Tag Archives: prayer rituals

When I Think About Prayer

by Rachel R. Baum (Saratoga Springs, NY)

We did not belong to the synagogue my grandparents attended

On the High Holy Days I stood next to my father

Surrounded by anonymity in dark suits

He mumbled the Hebrew fussed with the slippery borrowed tallis

As I followed the dots and lines of text with my finger

My father elbowed me “Look at that” he stage whispered

A diamond ring my sister would call a third eye

Dangled from a well-dressed woman’s finger

“I’m her” he teased, knowing how the benediction he bestowed

On any female with enviable money, talent, beauty, would be

Hurtful to my sister and me, and then “Read! Read!” he insisted

Though we both knew we were there to gossip not to pray

Real prayer was the cluster of swaying bearded men

We were observers gazing from the rim of an alien civilization

Although we rose for the silent Amidah

We vied to be the first to finish and sit

My mother admonished us for our whispered disregard

She turned the pages of the Siddur

As she would an album of photographs

Reciting the Hebrew from transliterated words

We left early to avoid the rabbi’s sermon

The Bema a distant stage with its costumed Torahs

An usher collected the pledge envelope

At the tollbooth of a sanctuary door

At home, another yarmulke was added to the drawerful

That my father forgot at shul to remove and return

Evidence of our yearly pilgrimage

Marking the passage of time and of faith.

Rachel R. Baum is a professional dog trainer, former librarian, licensed private pilot, kayak angler, and Covid Long Hauler. She is the author of the blog BARK! Confessions of a Dog Trainer and the editor of Funeral and Memorial Service Readings: Poems and Tributes (McFarland, 1999) Her poems have appeared in High Shelf Press, Ariel’s Dream, Drunk Monkeys, Wingless Dreamer, New England Monthly Poetry Digest, Poetica Review, Bark magazine, and Around the World anthology. To learn more about Rachel’s work, visit: https://rachelrbaum.wixsite.com/my-site

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My Grandfather’s Prayer Book

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

Detached cover.

Brittle, yellowed pages.

Partially erased, Hebrew letters.

His crumbling prayer book is mine now.

Stooped over in his living room, dovaning.

His white, short-sleeved shirt and shock 

of white hair; his thin, willowy frame.

The cigar stub between his lips.

The Bronx.

Roasting brisket and a shelf of pills. 

A Yankee game on the television console. 

Red geraniums.

A pale, florescent light.

Narrow, sickly-green vestibule 

with a picture of his youngest son,

killed in World War II.

We play checkers.

He nudges a checker to another square. 

Tobacco-tinted fingertips.

He doesn’t let me win. 

Now, I hold his prayer book

in my hands by the yahrzeit plaques,

by the tarnished and the yet to be tarnished, 

by the lit and the yet-to-be lit.

Rick Black is an award-winning book artist and poet who runs Turtle Light Press, a small press dedicated to poetry, handmade books and fine art prints. His poetry collection, Star of David, won an award for contemporary Jewish writing and was named one of the best poetry books in 2013. His haiku collection, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, has been called “a prayer for peace.” Other poems and translations have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Midstream, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Frogpond, Cricket, RawNervz, Blithe Spirit, Still, and other journals. 

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Open, Thou, My Lips

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

Three steps backward,

three steps forward,

I bend my knees. 

I struggle to part my lips,

to recite the words,

to offer praise. 

Let me taste rain.

Let me hear windchimes at night.

Let me inhale jasmine.  

How grateful I am,

a temporary resident

amid night stars. 

Rick Black is an award-winning book artist and poet who runs Turtle Light Press, a small press dedicated to poetry, handmade books and fine art prints. His poetry collection, Star of David, won an award for contemporary Jewish writing and was named one of the best poetry books in 2013. His haiku collection, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, has been called “a prayer for peace.” Other poems and translations have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Midstream, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Frogpond, Cricket, RawNervz, Blithe Spirit, Still, and other journals. 

If you’d like to learn more about Rick and his work, visit his website: Turtle Light Press

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The Sacred Snuggle

by Nina J. Mizrahi (Northbrook, IL)

I didn’t wear a tallit until my first year of rabbinic school when I lived in Jerusalem.  It never occurred to me to wear one until  I saw other women  wrapped in tallitot during prayer. I sensed their closeness with the Divine.  A yearning to share in this experience, to be enveloped by the wings of the Shechinah, arose from the depths of my soul.  Soon after, I remember shopping for my first tallit at Yad Lakashish, which means “lifeline for the old.”  The tallit was made by Jerusalem’s elders, giving them “a sense of purpose, self-worth and connection…through creative work opportunities…”  This added meaning to my Shehecheyanu moment.  

