One of the beautiful gifts of this season is that even as we find ourselves together with so many others, each one of us approaches the new year in our own way. The stirring melodies, the inspiring images, the blast of the shofar each provide the punctuation for a personal story. The words of our prayers flow, both in the Hebrew that anchors us to our traditions and the English that unlocks new possibilities.
One prayer in particular is intended to create the space for each person to reflect on the thoughts in his or her heart. The Amida, the standing personal prayer, which is included in some form in every service from a regular weekday evening to the special High Holiday prayers. From a gathering to comfort a friend at a shiva to a Saturday morning celebrating a daughter’s bat mitzvah. Parts of this Hebrew prayer may change, but the opening words are always the same: “Baruch ata adonai eloheinu v’elohei avoteinu……” Blessed are you ADONAI our G*d, G*d of our fathers. G*d of Abraham. G*d of Isaac. G*d of Jacob. The purpose of this introduction with its explicit inclusion of the word G*d each time, is to recognize that the prayers or private prayerful reflections that I am about to say are a connection to the One who is the inspiration not only for Jews on the whole, but as a partner in a relationship to each individual person. Or at least that is what is intended here. Because another effect of this line is, for some, to give the impression that the main figures in our religious imagination are exclusively men. However, that is not the case. In fact the key characters in many of the readings selected for Rosh Hashana are women: Sarah, Hagar, Hanna, Rachel – each teaching us new aspects of how to relate to G*d.
This insight is the reason why our machzor, High Holiday Prayer Book, includes the option of adding the names of the Our Biblical Mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah alongside those of Our Fathers in the opening lines of theAmida. The inclusion is not only about the prayer experience of girls and women, but about also deepening the understanding and opportunities for each participant’s connection to G*d. This year when the Amida is done out loud, the Cantor and I, following what has become a common practice in the Conservative Movement, will be including these lines. As always, all our invited to find the words, in Hebrew, English or in our own reflections that most move you for your own prayers.
Ultimately prayer is neither about words on the page, nor about the experiences of the past. Our prayers are about an invitation to find what is important in our own thoughts and our own hearts and what can inspire us to connect to G*d.
May the prayers we share together and the meditations of your own heart help move you to an inspiring year 5775 full of blessings and joy.
Shana Tova u’Metuka