Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Best Way to Pray

This summer has been incredible! I could talk about many different aspects; from the weather to the activities, from the misadventures to memories. However, you might get bored reading such a detailed account. Instead, I want to reflect on my summer as it relates to tefilah, prayer.

 We started the summer at Sephardic Adventure Camp [SAC]. Our camp has the wonderful components of many summer camps, like boating, sports, and art. But it is the tefilah at SAC which makes camp truly unique. The campers learn the words and tunes of our heritage, with remarkable decorum and dedication. The highlight of this experience was when Hazzan Ike Azose came for Shabbat and beautifully strengthen the joy and understanding of the melodies of our Seattle Sephardic community. This communal celebration of youth in prayer seems like the best form of tefilah.

Days after leaving camp, I stood in front of the Kotel, the
Western Wall. Around me were people of all backgrounds, from all different corners of the earth, standing together in separate prayer. Although we stood together, each person uttered their prayers at their individualized pace, choosing what words to say. We stood together in the same place, with the same purpose, but each pursuing it in their own way. Maybe this is the ideal for tefilah.  

The next day, Tova, my youngest, sustained an injury which initially appeared severe. While clutching her to me, I called
out to God in frantic distress. My words were hurried, with all of my emotions pouring out. Thankfully, the injury was relatively minor. Maybe impromptu, heartfelt tefilah is what He most appreciates.

As I approached the end of my time in Israel, I began feeling very anxious. Not simply because I was leaving, but the prospect of the journey to Seattle with four children and no husband was VERY daunting. People had many recommendations: hire a flight companion, drug my children with sedatives, buy lots of new toys. None of these seemed like viable solutions. Instead I prayed. Usually when I pray for something specific it is the recovery for someone ill. In comparison, I felt petty praying for something as minor as the behavior of my children on an airplane trip. But I spoke to God like a friend, telling Him my problems and asking for His help. I am proud to say that my girls were as good as four small people can be on a 20+ hour journey. They slept a lot. They played nicely. They were well-behaved.  

Now my girls are settled back in Seattle, attending day camp at Yavneh. During the morning tefilah, my girls get very frustrated. “But they are praying wrong because they are Ashkenazi!” they complain. I repeatedly explain that there is no wrong form of prayer. Reflecting on my summer of prayer, I don’t think there is a most right form either. The value of our Sephardic communal prayer at SAC or SBH, the differential communal prayer of the Kotel, the sudden heartfelt cry of distress, and the personal requests are all invaluable.

As summer winds down, the season of prayer does not. The next Hebrew month is Elul, the time leading up to Rosh Hashana. During this time we entreat God, in preparation for the coming year. Think about how speaking to Him best suits you. There is no wrong way to pray.

Having a Field Day with Re'eh

Over the summer, parasha projects are not just for my offspring or my students. It includes all of my campers. This was the case last year, but Eikev was the last week of camp and we did this. This year for Eikev I tried to focus on the connection between food and the land of Israel and make "Al Hamichya" cards. Honestly, the campers couldn't sit still long enough to appreciate the connection and the lesson/project was not a real success. Therefore, Re'eh's project did not allow them to sit still at all!

Re'eh includes 55 mitzvot, many of which are outlined elsewhere in the Torah, so I focused on the topics I knew they were already acquainted with, to work on reinforcement.  

The camp was split into two teams, each with a counselor to guide them. (Interestingly, the counselors' names are Yehoshua and Ezra. I used this as an opportunity to tell the campers about the leadership of Yehoshua Bin Nun and Ezra HaSofer.  They were intrigued). 
I explained Hashem's directive of "Re'eh" as I did here. I explained that we would have a series of competitions to see who was best at keeping the mitzvot.

The first competition was on the mitzva of destroying all of the idols in the land. Before the kids came outside we hid 25 of the same item in the backyard (we had some old hand fans, but any item would work).  The teams went on a scavenger hunt to find the idols. 
Kids love a good treasure hunt and this was not exception. They gave the "idols" to their captain for destroying. 
The next game involved the laws of kosher animals. We reviewed what qualifies an animal as kosher. what fish need, and the interesting details about birds. 

 I printed pictured of many different kosher and not kosher animals (and laminated them for future use). On one end of the room all of the pictures were arranged. On the other side the teams were set up for a relay race. The runner, with bowl in hand, chooses an animal picture, puts it in the bowl, runs back, and passed only the bowl to the next teammate. 

Choosing an animal wasn't so easy.

 When everyone had a picture, each camper had to say if their animal was Kosher and why.

Next we discussed the prohibition of cooking a kid in its mother's milk and who keeps how many hours between meat and milk. 

Each team was given a bowl of mixed pony beads and a chart for which colors were milk, meat, and pareve. They each had cups for these 3 categories and competed to see who could get the right beads in the right cups the fastest. 
[In addition to the Kashrut lesson, this is great for skill building in fine motor, sorting, and team work. Also, later the girls enjoyed making jewelry with the sorted colors.]

The end of the parasha focuses on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. I asked the campers what these festivals are called collectively. Of course Gabi was the first to yell out, "The Shalosh Regalim!" I asked if they knew what this meant, and some campers knew, "the three foot festivals" and why. 
To celebrate this, we had a three-legged race!

This very active parasha competition went very well. May your week be active, but only filled with positive competitions.