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What Sh’ma Means to Me by Dani Klinenberg

Dani Klinenberg and Rabbi Paul KipnesPrayer 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.

Dani Klinenberg, a high school junior and the Programming Vice President of LoMPTY, Congregation Or Ami’s high school youth group, recently shared this iyyun(teaching) on the Sh’ma:

Shabbat shalom. I am Dani Klinenberg, an active member of LoMPTY, Or Ami’s teen youth group.

When I started Hebrew school and learned first the meaning of the Sh’ma, I was surprised that the most important prayer was the shortest. Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. Literally, the Sh’ma translates to “Hear O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is one” which is the basis of Jewish beliefs. In six short words, we can recognize God’s greatness. This continues to fascinate me because I have a tendency to extend my sentences beyond the initial meaning and end up completely sidetracked.

The Sh’ma gives me an opportunity to condense my thoughts and focus on the one true meaning. Whenever I say the Sh’ma, I feel more connected to God and think that maybe God will actually help me solve whatever problem I am facing at that point. I am convinced that if I ask in the right way, God will help me decide what to do.

I also find it meaningful that the Sh’ma is written on parchment wrapped inside mezuzahs that are placed on our doorposts. The Sh’ma is said out of loyalty to God by proud Jews. It is a sign of our commitment to God and represents our loyalty to God.

To me, seeing a mezuzah displayed publicly on doorpost of a house is a sign that the person who lives there is proud to be Jewish.

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.


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