Archive for December, 2010

On Prayer…

iStock_000013821066SmallI’d like to do a series of posts on this blog about prayer. But, before I discuss specific prayers, I think we need to first discuss the concept of prayer itself. Prayer is about relationship – a three way relationship between self, community, and G-d. Every prayer involves the interaction of these three and yet even when one of them is lacking, the prayer can still serve a purpose (more on this when I discuss specific prayers.)

Anyone who tells you that they have believed in G-d, without any doubt at all is either lying or hasn’t given it any serious thought. A great Rabbi once taught me that the word Yisrael means, “one who struggles with G-d,” and that if you aren’t engaged in the struggle with faith, you aren’t truly part of Yisrael. It was a teaching that changed my life. Everyone doubts; everyone struggles. So, if you choose not to engage in prayer because you don’t believe, you are missing out on the other two components that prayer has to offer – connection to self and bond to community. In moments when faith is strong, prayer can be even better.

The Hebrew verb to pray, “L’hitpaleil” is a reflexive verb. It literally means to examine yourself. Sometimes I think that prayer is a like a lens. It turns our attention to things of importance and focuses us in on them. If we pray for healing of our family and friends, we are more likely to be in touch with them, to ask after them. Even if we don’t believe that G-d intervenes on their behalf, prayer reminds us to intervene. If we pray for peace, we are more likely to work for it. If we pray about nature and the environment, we are more likely to recycle, to go out and enjoy nature, and to take care of the world in which we live.

The prayers provided to us in the service ground us in things outside the self that are meaningful and important to the world at large. The silent prayer, the personal prayer is the time to turn that focusing lens inward to our own dreams as well as to our own shortfalls, to make a focused wish, which, once stated we can start to work towards bringing to fruition. This is a benefit of prayer that can serve any person, regardless of your current position on faith. Faith is the beautiful plus. Faith is the melody that accompanies the words.

Now many out there will read this and respond that they don’t need prayer to focus them on what’s important, that there are other ways to do that. I am not denying that at all. There are thousands of ways to connect spiritually. I would argue that most of them are, in some way, a form of prayer. It can happen in or outside of a synagogue. I had a very powerful moment of prayer on a bicycle once while on vacation. You never know where spirituality and inspiration will strike.

I’m interested to hear from you, if you are willing. What were some of your most inspirational moments of prayer?

It’s So Much Fun-ukah To Celebrate Chanukah

Happy Chanukah! 

I wanted to take this occasion to share some facts and guidelines about celebrating Chanukah.  Here’s 8 facts – one for each of those 8 CRAZY nights!

MP9004317061.  You place the candles in the menorah from right to left.
2.  You light the candles from left to right
3.  The menorah is meant to be seen – that’s why we put it in the window
4.  The Chanukah menorah is called a chanukiah (a menorah is just any candelabrum).
5.  You aren’t supposed to use the Chanukah lights to do anything (work, read, write, etc).  They are holy unto themselves you should just enjoy their beauty (my favorite part).
6.  Dreidels in Israel have different Hebrew letters on them than they do here.  Outside of Israel, it is נ,ג,ה,ש for "a great miracle happened there." In Israel, you replace the ש with a פ to make it "a great miracle happened here."
7.  Tinsel (even blue and white tinsel) is not traditional for this holiday.
8.  You probably shouldn’t get me started on my personal opinions on the Chanukah bush!

Too late.  I’m started. 
Here’s the thing.  The story of Chanukah marks a time when the Greeks were trying to assimilate the Jews.  They wanted us to worship their way.  They wanted us to decorate the Temple their way.  The Jews revolted and took back their sacred space, rededicating it to the Jewish religion.  Chanukah is a celebration of Jewish uniqueness and our ability to maintain our own identity in the midst of the wonderful cultures by which we have been surrounded over the centuries.

Now fast-forward to today.  Christmaka?  Chanukah bush?  Chanukah lights?  If it weren’t so depressing, it’d be funny! 

Chanukah is a lovely minor holiday.  I love the songs, the smell of melting wax, the taste of sufganiyot (jelly donuts – which, by the way, I’d take over fruitcake any day), and latkes.  I love our Jewish distinctiveness. 

Santa Confused by MenorahBy all means, let’s celebrate their holiday with our neighbors and friends.  But when we "borrow" their traditions, we take them out of their sacred context.  These traditions are symbolic for Christians and we demean their traditions when we take them and try to make them Jewish, putting them in a context where they have no meaning.  Worse yet, we belittle our own beautiful traditions, marking an anti-assimilation holiday by assimilating!

Chanukah is beautiful all on its own. 
Here are 8 things I love about Chanukah:
1. Watching the candles increase each night, bringing more and more light to a dark winter
2. Chanukah gelt
3. Jelly donuts and latkes
4. The songs (many more than "dreidel dreidel," I promise!)
5. The warmth of it (I can’t quite explain that one, but it’s warm to me!)
6.  Family Chanukah parties with cousin Rena leading the kids in a rousing rendition of "Lion Hunt" and cousin Lou with the guitar (it’s been a few years, Lou – bring it back!) and cousin Marsha singing BEAUTIFUL harmonies to every folk song we could remember the words to.
7. Watching kids open gifts (before you yell at me, this one is an OLD tradition that is related to the gelt and is supposed to be about encouraging learning and study)
8.  Standing in the kitchen with just my hubby lighting the candles and being together.

Happy Chanukah everyone!