Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
Last weekend I participated in a camp-style Shabbat service along with Danny Nichols at Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. It is always uplifting for me to see campers conduct T’fillot in their home synagogues and hear their perceptions of camp. But in this particular service, because of all of the tumult in our world, one of the prayers that Danny sang jumped out and pulled at my heart. The Hebrew words, “Shalom Rav Al Yisrael Amcha, Tasim L’olam,” never seemed to have more meaning. It’s sung in a melody that pleads for God to give God’s people, Israel, a great and everlasting peace. I really sang it out last Friday, as if saying the words could or would make it happen .
I don’t know how you feel about prayer, but I’m usually pretty cynical. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to services, I always find some new idea in the liturgy or come up with some new thought (sometimes not even close, I admit, to what’s happening in the synagogue, but new, nonetheless) that stays with me long after I’ve brushed the crumbs of the Oneg off of my tie. But, for me, the power of prayer moves in an inward rather than outward direction. I don’t expect God to grant peace. I know that we have to make peace if peace is to happen at all. Yet I say the words and they have power. How is that? How can that be? I’d like not to think of myself as a hypocrite, so how can I reconcile having a feeling of contentment and even joy in prayer, while not expecting prayers to be answered?
The answers to these questions don’t come easily. I’m sure that the communal environment of a Shabbat worship service is part of it. Being together with other Jews, saying and singing together, knowing that others around the world are doing the same, all bring me a feeling of comfort and belonging. And in the case of praying for peace, during these dangerous days here and in Israel, perhaps simply the joining of voices in a group wish is enough to reach in and tug at heartstrings. I find that sometimes prayer can have a great impact on me. It often does here at camp where I sit surrounded by children and listen to their prayers. That definitely gives me strength and hope, and makes me smile.
But there was something in that Shalom Rav last Shabbat that went beyond the group wish. There was some distant hope I felt…as if by singing the words with full Kavanah, devotion, just maybe there was an outside chance that it could happen. Like I said, I don’t expect prayers to be answered. But maybe, just this once, just this once. SHALOM RAV AL YISRAEL AMCHA TASIM L’OLAM.
Maybe just this once! Let it be.