Returning from the Old City to my apartment, I unpacked and examined my new tallit. Aware that this was a significant moment in my spiritual life, I recited the Shehecheyanu, followed by the bracha for donning a tallit, kissed the two sides of the atarah (neckband), and then wrapped myself from the head down.  It was as if I were encasing myself in a sacred cocoon, imagining that I would emerge as my authentic self and be ready to commence my rabbinic studies. 

At first, having no words for that moment, I stood silently in this sacred, intimate space. At some point, powerful, unsummoned memories brought me to tears as I recalled how my father, zichrono livracha, would wrap me in his tallit.  I like to think that his deep faith in God, woven into the very fabric of his tallit, was now woven into mine.  I bathed in the warmth of the memory of these sacred snuggles, feeling deeply loved, protected and safe.  My heart overflowed with profound joy, flowing first to my father, then spilling into the universe, forming a deep connection to something greater than myself. 

So, there I was, a Jewish woman studying in Jerusalem, standing alone in an apartment that had been converted from a bomb shelter, wearing my tallit, holding its four corners in my hands.  It was a lot to take in, and I considered how the mitzvah of tzitzit requires us to look at the strings, knots and twists of the tzitzit with intention and a sense of sacred obligation.  

Committing to the mitzvah of wearing a tallit is both humbling and empowering. Since that first moment in Jerusalem forty years ago, I have wrapped myself in a tallit for prayer and hitbodedut (a solitary, intimate form of prayer offered by pouring one’s heart out to God).  I have wrapped my tallit around or held it like a chuppah over the heads of individuals, couples, families, lay leaders, teachers, and students as a way of welcoming, honoring, blessing, and celebrating. 

In Ahavat Olam, a prayer recited before the Shema, we gather the tzitzit and, imagining being united in peace, we say,”V’havienu l’shalom m’arba kanfot ha’aretz v’tolichenu komemiut l’lartzeinu — Bring us to peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us upright to our land.” 

Decades after my ordination, I attended Shabbat services in a small community where tradition was woven together with new rituals. Just before the Shema, everyone stood up and handed the tzitzit on one corner of their tallitot to someone on their left and another corner to someone on their right.  What a beautiful statement about the importance of joining together in our prayer and in our lives, which is not an easy thing in our complicated world.  Collected into one, we chanted words that the medieval Jewish mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the ARI) is said to have recited before praying each day: 

Hareini mekabel alai (Behold, I hereby take upon myself

et mitzvat haboreh (the instruction of the creator)                         

v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”)

Whether or not wearing a tallit is part of your tradition or practice, it is a symbol of the transformative power of Chesed — acts of loving kindness.  We read in the Book of Psalms (89:3): “The world is built through chesed.” 

Acts of chesed precede all others because they alone are unconditional and unmotivated.  We read in the book of Psalms (89:3) that “The world is built with chesed” (Psalms 89:3) — acts of kindness.   

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a social justice activist and founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence,  wrote a beautiful song about this verse when his daughter was born right after 9/11:

I will build this world from love…yai dai dai 

And you must build this world from love…yai dai dai 

And if we build this world from love…yai dai dai 

Then God will build this world from love…yai dai dai 

(VIDEO: http://rabbicreditor.blogspot.com/2012/12/olam-chesed-yibaneh-with-newtown-in-my.html)

I’d like to invite you to wrap yourself in your tallit (or one that you can borrow for a moment). As you wrap yourself in a sacred snuggle, I encourage you to try sending compassion first to yourself and then to others, possibly beginning with those for whom you have positive feelings, and then to those with whom you are struggling. 

You may find your own words or adapt the following phrases as you see fit.  Begin by setting your intention for the recipient of your meditation and repeat this meditation silently: 

May …I/ you/ they……..be safe

May …… I/ you/ they…..be happy/content

May ……my/your,/their  life unfold with ease

May………………….

Click here for a beautiful lovingkindness meditation offered by Sylvia Boorstein, author, psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher.

May you be blessed by who you are and may you always bring blessing to others.

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, a spiritual leader for 35 years, gleans wisdom from ancient and contemporary sources to inspire personal growth, with the purpose of understanding the mystery of being alive and human and celebrating life more fully. If you’d like to read more of Rabbi Mizrahi’s work, visit her website. And if you’d like to reach out to her, you can write via e-mail: ninajanemizrahi@gmail.com.

