Tag: Prayer

What Am I Supposed to Do at Prayer Services?

“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:

  1. Say or chant the prayers.
  2. Let the music carry you away.
  3. Read through the English translations of the prayers.
  4. Close your eyes and just listen.
  5. Flip through the siddur (prayerbook) and soak up its wisdom.
  6. Meditate upon a single word or two.
  7. Sing loudly or sing softly.
  8. Give thanks to God for all the good things in your life or in the world.
  9. Take a break from the busy-ness of life to recognize the greater power within.
  10. Make up and say a personal prayer in your own words.

10 Purposes of Jewish Pray:

  1. To put you in conversation with God using age-old, time-tested language and sentiments to connect.
  2. To reinforce important Jewish values like Shalom-peace, Shema-Oneness and unity, l’dor vador-connections between generations, Hoda’ah-thankfulness.
  3. 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)
  4. To build community (the 20th century philosopher Mordechai Kaplan said that reciting communally defined words of prayer reinforce the sacred community)
  5. 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).
  6. To help us slow down and turn inward, thereby focusing on that which is truly important.
  7. To address the national and communal needs of the Jewish people by reciting bakashot, prayers requesting specific needs.
  8. To recognize how thankful you are for the blessings in your life.
  9. To practice the rituals that connect us to our past and to the present.
  10. To address the personal needs of the individual Jew by means of the silent prayer.

A Prayer for the People of Haiti

A prayer for the people of Haiti, 

who, on a good day, 
must take heroic measures

just to wake the next, 

And who must now find a way 

to live through the end of the world: 

O Compassionate One,
whose relief work is beyond our capabilities 

Breathe life today into those buried alive 

and strengthen the response capacity
 of Your relief workers in this world

To hear those who have yet to be saved,
To hear those who have been saved
but whose limbs and lives are crushed,
To hear those who pray
For those who can no longer pray for themselves.

O Source of Speech,
embedded in the language of love, 

Fortify the souls of those who call out now in rescue

O Life Force,
expressed in the language of loss, 

Send strength to those who, with their last strength 

Now seek nothing more than finding loved ones 

A prayer for the people of Haiti,
who on this day
take heroic measures 
just to survive, 

And with the world’s help,
Will find a way
to live into 
an new world,
Though one rebuilt
on the rubble of unfathomable loss.

O Source of Response to need, 

Be the blessing

Of prayers realized.

And we say: Amen

Adapted by Rabbi Shawn Zevit from a prayer by Bradley Burston, Israel News 

With thanks to the Union for Reform Judaism for sharing this resource with me

My favorite place to donate to help Haitians is the Reform Movement Haiti Relief Fund:

In the wake of the horrific destruction that has hit Haiti, our national organization, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has opened its disaster relief fund to aid those devastated by the severe earthquake. With a still-unimaginable number of casualties, relief and support is being directed to help rescue and recovery efforts scale up rapidly. A number of our partner organizations are already on the ground or on their way to provide assistance. Donations to the Union for Reform Judaism Haiti Relief Fund can be made online at www.urj.org/relief or by sending a check to Union for Reform Judaism, Attention: Development, 633 Third Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY, 10017.

Background: Our Reform Jewish community has a long history of generosity when natural disasters devastate communities, when houses of worship burn in the fires of racial prejudice, when terrorism causes havoc, and when other disasters cause untold harm across the planet. In such times, the Union for Reform Judaism activates the Union Disaster Fund for contributions, which are then forwarded to appropriate agencies. In recent years the Union Disaster Relief Fund has provided help to the victims September 11, floods in Europe, earthquakes in South America and Southeast Asia, Black churches that were burned in Southern United States and the Grand Forks community when it flooded. In the wake of the hurricanes that battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, more than $3 million in donated funds were raised to help the victims and agencies that are assisting them and the congregations of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida.The Union for Reform Judaism is a member of the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, which allows a unified Jewish response to natural and man-made crises that occur outside of North America.

Yachatz: The Middle Matzah of Brokenness (a New Ritual)

Haggadah Insert for Use during this Financial Depression
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes,
Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA
With help from Rabbinic Student Ilana Mills
Formatted copy here.

Pass out copies and read before other Yachatz readings. The leader takes out the middle Matzah, breaks it in two and holds up both pieces.

Reader 1: At every Passover seder, we break the middle matzah. In a few moments, we will put the larger piece aside for the Afikoman or dessert. Usually, we place the smaller piece back between the two whole Matzot, as we prepare to remember our ancestors’ lives as slaves in Egypt. Tonight, however, we delay the second part of the ritual so we can consider the brokenness in our world.

