Connecting with God
POSTED: Friday, September 26, 2008
Hours of prayer time are ahead in the next two weeks for Jewish people who will observe one of the sacred times in their religion.
A reminder of genocide
Each time children at Temple Emanu-El open the "Gates of Prayer for Children," they will find a dedication to a child who did not live to pray as an adult. The names of youngsters who were killed in Europe during the Nazi campaign of genocide against the Jews are inscribed in bookplates.
"To these kids, when you say Holocaust, they are already two generations beyond it," said Seymour Kazimirski, who underwrote the cost of the prayer books. "My cause is to educate children, not just about the horror that happened but to get kids to understand tolerance about people."
Kazimirski continues the work of his late mother, Ann Kazimirski, whose book "Witness to Horror" told of growing up in a Polish ghetto and her escape from the Holocaust.
"She spent four years running and hiding," he said. "Some people helped them and some people didn't." It's a story he has told for 15 years, speaking to public and private school classes every year.
Helene Mann, who teaches middle-schoolers at Temple Emanu-El, said she insists that youngsters look at the inscriptions. "There's a Native American saying that, 'As long as we have a memory of you, you are never gone.'"
One bookplate: "Marila Sosensky was born in 1934. She lived in Radoszkowice, Poland. Marila died in the shoah at Radoszkowice on March 11, 1942. She was 8 years old."
Another: "Miklos Glueck was born in 1935. He lived in Polany, Czechoslovakia. Miklos died in the shoah at Auschwitz in 1944. He was 9 years old."
Each bookplate contains this prayer:
"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when feeling it not. I believe in God even when God is silent."
Although Rosh Hashanah on Monday marks the beginning of the New Year 5769, it is not a festival time as is the secular New Year.
Rosh Hashanah is called the "Day of Judgment" and Yom Kippur is the "Day of Atonement." The 10-day period linking them is a time for people to scrutinize their relationship with God, and how they failed to follow His law in their relationships with others and in their own personal standards.
The holy day services are full of familiar prayers, many set to beloved music. They strike a chord from childhood days, memories shared by Jews whatever corner of the globe in which they went to Hebrew school.
Children at the Temple Emanu-El School of Jewish Studies just started using a new guidebook to imprint those prayers on their memory. The colorful "Gates of Prayer for Young People" was put in the hands of students this month, the first time there's an alternative to the adult version.
It was clearly a popular tool in the hands of the preschool through middle school youngsters at a prayer service in the sanctuary after classes last Sunday. Like the adult version, there's Hebrew script accompanied by transliteration text showing how it is pronounced. Often the prayer is translated into English, too, and that's when the children chimed in most heartily.
Most of the prayers said aloud in a Jewish synagogue are recited in the Hebrew language. That can be daunting for young people, starting with an alphabet in unfamiliar calligraphy, struggling with pronunciation and translations. There's a long way to go to grasp the deep concepts explored in such times as next week's "days of awe."
Rabbi Peter Schaktman said the prayer book "contains some complex theological ideas in an age-appropriate manner, in ways they can digest, such as redemption, peace, God as the source of all things."
The rabbi said the prayer book conveys the idea that "prayer is not a foreign language but a form of conversation with God, with ourselves and with those around us. Prayer is a way of connecting with God, with the Jewish people both past and present, with Jewish history and with nature."
The book contains illustrations—the Torah scroll, the beauties of nature, little people circling the globe. But "you will never see a personification of God," said Ami Olstein, director of the school.
Learning the Hebrew language is hard for children because "we are dealing with a 'dis-graphic' generation," Olstein said. "Kids don't know how to write by hand. They use a computer.
"The basic thing kids do in Jewish school is to learn the Hebrew language. Our purpose is to train children to be Jewish people who could walk into a Reform synagogue anywhere and can follow the prayers, even lead prayers.
"I've gone to synagogues in different countries. Wherever we are in the Diaspora, we are connected with the community anywhere in the world," said Olstein.
What you won't find in a Jewish school is the tradition of "name that Bible passage and recite it aloud."
Memorization is a way that many children learn things, but "memorizing prayers and texts is not a Jewish thing," said the school director.
Olstein said Jewish law requires that people understand what they're saying and do it intentionally, not by rote.
"In reading the Torah, we need to read it from the book, read it correctly, pronounce it correctly. Even the congregation who is at service all the time and know the words will still have a book before them.
"I read Genesis twice a year and it is so familiar. But I'm looking at the words. Each time you read it, you get a new nuance," she said.
"The Torah, the five books of Moses, are the source of all the concepts in the prayers," Olstein said.
Observant Jews will tell you there is a prayer for everything. There's a blessing for just any kind of celebration you can imagine, not just adding a new member to the family but adding a new possession. Not just a blessing over food, but specific to the kind of food. Not just for people you love, but for disagreeable people: "Blessed are You, Adonai Our God, who varies the form of Your creatures."
Adults at the Sunday service knew what Olstein meant about nuances as they recited along with the children "We pray for peace, for everyone everywhere; for soldiers fighting wars; for people who live where soldiers are fighting around them. Peace for parents who are worried about their children, for children who are worried about their parents, for people who are struggling with others, peace for people who are struggling with themselves. We praise you, Eternal God, you help us make peace and you help us find peace."
Events of Holy Days
Monday is New Year's Eve on the Hebrew calendar, the beginning of a 10-day spiritual season for Jews around the world.
During the "days of awe" from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, practicing Jews reflect on ways they have failed God, other people and themselves in the past year, and their intentions to do better in those relationships in the year ahead.
The solemn season is observed in communal services including the following.
Chabad of Hawaii
The Orthodox congregation holds services at the Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive. Advance reservations must be made for community meals to be held after morning services and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings after services. Dinner cost is $60 for adults and $40 for children, with half-price rates for kamaaina. The services will be held:
Monday, 6:30 p.m. evening service.
Congregation Sof Maarav
The Conservative congregation meets at 2500 Pali Highway.
Monday, Erev Rosh Hashanah, 8 p.m. Dessert potluck reception will follow.
2550 Pali Highway, 595-7521
The Reform congregation will hold a S'lichot service at 8 p.m. today in preparation for New Year. The film "The Truman Show" will be shown, followed by discussion and dessert.
Monday, 7:30 p.m. Erev Rosh Hashanah.