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Sunrise at the Wailing Wall

by Brad Jacobson (Columbia, MO)

A man with a black hat and beard asks, “Did you put on tefillin today? How about doing a mitzvah?”

“Ok,” I reply, and he unzips an old blue bag, takes out two black boxes and leather straps.

He reads a prayer in Hebrew and pauses to let me follow.

He places a black box around my bicep, pointing at my heart, and wraps a black leather strap seven times around my forearm, saying it’s the number of colors in a rainbow.

He stands on his tip-toes and lifts my Phillies cap to place a black box on my forehead. It points towards heaven. He puts my baseball cap back. Maybe now the Phillies will win the pennant.

He instructs me to read the Shema. Six holy words.

I close my eyes and recite the prayer by heart.

I recall the story of soldiers who were ambushed during the Six Day War.

The enemy ran away when they saw them wearing tefillin.

They thought the black boxes were bombs.

Brad Jacobson is a volunteer every summer in Israel in the SAREL program. He teaches TESOL at the Asian Affair Center at the University of Missouri, where he has an MEd in Literacy. In the summers he enjoys exploring places with his camera like the Old City of Jerusalem, Tzfat, and the Red Sea where he scuba dives. He has been published in Tikkun, Voices Israel, Poetica, Cyclamens and Swords, and the University of Missouri International News.

“Sunrise at the Wailing Wall” is from Brad’s new book, “Lionfish: The Poetic Collection Of A Traveler’s Experiences In Israel,” and reprinted here with the kind permission of the author and publisher.

Visit the link to see more of Brad’s work: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946124648/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860&linkCode=sl1&tag=beeps-20&linkId=b8e4722d77fdd5f0148ae60390d40ec2&language=en_US&fbclid=IwAR3ZBUQsla0CdU7voiaWm5FRPXzEEIglc0tuceGIUFwSsys5u14kBYEscLU

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Yom Kippur

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

At this hour of prayer,

when the gates are still open

and voices are expectant,

it must be known

that I am one who stays at home

to prepare a meal for

the dovaners.

I am closest to God

in the clanking of silverware,

in the rush of the kitchen faucet,

in the slicing of bread.

So, I wait for them 

to return from their distant,

serpentine journeys. 

Forgive me, 

but I am ready

to welcome them 

back home.

Rick Black, an award-winning book artist and poet, runs Turtle Light Press, a small press dedicated to poetry, handmade books and fine art prints. His poetry collection, Star of David, won an award for contemporary Jewish writing and was named one of the best poetry books in 2013. His haiku collection, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, has been called “a prayer for peace.” Other poems and translations have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Midstream, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Frogpond, Cricket, RawNervz, Blithe Spirit, Still, and other journals. To learn more about Rick’s work, visit: https://www.turtlelightpress.com

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Lion of Hope

by Brad Jacobson (Columbia, MO)

Black stocking feet and no shoes.

Blue and white prayer shawl
wrapped around his head and arms.

He stands in front of the ancient Wall,
his face hidden.

Large as a lion, he raises his hands
like a street performer before the worshippers.

He sweeps his arms above
the old man in white,

above a boy
in a blue baseball jersey,
#32,

above the rabbi
in back of the Torah.

The Lion of Hope roars, and
his prayers speed like Lefty’s fastball,
soar to the top of Mt. Moriah,
pure as tears protecting a child’s prayer.

He steps slowly to a chair by mine.
I touch the Wall and hear
the Big Man whisper,
I am exhausted.

After prayers we walk together
to the Kiddush table by the stairs.

The Rabbi raises a cup of wine.
Big Man turns to sing sweet
Shabbat songs to Chinese tourists.

He shakes my hand.
Shabbat Shalom.
Be healthy. Have peace.

Brad Jacobson is a volunteer every summer in Israel in the SAREL program. He teaches TESOL at the Asian Affair Center at the University of Missouri, where he has an MEd in Literacy. In the summers he enjoys exploring places with his camera like the Old City of Jerusalem, Tzfat, and the Red Sea where he scuba dives. He has been published in Tikkun, Voices Israel, Poetica, Cyclamens and Swords, and the University of Missouri International News.

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High Holy Days

By Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

It is suggested in the High Holy Day Prayer Book
you should carry two scraps of paper,
putting one in each pocket.

One paper should say:
“For my sake the world was created.”
And the other one should read:
“I am ashes and dust.”

