that was only the beginning.
We are gathered at a hotel in Los Angeles for the NFTY Convention, perhaps the largest Jewish teen gathering around. NFTY, of which our kids are third generation members, has brought together teens from all over the US and Canada (and also, I heard, teens from Israel and a half dozen other countries) for five days of fun, socializing, Jewish learning, energetic music, teen issues, social justice activism, eating, talking, laughing, singing, dancing, praying …
Oh, the praying…
This is not your Grandfather’s Davening (worship)
Growing up in many a synagogue, most teens experience prayer as a formalized experience. Lots of responsive readings mixed in with serious music. Over time, our Ashkenazi ancestors, and their American Reformer descendants, articulated a formalized experience, with precise words and structure, and instructions of when to stand and sit, and just how to bow. Services at the NFTY convention were anything but that. I imagine some of our Jewish ancestors might be turning over in their graves if they watched these 1000 NFTYites pray.
Because our teens sang energetically, chanted meaningfully and swayed with joy and abandon. It was meaningful. It was exciting. And just so inspiring. It was more early chassidism then early reformer.
The early European chassidim transformed the Jewish prayer experience from the staid to the emotional. They taught their adherents to open themselves up by singing and dancing, to lift themselves beyond the “here and now” to the hopeful and the passionate.
Prayer can be spine-tingling, bone-shakingly uplifting
Yes, spread out all over the ballroom floor, our teens sat and sang a beautifully melodic prayer. But as the energy built up, the inspiration ramped up, and before we knew it, kids popped up onto their feet. Singing and swaying, dancing and clapping, they became the modern definition of hitlahavut, joyous enflamed passion.
Perhaps that best describes this indescribable experience. More than prose, this teen tefilah is poetry in its wholesomeness and all encompassing nature. It is chassidic hitlahavut, combined with Martin Buber’s I-Thou relationalism, mixed in with Debbie Friedman-inspired musicality.
I turned to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, the parent body of our congregations, and the older sister to NFTY. Praising the scene we were witnessing, I shared my frustration at my inability to find the words to capture the wonderful spiritual transformation we were witnessing. He nodded knowingly, as he smiled appreciatively, clearly touched by the expansive displays of prayerfulness surrounding us. We clapped on.
God was in the House!
Most synagogues would celebrate if a dozen teenagers showed up at Shabbat services on a regular Friday night. How would it feel when 1000 attended? Awesome. Just awesome.
Rabbi Jacobs began his story drash asking, “Is NFTY in the house?” The thunderous response assured us all that they were.
Had the question been a bit different – Is God in the house? – I feel confident, the answer would have been the same.
Prayer that Wows
Thanks NFTY. Thanks URJ. Thanks Rabbi Dan Medwin of the CCAR for the Visual Tefilah. And the unnamed shlichay tzibur (prayer leaders). For a spiritual, musical, inspirational tefilah.
Yes, God was in the House!
rescue workers, our sense of security,
down-pouring of Your love and comfort.
You ask us to care for each other, an awesome responsibility.
a barren rock, You brought forth water to quench our thirst,
the midst of a journey through the wilderness, You showed Miriam a
of wells which healed our parched throats,
guided us through Yam Suf, the Red Sea, moving us past destruction
new life and new beginnings.
Your love, we found our way.
us close to those harmed by these waters, hearing their
responding to their needs.
us to support those who will fix the cities,
for the displaced, who bring healing to those suffering.
our attention spans seem so short, may we
slow to forget those who were in danger.
so many who – facing the floods – rushed to pack up their valuables:
spent with family and friends
priceless, holy and sacred.
living in this
world of ours,
those who are truly valuable –
– to us.
Adonai, Hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol.
God, who differentiates between the truly
and everything else.
I adapted this prayer for Jewish World Watch, the is a hands-on leader in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities, engaging individuals and communities to take local actions that produce powerful global results. JWW is about to embark on a fact finding mission to the Congo, and will share this prayer with the survivors of the mass rapes and violence. The prayer will also appear in Jewish World Watch’s High Holy Day publication.
Lest we somehow forget, Sudan and the Congo are home to some of the worst genocidal mass murders and mass rapes of the 21st century.
