"The How and Why of Jewish Prayer" - How It Started
Thank you for inviting me into your home. Many of you have purchased one or more of my books. I thought you would like to have an inside view of who I am and what prompts me to write.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
1. We lived in Mill Basin (Brooklyn, N.Y.) For over 35 years, and prayed at the Flatbush Park Jewish Center, a modern orthodox synagogue of 700 families. I observed quite a number of congregants who were unfamiliar with synagogue practice. Unsure of themselves, they would generally find a seat all the way in the rear to be as inconspicuous as possible and also to be able to observe the goings on. I instinctively moved to the rear to sit next to a newcomer. After introducing myself, I would help the beginner find the place in the siddur, and try to answer questions about prayer postures, gestures and positions, when to stand, when to sit, when and how to bow, when it is permitted to speak, communal versus private prayer and much more.
I often remained in the synagogue after prayers and offered to give my new acquaintance a basic familiarity with the synagogue service and with the movements and actions associated with Jewish prayer. I repeated the welcoming process with each newcomer.
One Shabbat morning, Rabbi David Halpern, ZT”L, brought over a 10-year-old boy to sit next to me in synagogue. Rafi (not his real name) had been attending Hebrew school a few afternoons a week. He was thirsty for more about Judaism. Unfortunately bereft of a father, he needed a strong role model able to answer his many questions. I patiently guided him through the service and we seemed to bond. After service he began bombarding me with questions, many of which I was not able to answer immediately. How does one discuss weighty matters like death and God with a ten year old? He fired additional questions at me about Jewish identity, culture and religion. I wanted to give him honest answers without scaring him. At all costs I avoided even the semblance of indoctrination. After all he was a fragile 10-year-old who wanted honest answers. First and foremost I wanted him to clarify in his mind the concept of God. This could not be done while we were munching on a Kiddush following Shabbat services. Over a period of a few years leading up to his bar mitzvah and with permission from his mother, he began coming over to our home where we jointly tackled many of these issues. Foremost was God; Jewish Identity and Learning, the Jewish Life Cycle; The written Torah and the Oral Torah.
The 10-year-old, by then almost 21, invited us to his wedding to a Syrian Jewish woman. Sadly, the marriage was short-lived with acrimonious behavior marring any meaningful relationship. Rafi related how he came home from work to find that the lock had been changed and he could not access the jointly owned apartment. The events that followed are best not described. Suffice it to say that his wife filed for a civil divorce. He was crying as he related the series of events. He had moved back to his mother's home and proudly proclaimed that he would never give his wife a religious divorce, a “Get”. It took my wife, Blossom, countless face-to-face and telephone conversations with Rafi to convince him to grant his wife a “GET”. He finally yielded and freed his wife to enable her to marry someone else. Rafi, is now married, has children and operates a successful business. He remains a proud Orthodox Jew whose children attend Jewish day schools. Looking back over the years I feel a sense of gratification that my wife and I were able to infuse values of Torah Judaism into this young Jewish man. Rafi and I keep in touch, mostly by email.