Last year as part of our Religious Education Center’s (REC) field trip with our secondary students, we were fortunate to go visit a local Jewish Temple. Now understand that we are Muslims taking our young students and teachers to go visit an actual Jewish Temple with a real, authentic Rabbi. (I volunteer as a REC teacher and have been teaching Secondary students for the past 6 years or so). I noticed the beautiful bound, dark blue prayer book in the back pocket of the seat in front of me. The other teachers and I started to multi-task. We listened to the Rabbi while we thumbed through the pages of the prayer book: Mishkan Tfilah, A Reform Siddhur. I was amazed and overwhelmed at how beautifully yet simply the earnest prayers were worded.
Praying, which simply put is having a conversation with God, has been difficult for me. I recite my traditional prayers (Dua) in Arabic (which I don’t speak or understand) while I run through the English translation of the Dua in my mind. But simply talking to God or praying always seemed a little forced and weird.
So back to the field trip...
After the presentation, we were invited to the stage area where Rabbi Gross laid out the beautiful hand crafted Torah and explained the history behind it. He also brought our attention to the retired Torahs that after having been used for decades were given its’ due respect and put on display for all to admire and cherish.
We then followed Rabbi Gross as he gave us a tour of the temple grounds showing us their REC. As we were completing our tour, we the adults were fascinated with the book and were curious about how to acquire a copy for ourselves. None of the other teachers were brave enough to ask except for yours’ truly…And bravery was rewarded. Rabbi Gross was kind enough to “gift” me my very own copy of the Reform Siddur. I was SOOOOO EXCITED!!!! I started reading it immediately, highlighting and underlying my favorite prayer passages and flagging the numerous pages.
It wasn’t long after that that I briefly dated a Jewish man. During our initial conversations, he explained that he had stopped going to the temple because he was just turned off by the whole crowd. He didn’t observe the many religious holidays and ceremonies. I listened and teased him that he wasn’t a “real” Jew. After a few dates in public places, he stopped by for tea one afternoon. During tea, I excitedly brought out the Jewish Prayer Book and read to him some of my favorite prayers in English. He, in turn, read them in Hebrew, proper pronunciation and all. It was truly one of my favorite times with him. He told me the next day that he had gone home after our “date” and brought out his Torah and prayer books from the dusty box in the garage where it had been sitting for quite some time. He said that he felt that he had missed out and was hoped to start attending services at the temple again.
We dated briefly and realized that as much as we liked each other, we were simply at different places in our lives and thus decided to part as friends. We keep in touch by calling every few months or so. During my last conversation with him a few months ago, I was surprised when he shared that he was observing a Jewish holiday/ceremony. I teased him asking, “Since when are you a real Jew?” He replied, very seriously, “Since we read the prayer book at your home!” I was shocked. He explained that praying together that afternoon had inspired him. He realized that he was missing a very important part of him and he expressed gratitude to me (a Muslim woman) for steering him back to his faith. WOW! I was blown away…and humbled! I was reminded that God works in mysterious ways. He uses us as his instruments and messengers to do His work. Never underestimate the power of love.
Here are a few of my favorite prayers from Mishkan Tfilah: A Reform Siddur.
give me a quiet heart,
and help me to hear the still,
small voice that speaks within me
It calls me to come close to You
And to grow in Your likeness.
It teaches me to do my work faithfully,
Even when no one’s eye is upon me.
It counsels me to judge others kindly
And to love them freely,
For it persuades me to see divinity
In everyone I meet.
Help me, O God,
To come to the end of each day
Feeling that I used its gifts wisely
Strength to control my passions,
Humility to assess my own worth,
Courage to rise above defeats,
Patience to cleanse myself of imperfections.
And wisdom: to learn and live by our sacred teachings.
Let me not be discouraged by my failings.
Let me take your heart
From all that is good and noble in my character.
Keep me from falling victim to cynicism.
Teach me sincerity and enthusiasm.
Endow me with perception and courage,
Love and Light
From one sufi to another…