These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Living in a prayer

Posted on December 13, 2009 by Brenna

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Experiencing prayer is one of my favorite things in Israel and Jerusalem in particular.

This whole country is a place of prayer. Where else but Israel, would one hear in the beginning of the show “Survivor” one of the secular contestants sing “Modeh Ani” (a prayer praising G-d for returning to life in the morning)?


There are special rituals that only happen in Israel, like saying Birkat Cohanim, the Priestly Blessing, every day (as opposed to a few holidays a year). Neither the people nor the Cohanim are supposed to look at one another. With heads bowed or turned away we receive G-d’s blessing in awe and mystery.
Joining thousands of Jews together at the wall for a very large public Birkat Cohanim for the first or second day of Sukkot Chol Hamoed (or weekday version of the holiday) was also breathtaking. It is easy to get distracted, and was therefore glad that I davened (prayed) beforehand, but hearing the piercing blessing over the microphone as numerous Cohanim responded made my heart skip a beat. After the Mussaf Birkat Cohaim (the additional prayer for holidays or the Sabbath), the person who called out the Priestly Blessing continued and we would repeat the verses after he said them, like the service at the end of Yom Kippur. I really appreciated responding and more actively engaging in this activity.  The prayer leader concluded by giving everyone there a long blessing.


Another important ritual is praying for rain, which is very serious here. Israel is currently in a drought and has been for a while. In synagogue, as they were reciting the special prayer for rain on Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, I was among those who were choking back tears while swaying back and forth. I also went to a non-traditional prayer gathering in honor of “Praying for Rain” where several communities brought together different musical groups/acts joined for one purpose, to lead others as we beckoned G-d in song.


The last prayer memory I would like to share is from the end of the Pardes Negev Tiyul.  We visited Sde Boker, a kibbutz where David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, and his wife Paula actively lived their last years and were buried. I had been there over a decade ago but found myself shaking as I was returning.  We were going to pray Mincha (the afternoon prayer) before we would visit the graves.  The field was very peaceful and other groups of young people in circles were learning in the distance.   A rush of emotion filled me as I felt how much of an “Israel” experience this was.  David Ben Gurion, and many others, had lived and died for the place we were in right now, the desert, the Kibbutz and of course the Land and State of Israel.  I rocked back and forth during the Amidah (silent prayer) with several members of our special Pardes community around.  When I was done, I looked and soaked it in, once again holding back my tears.

Then I slowly walked with the others and came across that breathtaking grand view of the desert….and there, humbly rested the graves of David and Paula Ben Gurion…..

Living in Israel is like living in a prayer. All the time I keep looking for new ways to view an Aleph (the first Hebrew letter) or say a niggun (a prayer without words)…..