Tag Archives: prayer

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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“What do you want?”

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)
Unscathed, I live comfortably in hibernation, 
my larder stocked, my outlook optimistic.
The morning air wafts through my open window,
and I can hear the call and response of birds
punctuated by the screams of ambulances.
Then there is a knock at my door.
It grows louder, and, finally, I say,
“What do you want?”
I peer out my window and go downstairs 
and see a strange man dressed all in black.
“I have some terrible news,
about your friend, Tony, I believe.”
“Tony?”
“Yes, I see you and Tony at the diner most days.
You often eat breakfast together. Is that not true?
And he’s a paramedic and loved by many?”
“He is a good friend. What’s wrong? Tell me!”
“He is in the hospital with Covid-19.”
“Oh, my God, Is he OK?”
“I’m sorry to say he’s on a ventilator.”
“Which hospital? Can I see him?”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. Can I come in?
Perhaps we can pray together.”
“No, no, go away. You’re scaring me.”
“But there is more.”
“Don’t tell me he’s gonna die.”
“Most probably, but there is even more.”
“Are you coming for me?”
“Yes, possibly, and quite soon, I might add.”
Panic-stricken, I double-lock the door and shut the window.
I collapse in a chair and start praying for my friend,
but, upon reflection, I begin to say Kaddish for myself,
somehow hoping these words might save me.

 

Mel Glenn, the author of twelve books for young adults, is working on a poetry book about the pandemic tentatively titled Pandemic, Poetry, and People. He has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. 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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A Sabbath Prayer

by Hadassah Brenner (Raanana, Israel)

It’s the Sabbath Eve
And the shuk is filled with wonderful smells-
Knafeh and fresh Challah bread
Chai tea, dried ginger, zahtar spice.
The cheapest deals you’ll find
Just before the stands close for the weekend.

I feel the sun, still strong against my back;
Sweat beads between my legs.
I wipe my upper lip, brush back my hair.
Sigh loudly.

All of Jerusalem seems to surge through Mahne Yehuda market.
Students. Tourists.
Little boys and girls, hands outstretched to catch fallen candy.
Black-hatted men, carrying their prayer books protectively.
Women with bright eyes shining through the narrow slits in their garb.
Soldiers, M16 rifles slung over their hunched shoulders.

Saba blesses the wine,
His voice still sweet and singsong,
Despite the years.
Vayihi Erev
Vayihi Boker.
There was night,
And there was day.”

I close my eyes,
Rocking ever-so slightly.
Saba smiles at me.

“Are you tired, my dear child?
Besiyata Dishmaya, Inshallah.
With the help of Heaven,
There will be peace in our land
And you will rest your wearied limbs.”

I look up at him, wonderingly.
“How can you be so certain, Saba?
We have yet to lay down our weapons
In the thousands of years that we have lived here.
How do you know the day will come?”
Saba presses the cup into my hands.
Wine bubbles against my lips,
Stinging my tongue lightly, as I sip.

“My child,
I know there will be peace
Because for every night,
There is day.
And on the Sabbath day,
It is written that we shall rest.”

It’s the Sabbath Eve
And the sun has finally set.
A fire streaked sky extends over the Judean Hills.
We are white angels drifting through the stillness,
Humming soft melodies
To welcome the Sabbath Queen.

This ancient song of a thousand voices
Rises from the Old City’s gates
And it doesn’t matter what mother tongue
The people speak
Or what God they call out to
Because it is the same prayer in every language:

Vayihi Erev
Vayihi Boker.
There was night,
And there was day.

Besiyata Dishmaya
Inshallah.
With the help of Heaven,
There will be peace.

Because for every night, there is day.
And on the Sabbath day,
It is written that we shall rest.

Hadassah Brenner moved to Israel after high school, was drafted into the IDF, and serves as a lone solider, a combat medic. For as long as she can remember, she has turned to words to help her understand and overcome challenges in her life. She writes about her experiences in Israel as a new immigrant, a lone soldier, and a woman searching for her place in the world, and has published a poetry collection titled The Warrior Princess Once Said https://www.amazon.com/Warrior-Princess-Once-Said-Fighting/dp/191607068X/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?keywords=the+warrior+princess+once+said&qid=1570378590&sr=8-1 and two blogs: Military Madness https://militarymadness.wordpress.com  and When the Wind Whispers https://whenthewindwhispers.wordpress.com

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Three Prayers, One Heart

By Harold Witkov ( Downers Grove, IL)

In 2018 I suffered a heart attack and ended up having quintuple bypass open-heart surgery. When I left the hospital five days later, I had the expectancy of recovery, but rather than getting better, things got worse. 

Not long after I got home from the hospital, my health began to decline and I was diagnosed to have “heart failure,” and told that I was a “candidate for sudden death.” The problem was my heart function, or “ejection fraction.” It was dangerously low. I could drop dead.

What I needed most then was a surgically implanted defibrillator to zap and kick-start my heart should it stop beating, but that could not happen until three months after my surgery. In the meantime, all I could do was continue on with cardiac rehab, take my medications, and count the days.

During those months, I prayed a lot, shed tears, and suffered a series of complications. I became very sensitive to the word heart, and the heart symbol ❤️ (wherever they might appear during the course of a day). 

