Prayer comes naturally to some, but is more challenging to others. When the prayers recited are thousands of years old, the challenge increases to mine these ancient texts for deep meaning. Recently, we invited our teens to delve into the depths of their most familiar prayers. Their insights inspired worshippers at our Shabbat Services.
Olivia Sharon, a high school senior and the Religious and Cultural Vice President of LoMPTY, Congregation Or Ami’s high school youth group, recently shared this iyyun (teaching) on the V’ahavta prayer:
When chanting the V’ahavta, we are promising God that we will think about and observe God’s commandments every morning and every night, no matter where we are or what else we are doing. I have found a new way to make the words I am chanting fit into my everyday life as a modern teenager. It is not about saying the commandments when I wake up or go to sleep, but rather emulating the Jewish values everywhere I go.
Growing up in Congregation Or Ami has taught me many lessons, but one value I see constantly when I walk in those doors is acceptance. To me, being Jewish means hachnasat orchim, welcoming everybody, regardless of age, gender, race, or sexuality. It also means being open minded about the world and the different beliefs that exist in it. When I sing the V’ahavata I am reminded that I should not only be accepting in this synagogue, but in every building because Jews takes the values they learn in temple and from the Torah and carries them with them into the world.
Another lesson I have learned from the V’ahavta is that we should be proud to be Jewish. The prayer states uchtavtam al mezuzot beitecha u’visharecha, that we should inscribe the commandments on our doorposts and on our gates. To me, these words mean that we should show everyone that we are Jewish and have nothing to hide. Too often I have met kids and teenagers who seem ashamed of the fact that they are Jews and enjoy going to temple.
One of the reasons I chose to be Religious and Cultural Vice President of LoMPTY’s board is because I wanted to help make our religion more engaging, so teens will feel proud to say they are part of the Jewish community.
As we chant the V’ahavata together, please do so with confidence because we know that we are keeping the Jewish values and traditions alive everywhere we go.
Postscript: In our book Jewish Spiritual Parenting (Jewish Lights Publishing), my wife Michelle November and I explore how parents can nurture spirituality in the lives of their children and families. It takes intentional actions by parents to instill these values in our children.
At Congregation Or Ami, we are more than proud of our NFTY teen leaders, kvelling (share our pride) that the combination of Jewish education through our Campaign for Youth Engagement (a project of the Union for Reform Judaism), involvement in NFTY SoCal, and volunteerism as Madrichim (teaching assistants) with younger students, continues to produce such insightful and articulate young Jewish leaders.