I pray to God every day, usually with a minyan. However, most of the time I simply recite the words of the tefilla without real emotion or feeling. Occasionally, there will be an instance where I feel a deep connection to God – the Rosh haShanah davening immediately after 9/11 comes to mind. I also am very moved each year when I lead the congregation here in Stamford in the Neilah services each Yom Kippur. But to be honest, these occurrences are few and far between.
There is one memory I have that is deeply ingrained in my psyche – and which proved to be a pivotal moment in my relationship with Hashem.
It was in June 1967. I was ten years old, and I was in fifth grade. And the Six Day War had just broken out.
Those who were alive and old enough to remember know what a shock this event was to the Jewish community – and how we galvanized our efforts to do whatever we could to make sure that our homeland would not be taken away from us.
My teachers told us we should pray for Israel. So, like a good student, I listened. Each day when I came home from school, I prayed to God. I didn’t recite Tehillim or other programmed prayers. I had a real conversation with God. I asked Him to please save Israel from destruction and allow our Israeli soldiers to be victorious in the war.
We know what happened, of course. Six days later, the war was over – and Israel had reunified Jerusalem, captured the Sinai, and made inroads in the Golan Heights. It might have been the single most glorious time for the Jewish community in my lifetime.
I was much too young to understand the real consequences of this war. Instead, what was going through my 10-year-old brain at the time was the following: God had listened to my prayers and the prayers of so many others – and chose to answer our plea.
From that day on, I believed in my heart and soul that there is a God – and that He is always close to us and ready to listen to our requests.
Of course, as I have matured, I realize that while Hashem might always listen to our prayers and requests, sometimes His answer is no. During our daughter Tova’s final couple of hours of life, I fervently prayed to God for her recovery, but it was not meant to be.
That doesn’t mean I don’t sincerely believe that God is actively listening to our requests. Ever since I was ten years old, I am fully convinced of that fact.
Which brings me to the point I want to convey.
There is a terrible war going on in the Mideast, as Israel is now defending itself against the horrific attack by Hamas and attempting to wipe out this enemy for good. Living in the Diaspora as American Jews, there is only so much we can do. We are not in the trenches fighting on the battlefield, and we are not even residing in the country that we all call home. We are all looking for things we can do to help – and the focus has been on teshuva, tefilla, and tzedakah.
I’ve extended my teshuva from the High Holidays a bit, and I have done some soul searching about the values that I feel should be important to me. My wife and I have also given tzedakah to various charities that we feel will be able to offer the most help to Israel at its time of need. But I’ve mostly engaged in tefilla – fervently praying for Israel and its people. And I know Hashem is listening to my prayers.
I’m praying for the brave soldiers of the IDF, who were called into combat to defend the honor of their country and who will be engaged in a long and difficult battle.
I’m praying for the 150 hostages who are being held by Hamas terrorists, and who likely are being tortured by their kidnappers and suffering unbearable pain.
I’m praying for the families now mourning for loved ones viciously murdered by terrorists, who butchered children, burned people alive, raped women, and beheaded soldiers.
I’m praying for the leaders in Israel … that they should be granted the moral clarity and necessary wisdom to make the very difficult strategic decisions to be victorious in this war against Hamas.
I’m praying for all the people in Israel, whose lives have been turned upside down and who must deal with daily sirens and limited resources while 360,000 soldiers fight for the country’s survival.
I’m praying that the countless volunteer acts of chesed and kindness – from donating blood to preparing meals to raising funds for additional protective gear for reservists and everything in between — continue, and that we remain unified as a people.
I’m praying that the words of the Prayer for the State of Israel be realized: “Strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land … and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.”
But most of all, I’m praying that, similar to what I experienced in 1967, all my prayers will not only be listened to by God, but be answered as well.
Am Yisrael Chai.