By Laura Seymour
Recently, I asked the Sherry and Ken Goldberg Family Early Childhood Center pre-K children, “What is a prayer?” They immediately started sharing different blessings.
Even at age 4, they know the importance of blessings in Judaism — and we say a lot of them in a day at school. Blessings are a way of saying thank you to God for all the wonderful things we have in our lives.
After we talked about all the blessings we know and use, I said to our children, “Blessings are an important way to say thank you to God, but what about asking God for something?”
The children were sure you couldn’t ask God for toys, but what if you wanted to go to the park with your friend and it was raining, could you pray to God that it would stop raining? Of course, the children agreed, because God makes the rain.
That answer led to the question, “So what happens if it doesn’t stop raining? Does that mean that God isn’t listening?” The answer was amazing from such young children: “God was listening, but God probably knew that the trees and the flowers needed the rain more.”
Jewish prayer is both formalized and personal. Joel Lurie Grishaver said, “I learned to say brachot at the dinner table and I learned to pray on the ballfield.”
There are times in our lives when spontaneous prayer is needed and bursts forth from us. However, Jewish prayer is formal in design and in time and space. We pray at certain times and in Hebrew. The standard format for prayer is praise, ask, thank. During communal prayer, we ask as a community for very specific things. But, we should not forget to include our personal requests before ending our formal prayer.
Now, there are many questions about prayer from children and adults: Does God hear? Does God answer? And, if not, why bother? Prayer is communication and communication builds relationships. As we become comfortable with “talking to God,” we build our relationship with God. We become comfortable with the words of prayer and reaching out.
Why is this important? As a musician, I have long understood the importance of practice. If we don’t practice, we will not be ready for the performance. If we don’t practice prayer, we are not ready for when we need it.
Back to our children. Each day at school, we say blessings, we pray and we talk about God. They are so comfortable with “God talk” because they have a relationship with God. Isn’t it wonderful that they can understand that God might have other reasons for making the rain? That is what faith is all about.
I pray that our children will always have faith and relationship with God.
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish life and learning and director of camping cervices at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.