My Prayer Is Not Prayer

Morning light curtainsMy prayer is not prayer, not exactly. It includes words. It may even begin with words: “Modeh ani l’fanecha / grateful am I in your presence; baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech Haolam, hanotein laya-eif ko-ach / Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who gives strength to the weary; ahavah rabbah ahavtanu / with a deep, expansive, manifold love do You love us.”

The words illuminate aspects of my experience. This morning, in the car on the way to an appointment with a urologist, I remembered that a couple of days ago I had set a quiet intention to say modeh ani at some point every morning. Tradition teaches Jews to say those words immediately upon waking: first words of the day. I’ve tried that practice and found it mostly frustrating.

Because I am a troubled sleeper, I feel alarmed when the tone called “ripples” sounds on my phone. When I hear that sound, the first words that usually come to me are, “How am I going to get through this day on almost no restorative let alone nourishing sleep?” Frustrated, embattled, defeated, afraid: that’s how I feel many mornings upon waking. [Read more…]

The Cave of My Imagination

By Jason K. Friedman

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Ma’arat Ha-machpelah, the alliterative name sounded as magical to me as the lives of the people buried there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. I learned about the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s most ancient site, in Hebrew day school, and I still remembered the Hebrew name when I went to Israel for the first time, four decades later.

Since my upbringing as a yeshiva boy in southeast Georgia, I’d moved north to college and stayed, experiencing my own secular enlightenment. I’d become a progressive and a Yom Kippur Jew. But all my religious learning and feeling was still in there, easily recalled when needed to say the prayers over the Chanukah candles or sing the Shabbat Kiddush.

My first brush with the reality that someone with this biography might not be welcomed with open arms to Israel came in Ben Gurion airport. A reedy young woman in uniform plucked me from among the blue-T-shirted young American Christians I’d flown over with, and escorted me toward baggage claim.

She asked me questions in Hebrew. “A-nee lo mayveen,” I replied. I don’t understand. In English she asked how I learned Hebrew. “B’beit sefer,” I said. In Hebrew school. “B’beit sefer,” she repeated. [Read more…]

A Strange Season for Inter-Christian Families

3438325081_caa9a19ee1_oAmerican culture, at this late and plural hour, seems to have pretty well normalized the notion of the interfaith family, to the extent that if your environs are urban and/or coastal, and your circles revolve around the ranks of top- and second-tier universities, then the multiple-faith union is almost a given, and certainly not a problem.

There’s now the cliché—which the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network made a joke about—of Jewish boys and Chinese (Baptist? Confucian?) girls. There’s another pattern, mostly in my experience in the Northeast, of Jewish young adults finding their bashert among a certain kind of generationally-sanded, now-affluent Irish Catholic (cf. Caroline Kennedy and Ed Schlossberg, to cite another generation).

Families that truly number two (or more) faiths have a kind of flexibility that can seem infinitely elastic: The Christmas tree gets rechristened into a “Chanukah bush”—with attendant blue-and-silver tinsel and a Star of David on top—a trope that comes in for annual December scorn among both my Jewish and Christian friends. (Except for those evangelicals of my acquaintance who avow a special relationship with the state of Israel.) [Read more…]

A Rabbi, a Priest, and a Wedding: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

By Danielle Leshaw 

Water DrippingJudaism tells us how to leave.

Leaving the Sabbath. Leaving Israel. Leaving a marriage. Leaving life. We have rituals and words of prayer and entire theologies and words of wisdom about departure. Sometimes we leave with candles and sweet smells. Other times we depart with a divine request for safety as we journey. When leaving our spouse, we sign legal documents and ritualize the end just as we ritualized the beginning. And other times, at death, for instance, we depart with confessing all our sins. It’s only then that we’re ready to enter the next world.

But we have no ritual for leaving Judaism itself. There is no escort. There are no words of blessing. Nobody holds your hand and wishes you well, bestowing you with gifts for the next phase of life.

Sitting in church, I prayed. I stared long and hard at the enormous Jesus with his leg bent ever so slightly, with the white linen loincloth, with his head hung and his eyes closed, blood dripping, draped on the cross. Dear Jesus, please show me what to do right now. I just need some clarity. [Read more…]

A Rabbi, a Priest, and a Wedding: Part 1

By Danielle Leshaw

JudaismFather Bill offered a set of instructions. “Walk beside me, never on my left, but always on my right.”

I nodded.

“And we’re walking towards Jesus.” He pointed across the church. “Shall we practice?”

“Yes, please,” I answered.

We processed up the aisle, an elderly priest and a young, female rabbi. I matched his steps. His brown frock went swish-swish while the long, braided belt knocked against his knees. It was a long path, from the entrance doors of the church up the aisle to the ornate dais. This gave me time to look around. The Stations of the Cross were divided up around the big room, white pedestals with hammered copper sculptures of Jesus during his final moments. It was a sunny morning. The skylights streamed light beams. Every Jesus, big or small, hanging or standing or crouching or sitting, was illuminated. And as if by divine command, there were little specs of glitter dust in each ray of light. [Read more…]


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