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Praying myself into action

l look at the sunlight outside. Can this be the same world that’s burning in Ukraine? The same world where children are hiding in basements?
A woman is overwhelmed by emotion in the backyard of a house damaged by a Russian airstrike, according to locals, in Gorenka, outside the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russia renewed its assault on Ukraine's second-largest city in a pounding that lit up the skyline with balls of fire over populated areas, even as both sides said they were ready to resume talks aimed at stopping the new devastating war in Europe.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A woman stands in the backyard of a house damaged by a Russian airstrike, according to locals, in Gorenka, outside the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022 (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

These days, I can no longer wake up slowly. As soon as consciousness floods me, so do the questions: What happened overnight? What’s the news? What changed?

It takes conscious effort to push the urgency aside, to set down my phone, to rise properly. l look at the sunlight on the peaceful grass outside and feel disoriented. Can this be the same world that’s burning in Ukraine? The same world where children are hiding in basements, where people are scrambling for food and fuel to get them to a border, where young Russian boys find themselves fighting a war they didn’t know lay just ahead?

There is so much chaos in the world right now. So much that pulls at me and floods me and leaves me breathless.

I close my eyes to try and regain the kind of calm that’s crucial for taking action. And I pray.

God, You are He Who gives the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night. I beg you: give humanity the understanding to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies. So many of your creatures still labor under the shadow of a tyrant’s lies – help them see clearly. And help us distinguish between ineffectual fretting and effective efforts. Let us see clearly what it is that we can do to help.

I feel more centered.

I knock on doors and yell “it’s time to get up!” and the perennial “you will be late for school!” even as I think of possible ways to send help, or show support, or raise awareness. I fill a cup with water and pour it on my hands, three times on each.

I pray.

God, You Who made me a Jew, help me use my Jewish heritage in the service of mankind. Help me emulate Abraham’s advocacy for his fellow humans, Moshe’s stance against a tyrant, Ruth’s loving-kindness, the Psalmist’s cry for justice here on earth. Help me use their lessons. Help me be of use.

The kids show up, with all their complaints and requests and hurts and desires, and I feel the morning chaos crouching over me, ready to pounce. I get annoyed – what do you mean, you forgot to do homework? I get exasperated – really!? Now you tell me that you do no longer like eggs? But then my toddler literally pounces on me, screaming “Ima! Ima!” with delight, and I think of Ukrainian women consoling crying children in metro stations, of fathers placing their children on buses heading west, of parents going off to fight.

Our normal chaos — it’s a blessing, and a privilege. I hug my children.

And I pray.

God, You Who made me a woman, You who granted me the privilege of birthing children – please protect the children of Ukraine.

The kids go to school, and I sit down to work, but I can’t force myself to focus. Instead I scroll down the news sites. I reread Putin’s speeches.

God, You Who did not make me a slave, give me the courage to stand up for other people’s liberty.

I read Biden’s remarks.

God, You Who gives sight to the blind, please give clarity of sight to our leaders.

I look at pictures of refugees in Moldovia, protesters in Russia, young Ukrainians preparing to defend their homes.

God, You are He Who clothes the naked. Help us care for those who were stripped bare from clothes and food and safety in this war. You are He Who provides me with all my needs. Help me provide others in turn now. You are He Who releases the imprisoned. Release our fellow humans in Russia from the tyrant’s grip. You are He Who straightens the bent. Help those who are bowed under fire right now to achieve victory, so that they can stand as straight and strong in body as they are in spirit even now.

Eventually, I do force myself to go about my day. I do my work, I donate money, I cook lunch, I share hotline numbers with relevant friends, I fold the laundry, I check the news again.

So much of my routine remains unchanged, yet I can feel history shifting underneath us. I can feel the threat rising out of Russia – the bid to recreate a world of tyranny, of Might Makes Right.

God, You are He Who spreads the earth above the waters and prepares the steps of man. Please help us stand firm as the world order shifts under our feet like water. Please help us step onwards boldly despite this time’s uncertainty, and always work for what is right.

I listen to Israel’s leaders on the news. I think –

God, You are He Who girds Israel with might and crowns Israel with glory. Let us use our strength for good.

But as the day draws to a close, despair seeps in. I watch the burning buildings on the news, the death toll. What hubris, to think that the little we can do will make a difference! All those donations and posts and constant worries, they are but drops in an endless sea of need.

But this despair is a trap, I remind myself – like the rush of worries in the morning. Both pull me into the position of passivity. Like those worries, this despair is a thing to overcome.

And so, as darkness seeps back into the world, I pray again.

God, You are He Who gives strength to the weary, Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids. Give Ukraine’s defenders the strength to persevere as this war rages on around them. And help us, too, not to grow weary and disheartened, not to forget to do our part in this time of threats and pain. Help us keep our eyes wide open for opportunities to offer help, to be of use.

I kiss my kids, I tuck them in, I watch them breathing in and out, in and out, such a surreal island of peace and calm in all this turmoil. I clean up, wrap up, turn off lights and screens and news streams.

I know: tomorrow I will wake up flooded with questions, with urgency, with worries, once again. And I will have to work and pray my way out of spectatorship again, and into action.

And so I pray once more, affirming to myself my refusal to be passive.

God – please, help the people of Ukraine now. Protect them, heal them, comfort them, extend Your wisdom to their leaders, Your strength to their defenders, Your compassion into the hearts of those who bring about their death.

But God, help us, too – help us rise to the challenge of this moment, and do what we can do to help.

There is blood on the ground in Kyiv. There are women birthing in metro stations in Kharkiv. There are elderly people hiding in their basements, children crying and explosions above their heads.

We pray for God to extend His hand and help them, but it is OUR hands and legs and hearts that are required, it is our “hineni” – our “here I am” – that history awaits.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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