Praying for safe return (even if prayer isn’t your thing)

By: Michelle Dardashti

One of the greatest adjustments in transitioning to service as rabbi of an organization, rather than a synagogue, has been the extent to which prayer-leadership is no longer primary. While Hillel holds Shabbat and holiday prayer services, it is not primarily a “House of Prayer.”  The majority of students and others who come through our doors on a weekly basis are not doing so to attend a service and those who seek my counsel or request to meet are not overwhelmingly in search of a space to discuss their prayer life.  Hillel’s success, nationally, is credited to its diplomacy in engaging any/every Jew who self-identifies as such, without preference for particular religious, cultural, political Jewish orientations.   And yet ….

Despite my awareness of the spectrum of positions—theological, denominational, national, political and otherwise—held by those on our emailing list (Jewish and non-Jewish students, alumni, faculty, board members, etc.), I felt called on Sunday evening, to send—to this exceptionally broad community of which I’m privileged to serve as rabbi—a note encouraging prayer.

Many rabbis sent such notes on Sunday, asking congregants to pray on behalf of the Israeli teens kidnapped last Thursday.  But with neither “congregationalism” nor prayer as givens in my (or Hillel’s) relationship with email recipients, I felt the need to flesh out certain pieces regarding how/why one might choose to pray at this moment.  There were allusions in my email to what could be (and are, in other contexts) full sessions on Jewish takes on theology, understandings of the purpose and power of prayer, names for the Divine—from the personal, to the supernatural, to the naturalistic—and spiritual/metaphysical understandings of political realities.  My hope was that tastes of the above might prove helpful to readers in negotiating and navigating a “Jewish response” to crisis … and so, at 401J’s invitation, I share those thoughts and invitation to prayer with all of you.  I hope to meet, and perhaps pray with, many of you soon.



Sunday evening email to Brown RISD Hillel Community List

June 15, 2014 / 17 Sivan 5774


Celebrating Father’s Day with my family today, my heart was heavy for the parents of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and not yet found. A Jewish response is prayer – prayer that these teenagers return to their homes alive and prayer that we not be called upon to utter such prayers again. There’s a tradition of reciting chapters from the Book of Psalms (Tehilim, in Hebrew), a book drawn from regularly by Jews and by Christians in times of crying out in despair and need. The Psalms evoke images of calling out from the depths for deliverance; recommended chapters for this occasion include 41, 121, 130, 142 and 143. You can find them in Hebrew and English, here.

Whether you choose to read from these psalms or simply take a few moments to direct your energy or personal prayers toward speedily receiving positive news regarding the fate of these teens, I invite you to hold their Hebrew names, which appear below, in your heart and thoughts. In praying for an individual’s physical safety (including healing), Jewish practice dictates an invoking of his/her mother’s name (identifying them as Name of Individual in Need, son/daughter of Mother’s Name) in calling out to the Source of All Life for the well-being sought.  This is because of a sense that prayers for physical well-being address the Shechinah (Divine Presence), a feminine name for God; the mother’s name is also connected to the Divine attribute of mercy or compassion (rahamim) the root of which (rehem), means womb.

However you are relating (or not relating) to the Divine on this Father’s Day (whether as Father, Mother, Lover, Rock, Spirit, Place, Mercy, The Name, Wind, Infinite One…), take a moment to call out to HaRahaman (“Wombly One,” Source of Life), to please return to their parents:Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaar (16) and Eyal Yifrach (19).                           

As this Father’s Day departs, I pray with all my heart that the Source of Peace (Oseh HaShalom), will let us see a day when bloodshed ceases between the tents of the wives of our people’s original patriarch, Abraham – father to both Isaac and Ishmael.  Praying in the names of our matriarchs, I hope you’ll join me in petitioning HaRahaman to deliver peace between Israelis and Palestinians—the children of Sarah and Hagar—and deliver safely home Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim and Eyal ben Iris Teshurah.

Im ke’ev u’vrachot l’shalom (with pain and blessings for peace),

Rabbi Michelle Dardashti


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