Monday, May 16, 2011

Refreshing our Prayers

היום שמונה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות לעמר
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבנצח
A day of majesty in a week of perseverance

Tonight I attended another class in liturgy taught by Rabbi Stuart Kelman. It's great to delve into the prayers led by a teacher who has such a passion for liturgy. I shared a teaching of his last year in "The Prayer Experience."  Today's session was on the Prayer for the State of Israel.

Once again, I find myself getting the teaching that I need to hear right when I need to hear it. This year I've been part of a group of Beth Sholom congregants participating in a nationwide program of the Jewish Community Relations Council, "The Year of Civil Discourse." At monthly meetings, we share with each other the difficulties engaging in discussion about our ties and feelings about the Israel of today. From our facilitator, Rachel Eryn Kalish, we learn tools to help us hear and react to differing viewpoints without being so overwhelmed with emotion that we are no longer communicating with each other.

In one session, we talked about our practice of reciting the Prayer for the State of Israel in every service. Although many of us are chanting the same prayer together, each individual's kavannah--intention--may be very different and often in opposition to each other. As we discussed some reasons for this, the idea emerged that perhaps we work together to write a new prayer. The process of writing the prayer could serve as a safe and sacred space where we could discuss these difficult issues.

Tonight I learnt that the Prayer for the State of Israel that we say was written in 1948, just after the founding of modern Israel with the Shoah--the Holocaust--all too fresh in all minds. Sixty-plus years later, the language needs to be updated to reflect the present face of the land. A prayer we all can say, as we can support the existence of Israel as a nation without agreeing with all its policies or politics.

Changing a community's standard liturgy can be very upsetting to its members, even when the new version will will speak more clearly to the spirit of the prayer. After so many years, we can recite the Hebrew with ease. It will be a while before we can recite the new words by rote--and that's a good thing. Refreshing the words will bring new focus to our minds--a focus that can lead to our hearts and souls. And as we chant, we can be linked together rather than be at each other's throats.

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