The prayer is adapted, with permission, by me, from two prayers by author/liturgist Alden Solovy –
For the People of Norway and For 9-11 Survivors. These prayers are © 2011 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
G-d of the survivors, mourners and witnesses,
Grant strength to those still held by physical, emotional and spiritual distress from the continuing violence in Congo and Sudan. Release them from visions of rape and death, from guilt or shame, from fear or anger. Bind their wounds with Your steadfast love.
Grant them shelter and solace,
Comfort and consolation.
Grant them endurance to survive,
Faith to mourn,
Courage to heal
Devotion to each other.
Bless those who have healed.
Bless those who suffer.
Bless those who forgive.
Bless those who cannot forgive.
Bless those who speak.
Bless those who stay silent.
Baruch Atah, Tzur Yisrael, Oseh tikvah v’nechamah
Blessed are You, Rock of Israel, Source of hope and comfort.
Sitting in the airport, waiting for my red-eye, I’m amazed by how easily zoned out I can become in the midst of the cacophony of this bustling airport. Like any modern, wired up traveler, I’m sitting here, plugged into the Samsung Mobile charging station, with my computer, Verizon MiFi broadband, and my iPhone. I’m perusing my email (too tired to think straight, can’t really respond coherently to anything). I’m playing Tetris Marathon, a new addiction thanks to child #3. I’m reading blogs and writing my own.
Sad thing is, with a zoned out brain, I really have nothing to say. No wise words. No pithy comparisons between my current state and the Jewish spirituality.
Suddenly, its quiet. We are 40 minutes away from departure time, a hush settles over the main room. There’s an iPad here, a iTouch there. She’s reading a book, he’s texting on his phone. Everyone is just waiting to get boarded up to take off.
I’ve never been one for mindless drivel on my blog, but hey, its way past my bedtime.
So if this feels like nonsense, please feel free not to read it.
Oops, we are about to board. Here’s T’fillat HaDerech, the traveler’s prayer, with my emendations in italics:
Tefilat Haderech – The Traveler’s Prayer
Ye-hi ratson mil’fa-ne-cha Adonai elo-hei-nu vei-lo-hei avo-teinu sheh-toli-cheinu l’shalom v’ta-tzi-deinu l’shalom v’tad-ri-cheinu l’shalom v’ta-gi-einu lim-choz chef-tseinu l’chayim ul-simcha ul-shalom. V’ta-tsi-leinu mikaf kol oyeiv v’oreiv v’listim v’cha-yot ra-ot ba-derech u-mikol mi-nei fur-a-niyot ha-mit-ragshot lavo la-olam. V’tish-lach b’racha b’chol ma-asei ya-deinu v’tit-neinu l’chein ul-chesed ul-racha-mim be’ei-necha uv-einei chol ro-einu, v’tishma kol tacha-nu-neinu. Ki Eil sho-mei-a t’fi-lah v’ta-cha-nun a-tah. Ba-ruch a-tah Adonai sho-mei-a t’fi-lah.
May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, emplace our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears our prayer.
Today is the 11th day of the Omer, that is 1 week and 4 days.
Today is also the day I write my 613th post on this blog. It feels like a mitzvah! A time to pause and reflect:
- Can you be at one with the universe?
- Can you stop doing and just continue being?
Shema, a central prayer recited twice daily, concludes Adonai Echad.
Some teach that this means God is one, that God is not two like the ancient Zoroastrians believed. And God is not three, like we Jews understand the Christian Trinity to really express (Father, Son, Holy Ghost equal three for Jews). And God is not many, like the ancient Greeks and the contemporary Wiccans believe. All this is true for Jews.
I prefer to translate Adonai Echad as God alone, following our Reform Movement siddur (prayer book), Mishkan Tefilah. This teaches multiple significant lessons:
- There is nothing but God. Ain Sof, as the Kabbalists express, God has no end. Everything is within God. Separation is just a way we comprehend the world. Unreal but effective. So we are part of the Oneness of the Holy One.
- Everything is connected to everything else. If God alone means everything is God, and I am within God and You are within God, then we are connected within God. It means that I am connected also with those I do not know, those I have never met and those who exist across the world and across our city. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches that the world exists within the invisible lines of connection.
- If I want to experience holiness, sometimes I should just stop acting on and in the world and just be. When I just focus on being, I might catch a glimpse, a sense, a shadow, of the is-ism of Adonai Echad. I might truly recognize that I am part of that oneness.