What kind of choice is that?
Are we the sovereigns of our own planet,
or nothing but little fragments,
ready to be blown away at the wind’s notice?

On this holiday we reflect:
What is our purpose in our limited time here?
If you’re expecting some kind of answer,
I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong synagogue door.

Our purpose, it seems to me,
is not to find ultimate answers,
but to continue questioning,
with respect to our terrestrial place,
recognizing awe for what we can never fully understand.

I think I will need more than two scraps of paper.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Mayyim Hayyim (A Triptych)

by Arlyn Miller (Glencoe, IL)

Gathering the Waters
Approach the water.
Bring who you are
and what you have lost.

In its transparency
the water holds
every color.

Like light – every color contained;
though we cannot see this,
for seeing through it.

Enter the living water
which carries where it came from
and the mystery of its destination.

Immerse your self
and emerge with the whole
of who you are

which contains who you have been
and who you will be, though it may be
as invisible as light.

Immersion
As if you didn’t have a body,
were all thought and feeling.
As if the clumsy feet, the aging hands,
the blemished skin and unwieldy hair
were not you. Most of the time
you can move about in this way,
and name yourself
what’s housed inside, incorporeal.

The water will disabuse you.
Temperature and displacement
a stark mirror: you are finite and imperfect,
separate from what is not you,
no matter how connected,
connected, no matter how separate.

The waters have parted
to make room for you
and gathered you in.

Neither have they drowned you
nor have you made of them a flood;
you’re not that powerful – only human
holy human.

Mikveh Prayer
Begin
again.
This time in benevolence
without violence or betrayal.
This time without someone else’s story
dragging you under, drowning
you breathless with terror.

This beginning
begins with you.
Take the love you have been given,
that which you have seen
and that to which you have been blind,
and sew it together to make a whole
cloth of shelter and fertile comfort.

Begin
again.
Pick a name for yourself,
the name by which you want to be known,
the name by which you want to know yourself.

A poet, essayist and journalist, Arlyn Miller was inspired to write these three poems while attending an international conference at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive, inclusive, egalitarian mikveh and learning center for Jewish spirituality near Boston, MA. Of the three poems, “Gathering the Waters” (which was also the title of the conference), appeared in the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Volume 9, 2013, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Arlyn is the founding editor of Poetic License Press, which publishes creative writing that is “authentic, accessible and engaging,” including the poetry anthologies, A Light Breakfast: Poems to Start Your Day and A Midnight Snack: Poems for Late Night Reading. Arlyn teaches writing workshops in the Chicago area.  Her poems, essays, and articles have been widely published. 

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Mechitza: The Partition

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Some call me a wall of division;
some call me a wall of unity.
It depends on your point of view,
literally, from where you sit.
But I have no use for labels,
no use for whether you dress me
in wood, cloth, or glass,
no use for whether you decorate me
in rich curlicue and seraphim,
for I have stood proudly for many a millennium,
holding together the traditions of the Jewish people.
I help keep worshipers focused,
with no distractions, on the eyes of God.
Now, here in the 21st century,
people have begun to question my role –
whether it is right or not to separate the sexes.
Let the two people below debate this question.
Let each give his and her reasons.
I take no sides.
I only answer to God.

***

Now don’t get me wrong –
I love all women, any size or shape.
I can’t tell you how many times
I dream of them, day and night.
I’m a man, what do you think.
But when it comes between me and God,
I don’t want to have visions of
silky bodies in my head, distracting me.
I mean how right would that be?
When you’re praying, nothing else
can get in the way, know what I mean?
It would not be proper to think of
bright lips, smooth thighs, big breasts.
I mean I just can’t turn these thoughts on and off.
You think I’m a sex maniac obsessing about women?
Oh, no, not when I’m conversing with God.
I just need a bit of help; the wall needn’t be too high.

***

We deserve to be up in the balcony,
or at the least separated by
wood, cloth, glass, whatever.
Having to pray with the men
would be too much a disturbance for them.
God knows, they wouldn’t be able
to keep their thoughts on their prayers.
Worshiping with us is preposterous, I know,
and flies in the face of Orthodox tradition.
They have every right to exclude us
from leading them in service.
We are meant to be not seen, not heard,
and the further we are away,
the less seen and heard we will be.
So I propose we sit in a different building altogether.
Only the men deserve to be physically closer to God.
Obviously, we continue to be unworthy,
only valuable enough to stay home with the children
and to be happy to serve our husbands dinner
when they come home tired after a long day at the temple.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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