Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Leading prayers at shul in Israel

Two days ago, I showed up at the 7:00 a.m. minyan at the shul near where I'm staying in Jerusalem.  I was the only one saying the first kaddishes. A man then approached me and asked (in Hebrew) whether I wanted to daven from the Amud (lead prayers). My policy is to say yes when asked unless I'm not feeling well. And so I led the prayers in a shul where I had never been in my life, didn't know a soul, used a different prayer book than I'm used to, and had some differences in the prayers.  (Extra kaddishes and the Priestly Blessing).

As I began, I felt nervous.  It was strange to lead prayers in an unfamiliar setting.  Also, while my Hebrew is fairly good, it is not my first language (though many others are former Americans or Brits in that synagogue), so I felt especially self-conscious about mispronouncing or stumbling over words. (see http://mykaddishyear.blogspot/2012/07/mistakes-during-prayer.html) With this mindset, I began saying the prayers so fast that someone motioned for me to slow down. Afterwards, he told me that this was a "pensioner" minyan, meaning a minyan made up of mostly retired people who are not in a hurry to get to work. The 6:30 minyan at the same shul prays so fast that they are done by 7:00.

Yesterday I led prayers again from start to finish, making only one mistake. (I said a Borchu at the end which, I found out later, is not done on Mondays and Thursdays). Today also went well. The newness of the experience has had an emotional impact on me.  I am trying to figure out why, and it's not easy to put into words. I think part of it has to do with my mother's strong connection to Israel. She lived here, in south Tel Aviv, for a few years as a child. In her later years, she came here yearly to see family and in her work helping Israeli victims of terror.  By leading prayers and saying kaddish for her in Israel, I am acknowledging her relationship to Israel. Some part of her is here, and, through my prayers here, I am connecting to that part. Also, through publicly mourning my mother in Israel, I am acknowledging my own connection to this land.

There is a traditional formula that is said to a mourner: "May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." During my stay in Jerusalem, this saying can explicitly be fulfilled. My Rabbi once said that the word for God in this formula, "Hamakom," is unusual, as it literally means "the place." Perhaps as well, I needed to mourn for my mother in this place, in Israel, a place that meant so much to her, and to me.

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