Everyone: Tonight, throughout our country and our world, and even perhaps around our Seder table, people are experiencing more brokenness than in recent memory. Younger and older; working, unemployed and retired; singles and couples, and families of all configurations – so many lives have been damaged by the economic depression and uncertainty about the future. Unlike the middle matzah broken on purpose, they find that a series of financial decisions – some made by them, some out of their control – have shattered their economic security.

Reader 2: Tonight, different than in previous years, we take this second piece of matzah and crumble it here (on a plate or on the tablecloth) to remind us of how amidst the current financial crisis, the world seems to be crumbling around so many people. Like the glass broken at a wedding which reminds us of the tireless work the couple must do to escape shattering their marriage, this crumbled matzah reminds us of all the work we must do to help others whose lives are shattering.

Everyone: As we stare at this crumbled middle matzah, let us pause to consider the pain of lives crumbling around us. So many feel so alone. So many experience despair. Like our Israelite ancestors felt before Moses and Miriam came to set them free, our people today despair over the difficulties in repairing the brokenness of their lives.

Reader 3: Our ancestors, slaves of Pharaoh, survived the oppression in Egypt. Helping each other, holding each other up, they walked through the Yam Suf (the Red Sea). With persistence and determination, they passed through those difficult times. And we all can too. If we help each other. If we remember to open our hearts, open our wallets, open our community. If we welcome in and support those in need, those who are no longer strangers to financial struggle. And so we say together:


Ha lach-ma an-ya di a-cha-lu a-va-ha-ta-na b’ar’a d’mitz-ra-yim. This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; Let all who are in need come share our Passover. This year here, next year in Israel. Today bound; tomorrow free.

3 Rabbis to Offer Prayers at Obama Inauguration Service

JTA broke the news a few days ago in the Jewish world that 3 rabbis

Reform Rabbi David Saperstein, Conservative Rabbi Jerome Epstein and Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein are scheduled to take part in the Jan. 21 event at the National Cathedral in Washington… Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, offered a prayer on the night Obama accepted the Democratic nomination at last summer’s convention in Denver.

Haaretz comes to highlight the higher profile that religion is playing in the Democratic world and in this first African-American President’s inauguration. After a politically astute, yet very disappointing decision to invite the upcoming dean of the Christian Right world, and strong marriage equality opponent Rick Warren, President-elect Obama is offering some very significant invitations:

… Obama asked V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, to lead prayers at Sunday’s kickoff for the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial. Gay rights groups rejoiced, while some conservative Christians wrung their hands.

Then at the January 21 National Prayer Service that caps the inauguration:

The Reverand Sharon Watkins, the first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Protestant group, will deliver the sermon.

A prayer will be offered at the National Cathedral by Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. The Islamic Society, based in Indiana, is the nation’s largest Muslim group.

Prayers for Peace

As the war in Gaza intensifies, let us offer these prayers. Each comes from a colleague in Israel:

The first, from a colleague in Israel, Moshe Yehudai, Raanana:

Dear Friends,

Regardless of your political views, I call you at this moment, a few hours after the beginning of the ground incursion to Gaza, as ever, to be sensitive to human life, who are now in such a tremendous danger.

Jews and Arabs, men and women, young and old, soldiers and civilians – they are all created in the image of God. – This is my fundamental belief, and my fundamental prayer is that the bloodshed will be minimal.

Oseh shalom bimromav, hoo yaaseh shalom aleynu, al kol israel, al kol Yishmael ve’al kol bney adam. May the One who makes peace in the High Heavens, bring peace to us, to all Israel, to all Yishmael (Isaac’s step-brother, the father of Muslims) and to all people.

Another prayer:

A Prayer for Times of War
by Rabbi Yehoram Mazor, Av Beit Ha’Din of MARAM, Israel

May the Everlasting One who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah bless all the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and all those who are protecting our people. May the Source of Blessing protect them and free them from all trouble and anxiety, and may all they do be blessed. May God send safety and redemption to all our soldiers in captivity.

May the Eternal have mercy on them and bring them from darkness to light and from enslavement to salvation, give them strength and save them. May the Eternal listen to all the prayers of our people.

Merciful God, may Your compassion be with us, and remember Your covenant with Abraham. May you spread the covering of Your peace over the descendants of Ishmael, son of Hagar, and over the descendants of Isaac, son of Sarah, and may it be fulfilled that they shall hammer their swords into spades and their spear into plowshare. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation and they shall learn war no more. And each shall sit under their vines and their fig trees and none shall disturb them.

And let us say: Amen