Once, for instance, when I lost Internet service for a few days, my laptop mercilessly put a heart symbol with a crack in it on my computer screen with the message: “You’re not connected.” How true it seemed.

In response to my overwhelming sense of vulnerability, I created my own special little prayer:

Shaddai, Shaddai, 

Please don’t let me die.

Heart, Heart,

Have a new start.

I clearly recall my somber Yom Kippur that year. During the service, I softly read aloud, along with the other congregants, the Ashamnu — the “We Have Sinned” prayer. In correspondence with my many transgressions, I gently tapped my heart with my right fist. For someone recovering from heart surgery and living with heart failure, it was a sobering experience.

The day of my defibrillator implant finally arrived. Not yet sedated, I was on the operating table when I became aware that things were not what they should be. They brought my wife in and explained to us that they had just discovered my body had an anomaly: I had a “persistent left superior vena cava.” It was a benign condition, but a condition that nonetheless canceled the implantation procedure. There was another defibrillator company that made an alternative defibrillator for people like me, I was told, but that would be another day.

My body anomaly and last-minute canceled surgery experience gave me a lot to think about. Despite the grave risk, I decided to at least temporarily forgo a defibrillator and just try to work at raising my heart function on my own. This I would do through exercise, medication, healthy eating, and prayer.

Then, in July of 2019, I had my 4th echocardiogram. This time my heart function was significantly higher. It was still below normal, but I was no longer a candidate for a defibrillator. There was also no scar tissue to be found. My heart had physically gotten slightly smaller too and, according to my cardiologist, that was a positive. The results were “all good.”

I am inclined to say that while my heart has been getting physically smaller, it has also been growing a lot on a spiritual level. This whole experience has made me a better person, although I’m still a work-in-progress.

Recently, I celebrated another Jewish New Year. Once again, in synagogue, I recited aloud the Ashamnu. This time my right fist gently tapped upon a much healthier and happier heart. And on Yom Kippur a new prayer touched my soul.

The Rabbi announced, “Please turn to page 261 in our prayerbooks. This year we are adding a new prayer, the Birkat HaGomeil — Sharing Thankfulness.” The Rabbi continued, “For those among us who have experienced a near-death experience over the past 12 months, and are comfortable in doing so, please rise as the congregation recites the Birkat HaGomeil.” In a sea of seated congregants, a dispersed handful, myself included, stood:

Baruch atah Adonai,

Eloheinu melech haolam

HaGomeil l’chayavim tovot, 

Sheg’malani kol tov.

Blessed are You, our God Eternal; Your majesty fills the universe – through Your generosity I have experienced Your goodness.

Harold Witkov is a freelance writer in the Chicago area who previously worked in textbook publishing and sales for more than 30 years.

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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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Rockets

by Kae Bucher (Fresno, CA)

(a tehillim for Israel)

Along highway 180
(amidst swerving vehicles, angry-fisted drivers and crushed steel
from the accident on the side of the road), I pray

Please let whoever was in that car be okay
and help me get home
without getting hurt or hurting anyone.

Hot air from an open window pummels my eyes
and I squint, stretching my left foot
away from the sweaty plastic floor mat

A sandal slips under the brake pedal and I suck in sharp alarm,
adrenaline and ice. Out of the corner of my eye,
heat waves ripple over palm trees.

On the other side of the yellow line, paint flashes and grills rip
through my mirage of safety. A foot closer, and they become Hamas rockets
that won’t stop firing

36 projectiles at homes, cars
glass shards, shrapnel
28 injuries

two pregnant women hospitalized early

May the little one emerge at sha’ah tovah,
a goodly hour, an hour of ripeness and readiness for entering this world
in health and joy.

Out the window, the traffic dwindles
I recover my footing,
pass a palm tree and a carseat in a mini van
before melting back behind my steering wheel.

Under a Kerem Shalom sun,
another Red Alert siren sounds.

Families jump out of cars—
mothers and babies run for shelter,
grandfathers hide in stairwells,
and uncles throw themselves on the mercy of the asphalt,
covering their heads.

When the wailing stops,
those who survive
come out of hiding
resume their lives

I turn on the air conditioner,
look for the exit to take me home.

Since graduating from Fresno Pacific University, Kae Bucher has taught Creative Writing and Special Education. Her poetry appears in The Rappahannock Review and Awakened Voices Magazine and is also slated for publication in The Seventh Wave. Her first short story, “The Lost Names of Kaesong,” will appear in the upcoming edition of California’s Emerging Writers. You can read more of her poetry at www.bucketsonabarefootbeach.com.

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In the Matter of….

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

In the matter of prayers
the jury is still out.
Some say these prayers ride the express
straight up to heaven.
Others opine they are but
bootless cries to the same place.
Do they cross terrestrial borders
on their way upwards?
Do they weather translation
in a myriad of languages?
Do Jewish prayers work
for those of another faith?
Do they, in turn, work in reverse,
a Catholic paean for those un-Catholic?
These prayers serve to ask timeless questions:
Who will hear us?
Who will see us?
Who will save us?
People in the camps waited for the answers.
People today flock to their churches
and synagogues seeking the same.
Maybe the jury will come back soon
with its celestial verdict.

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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