It is hard to do when one is running and doing. So try this. It is something I learned at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.
Sit comfortably, quietly close your eyes, and just breathe. Focus on the breath. When thoughts come into your mind, categorize them as pleasant or unpleasant. If pleasant, push them, in your mind’s eye, to the left. If unpleasant, push them to the right. Then return to focus on the breathing.
You might find, somewhere in there, that you sense the eternality of the breathe, that just in being you exist in a most profound form.
At that moment, you just might have experienced the oneness of holiness, the oneness of the Holy One.
For more mediations on living on the journey, take a look at Seeking Words Where There are None, the Omer blog of Rabbi Ari Margolis, a former Congregation Or Ami summer rabbinic intern. It is well worth the time.
Today is day four of the Omer. We have been traveling out of Egypt for four days.
Today we really get out into the wilderness. Well, Seder in the Wilderness as the community of Congregation Or Ami calls it. Seder in the Wilderness [pictures here and some video here] is our two day experience away from the comforts of home as we relive the exodus from Egypt and the wanderings in the wilderness. Some 140 people gather together – this year at the Shalom Institute of JCA Shalom (in Malibu), in years past at Malibu Creek State Park. We camp or cabin; we play, pray and reflect within the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. We have a traditional game of horseshoes (one might argue that Pharaoh’s army, pulled by horses, used thousands of horseshoes… except that would be an anachronism – horseshoes came much later). Campfire services, a big Persian Kosher-for-Passover barbecue and a reliving the exodus program are highlights.
I hate going to Seder in the Wilderness.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being there. I just don’t like going there. As my wife reminds me that whenever I am at SIW, I really, really enjoy it. The relaxed atmosphere, the ability to sit with and talk to people, and the clean air are so refreshing. But getting myself packed and ready, moving beyond the inertia of the post-Seder, pre-SIW period, is challenging. These post-seder days I become a computer addicted, matzah-fueled couch (kosher for passover) potato. It makes me wonder:
- Would I have been one of those who just didn’t want to get off his tush and thus ended up staying in Egypt?
- Would I have been one who, once out of Egypt, began complaining about the emptiness and danger of the desert?
- Would I have gotten scared at Yam Suf (the Red Sea), with Pharaoh’s army behind us and the Sea before us?
- Would I have kvetched that we should be turning around and returning to the relative comforts of Egypt?
- Would you?
Beginning journeys can be difficult. We are more comfortable with what we know, even if it is not healthy, good for us or inspiring. The journey toward our true selves – toward who we should be, could be – is blocked by the here and now. Early in our wilderness trek, each step can be momentous, even as we feel like we are lifting weights to get our feet off the ground.
But if we step forward, step beyond our comfort zone, the journey can be very rewarding, for there is a Promised Land out there somewhere awaiting our arrival.
Here’s the traditional Tefillat Haderech, a Jewish prayer for wayfarers, for all who are embarking on a journey:
May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, emplace our footsteps towards peace, guide us toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.
May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush, bandits and wild animals along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to Earth. May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us peace, kindness, and mercy in your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our supplication, because You are the God who hears prayer and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who hears prayer. [Listen to Doug Cotler’s musical version.]
So I journey now, by car, to Seder in the Wilderness. May you get up off your tush and step forward into the unknown but hopeful place beyond where you are. And may all our journeys be safe and inspiring.
We count the seven times seven weeks (or 49 days) of the Omer, corresponding with the 49 day journey of the Israelites to Mt. Sinai. Counting the Omer is a mystical journey, a journey to our highest selves. This week, we traverse through the sephirah of chesed (kindness and love).
Today is day one, the first day of the Omer.
I dedicate this first day’s journey to those who are suffering – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and particularly to a young friend who is watching her father slowly die. With overflowing chesed, I/we answer her – and all who suffer: “I see you. I hear you. I honor you.” It is about just being there for each other, being present.
Poet/liturgist Alden Solovy offers Witnessing: A Meditation which invites us to pause, to remain silent, and to offer up our precious presence. (Make sure to check out Adlen’s many, many beautiful prayers at www.tobendlight.com.)
Witnessing: A Meditation
Have you seen the teen who cuts himself with a blade?
