“Mom, here’s the invitation to my Siddur party,” she said, and I suddenly felt that same sensation I feel when I get an invitation to a wedding that I really, but really, don’t feel like attending. I admit, that small book called a Siddur is pretty much one of my worst nightmares. For years and years, I had to read from it every morning in severe boredom. I never felt a connection to any word, I didn’t get emotional over any sentence and overall, I can say that more than once, I thought about arranging for myself a comic book with the cover of a Siddur so that I’d have something interesting to read during prayers without anyone noticing (by the way, to this day I still think that it’s a great idea for a start-up).
Because in my experience, praying time is a horrible time. It’s a time when I always felt different than everyone else.
Whether it was in the classroom or the synagogue – I always looked around me and saw everyone reading eagerly, swaying, shutting their eyes and having a conversation with the Creator. I was the only one who couldn’t seem to connect or read from the Siddur, definitely not with eagerness. Communication whatsoever with the Creator of the universe wasn’t really a part of my life, and if I shut my eyes, it was only because I simply fell asleep. Just the thought of spending another morning of frustration with that book made me go mad. Let alone spending an entire day with it on Yom Kippur, one on one, and while I was hungry at that. That was really overdoing it.
And now to think that my daughter was going to get the book too…
The big day arrived. We got all dressed up in honor of the special event and were on our way. One of us excited and the other just pretending to be.
We came to the classroom and each child got his/her Siddur, while posing for the traditional photo in which both the child and the teacher look like they were both forced to look happy.
As I wonder to myself when we’re going to get to the part with the refreshments, we walked out of the school toward the community synagogue, accompanied by musicians. Apparently music can work wonders, because I must admit that at this point, something inside of me started to open up. The enchanting music and the dancing children brought a smile to my lips, and unbelievably, I can say that I even felt a bit excited.
When we reached the synagogue, the school rabbi started to speak to the children. Okay, now he’s going to ruin everything, I thought to myself. “I would like to talk to you today about prayer,” he said, and I felt that myself beginning to cringe in my seat. I took out my mobile phone and attempted to engross myself in Facebook until it was all over.
But then something that I hadn’t expected happened. The words I heard made me slowly disconnect from my phone and listen against my will. It was something stronger than me. As if my heart wanted to listen while my brain objected.
“Real prayer is not necessarily what’s written here inside this book,” he said. “Real prayer is the prayer that comes from the heart. In words, in song, or even in complete silence. The main thing is that it comes from the heart.” I had already heard this lecture quite a few times in my life, but nothing had ever penetrated before. The very concept of prayer always put me off and apparently hadn’t let me even listen. From the heart or not from the heart, as long as it was a prayer – it wasn’t for me.
I looked around me and I understood.
I, who came from the observant world in my background, had never seen a synagogue sanctuary look like this before. Sitting there together were women and men, children and adults, women with scarves that covered every last hair, and women with all of their hair exposed, with a skirt or with skinny jeans, men with a kippah or without. There was everything there – secular and religious of all types and varieties. They all sat there together in the synagogue and prayed with their children, but most importantly – they all felt like they belonged equally.
At that moment, when we opened the Siddur with the children and began to read the prayer together for the welfare of the IDF soldiers, I admit that the lump was already in my throat. It was the first time that I connected to prayer for who I was, from the Jewish and Israeli aspects, and not from a religious aspect.
Suddenly, I understood better what prayer means. Prayer for me is not just a religious act, which I never felt connected to. Prayer is a request, it’s the ability to dream, it’s the ability to understand that not everything is under your control, and that between managing the world and conquering it, you can find a moment of quiet when you just hope.
I understood another thing. I understood our power as a nation. Because at that moment, when we all sat there in the synagogue – I felt so proud to be a Jew. Not observant, not secular. Simply a Jew. Without closing eyes, without swaying, and still without a conversation with the Creator, but with a lot of love, emotion and a good, important conversation with myself.
“This is my second childhood,” Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor wrote, and that’s exactly how I felt.
Sometimes, through our children, we repair our own childhood.
So yes, you’ll still have a hard time finding me in a synagogue, but praying? I think I’ll do it quite a bit now. In my way: in words, in song, or even in total silence. The main thing is that it’ll come from my heart.
 Hebrew for “prayer book.”
 The Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and prayer.
 Jewish head covering for men.
In the words of the great Hasidic master, the Kotzker Rebbe,
“There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.”