Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sincere Supplication

I have been meditating on/praying in regards to, my relationship to my chosen faith, Judaism. I decided a month ago to try and find my own spiritual understanding/grounding in relationship to the holidays that are about to occur. This bit of soul searching is typical of my expression of faith.
My decision to covert was the culmination of many factors, circumstances and energies. This convergence of fate and intention, which is my spiritual journey, has me feeling a level of intensity currently that I am surprised by. So much of my Jewish journey involves intellectual pursuits, reading, learning Hebrew, and mastering concrete tasks such as learning dietary laws. I believe this intensity which has been triggered by this time of introspection, is my root connection to this faith. I also believe that this intensity is a wake-up call suggesting that I also need to nourish the other aspects of my path not associated with learning and the cognitive processes. Part of this nourishing, has led me to attempt to define my relationship to this theology, with my own experience as my guide. Not an easy task.

I know, but better yet, I feel, that I am a culmination of all that I have experienced, religiously, politically, socially, personally. This diverse set of experiences combined with my deeply felt and earnest exploration of Judaism brings me to the holidays and ultimately to prayer.
My husband and I attended our synagogue’s Selichot Service. For those unfamiliar with Selichot , they are “ Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. The Thirteen Attributes of God are a central theme throughout the prayers.” In my conservative synagogue’s Ashkenazi tradition, this is done on a Saturday night, as late as possible prior to Rosh Hashanah. Although we engaged in what I am told is a fairly traditional service, they provided a hand out, in which I found the following by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, a Rabbi in the Reform Movement.

A Prayer for Prayer
My God
My soul’s companion
My heart’s precious friend
I turn to you
I need to close out the noise
to rise above the noise
the noise that interrupts
the noise that seperates
the noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.
In the silance of my inermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your presence-
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked
When you held me close,embraced me in Your love,
laughed with me in joy.
I yearn to hear you again.
In your oneness I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.
Please listen to my call-
help me find the strength within
help me shape my mouth,my voice,my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
in songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eues and heart to You.
Adnoai S’fatai Tiftach-open my lips, precious God,
so that I can speak with you again.

This writing by Rabbi Zimmerman helps me describe my path into prayer. It speaks to my desire to find that place with mindfulness and intention that sometimes gets lost in all the learning and figuring out what page number I need to be on!

For some, “Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to an experience from moment to moment —without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what’s going on. Mindfulness is a practice that helps us to wake up to the truth of our experience.“ (

Mindfulness is often spoken of out of the Buddhist tradition, but is also a key component of the Jewish tradition as well. Jewish prayer mindfulness, is describe by Judaism 101 as follows:

“The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as “concentration” or “intent.” The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to G-dand an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.” (

In an article on My Jewish Learning ( the structure and sincerity of liturgy and prayer is explored with the use of rabbinical text in an effort to address sincerity/ kavanah or as I call it, mindfulness of prayer.
“….From all of these we learn that a person’s prayer should be sincere supplication. This means one should be like a person who makes an undeserving request.… But if one’s attitude when one prays before [God] is that it is appropriate that God should provide the request, behold the persolness of prayer. lness of prayer is not entirely dependent on God. Therefore, if prayer is like a burden and it appears that one is acting only in order to fulfill one’s obligation, this is not considered prayer….”

To pray each time with sincerity/mindfully, to not become rote is a challenge as I learn the Hebrew, and all the rest that I need to take in. I am reminded of a conversation I engaged in prior to my conversion with my sponsoring Rabbi about the silent Amidah. I noted how fast it seemed others completed this prayer. I told him while reading the English I only get half way through, if I’m lucky, and when I try the Hebrew…well forget about it! He encouraged me to continue at my speed, commenting that “clock” prayer, rote and uninspired is not what he believes is intended. It is my aspiration during this season of introspection to proceed mindfully and to engage in prayer with the mindset of Kavanah. To block out the noise, so eloquently described by Rabbi Zkimmerman, and to find that inner dialog with the divine, even if I don’t know what page number we are on.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Elul Time

I have been spending my spare time making New Year cards. Although I often joke about channeling my inner Martha Stewart, I must admit this activity is actually a meditative act. As the high holidays approach the concept of preparing oneself is a Jewish imperative. The below linked article from My Jewish Learning is Five suggestions to focus your spiritual preparations for the High Holidays.
As I make the cards, I contemplate what a new year means. I consider all that has transpired for me in this past year. Also By mindfully engaging in the creation of the cards, considering the person I will send the card to, the colors, the actions of cutting, stamping etc… I attempt to deeply delve into the energy and spirit of Elul.

What are you doing to prepare?

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Booth

As I enter into this new Jewish year, for the first time as a Jew….I am attempting to engage in it all as fully as possible. This aspiration is mitigated somewhat by my life circumstances; I am a working person with a new husband, a new blended family and a full life. Clearly becoming the Jew I want to be will take some planning. I wonder….is there a life coach for that?

I have been busying myself with family plans for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I have been deep into channeling my “Martha Stewart” energy, making cards for the New Year and planning how to get my blended family together for a sumptuous holiday feast. Yet I can’t shake my Sukkot ambitions, I want to do Sukkot right! I want to build sukkah. Although many Jewish organizations, synagogues and Jewish community centers in my area have community sukkahs, I want to engage fully in this mitzvot. After checking out the sukkah landscape locally, It appears that many orthodox families in my area engage in this aspect of the holiday while only a few in other denominations actually build their own sukkah.

The Festival of Sukkot aka The Feast of Tabernacles, aka Feast of Ingathering, is celebrated beginning on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishri . For those who may still have JCC, Jewish Calendar Confusion (myself included) that is Tuesday, October 14, 2008. Sukkot in Hebrew is called z’man simhateinu — the season of our joy. It Is a Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest, as well as a commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai.

Check out these links for more information

I must admit that prior to my consideration of conversion Sukkot always struck me as fun. I lived near a very large synagogue and their sukkah grew bigger and bigger and more elaborately decorated each year. It clearly appeared to me to be a happening, joyful place. I think I had sukkah envy.

Now I realize my desire to “do” Sukkot will take even more planning than I originally thought. At first it was a bit overwhelming so like everything in my Jewish journey I “goggled” it. As always I have been surprised and delighted by the results. There appears to be a vital commercial community of sukkot vendors. I even found a few used ones on a local Jewish bulletin board site. So now I am shopping for the best cheep, klutz proof, readymade sukkot I can find! Wish me luck I’ll need it!

The Sukkah Project
The Seiger Sukkah
How to build a Sukkah from scratch

Dunking Rachael

Love, Faith and Life