How Jews Pray, the third in our “How Jews…” series, checks out what Jews are talking about — from an Australian Jew in New York to an Argentinian Jew in Los Angeles, and other folks in the woods, the cities, and some places in between. What do people who don’t believe in God think about praying?
When I was young, a secular Jewish kid living down the street from Hasidim — a weird remix of The Chosen — I thought it was mysterious how all the long-black-coated, hair-covered Jews was that they seemed to have their own way of talking to God. They didn’t just go to synagogue and pray like normal people — they would pray in living rooms, or in backyards, and they muttered to themselves walking down the street. Plus, they wore those funny clothes. Was God telling them something that God wasn’t telling the rest of us?
I guess I just felt disenfranchised.
This was before I met Jewish Renewalists who meditate and pray. And musicians like Chana Rothman and Jeremiah Lockwood, who pray by singing their hearts out. And before I learned how to pray myself, wherever I was and whatever was on my mind, sometimes in a “thank you” way, and sometimes in an “I need to save myself” way.
A few weeks ago, in introducing his new prayerbook, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “We have a problem with prayer” — and proceeded to detail how, in this world where we’re obsessed with talking about ourselves and eavesdropping on other people, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to speak to God. Whatever each of us think of God, and even, in one person’s case, whether or not we believe in God.