Or the youth who sticks herself with needles?
Have you seen a father force back tears while he buries his son?
Or a mother weeping with her daughter, wailing after an assault?
Do you hear the voices of the hungry, the lost, the shocked and confused
Afraid that they may never return from the darkness?
Brother, do not say: “I’ve been there.”
Sister, do not say: “I know that feeling.”
Rather, say: “I see you. I hear you. I honor you.”
Weep with me, not for me.
Pray with me, not about me.
Walk with me, don’t lead me.
This moment is not yours to repair,
Not yours to sooth,
Not yours to ease with the false balm of words.
Have you watched your daughter kiss her mother goodbye on the deathbed?
Have you seen your home consumed in fire?
If you have, bless you.
If you haven’t, bless you.
Have you stood with your sisters and brothers,
Not needing to understand,
Not needing to change the moment,
Witnessing in silence?
If you have, bless you.
If you haven’t, this blessing awaits you.
G-d of holiness and healing,
Teach us to be present as loving witnesses
On this amazing, glorious and dangerous journey.
Help us to stay awake to love and loss,
To be present for those in need.
Help me to see, to hear and to remember –
And so to bless –
The lonely and the lost,
The bereaved and bereft,
With compassion and love.
To stand with them,
As they have stood with me,
In the darkness,
Until I could, once again, face the light.
© 2010 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
“I show up at services to pray,” he said. “But what am I supposed to do there?”
There we sat at the coffee shop. He drinking his latte; me a spiced apple cider. While I tried to formulate an answer to his question, he hit me up with a barrage of questions intended to crack the cryptic code of the Jewish prayer service. One minute we were ordering our drinks; the next we were deep in a conversation about the frustration of being at services, and of trying to converse with God through the mysterious medium we call “Jewish prayer.”
“Rabbi,” he continued, “I can recite the prayers from memory. That, at least, I retain from that torture that passed for religious school when I was a kid. Thank God, that Or Ami’s school has more depth, creativity and openness than mine did! (I smiled.) But no one ever explained to me what happened in the synagogue. So I just went in and repeated the words I was taught. It felt empty. I stopped going. I just don’t know what praying is supposed to do. How do prayers work? When do I know if I was successful in saying my prayers? Sometimes I just sit there and absorb Cantor Cotler’s music. It takes me away. Is that part of praying?
Sometimes I find myself getting choked up singing the Mi Shebeirach. Is that emotion or spirituality? Sometimes I find myself so caught up on one of the gems of learning that you share in the service that I lose track of the words as I think the issue through. Is that sacrilegious? Often I wonder, is anyone listening out there?
In the business world, I am a powerhouse. People come to me for advice on how to navigate the world of commerce. Yet I have been a Jew all my life, and in services, or before my rabbi, I feel like a bumbling fool.”
10 Things to Do During Services:
- Say or chant the prayers.
- Let the music carry you away.
- Read through the English translations of the prayers.
- Close your eyes and just listen.
- Flip through the siddur (prayerbook) and soak up its wisdom.
- Meditate upon a single word or two.
- Sing loudly or sing softly.
- Give thanks to God for all the good things in your life or in the world.
- Take a break from the busy-ness of life to recognize the greater power within.
- Make up and say a personal prayer in your own words.
10 Purposes of Jewish Pray:
- To put you in conversation with God using age-old, time-tested language and sentiments to connect.
- To reinforce important Jewish values like Shalom-peace, Shema-Oneness and unity, l’dor vador-connections between generations, Hoda’ah-thankfulness.
- To build community (the 20th century German Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said that God can be found in the experience of individuals giving themselves over to each other)
- To build community (the 20th century philosopher Mordechai Kaplan said that reciting communally defined words of prayer reinforce the sacred community)
- To open us up to be vessels of God’s will (the medieval teacher Sefas Emet, Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Ger, taught that prayer can lead us to let go of our own ego needs and thereby allow us to be filled with God’s divine purpose).
- To help us slow down and turn inward, thereby focusing on that which is truly important.
- To address the national and communal needs of the Jewish people by reciting bakashot, prayers requesting specific needs.
- To recognize how thankful you are for the blessings in your life.
- To practice the rituals that connect us to our past and to the present.
- To address the personal needs of the individual Jew by means of the silent prayer.