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Gratitude


With the world on fire, I am attuned to both the pull to despair and my commitment to pursuing positive steps. As an independent scholar and podcaster dedicated to my work, I lean to the latter. I am unwilling to give in to despair, despite my sensitivity to the horrors of violence and inhumane actions on many fronts. The best thing I can do is to continue my work – the podcast, these writings, and other projects. I am grateful for these avenues of exploration, connection, and learning.


Part of what buoys me is my Jewish observance and the community of which I am a part. Judaism is a communal religion. Certainly, there are times we pray alone, but the central service and observance is communal. There is a tribal aspect here, underscored by our ongoing extreme minority status (less than 1% of the world population is Jewish). We need to stick together to remember our history, maintain our traditions, and stay safe in times of difficulty. When I attend Shabbat services each Saturday morning, I know that I will see friends and we will be engaged in something spiritual, intellectual, and social together. This combination is unique to congregational life, in my experience, and I appreciate it. I am grateful for the community.


Part of the communal aspect is the structure of weekly and annual services and holiday celebrations. I find this structure to be helpful. It gives form and shape to my life and an external framework within which other things can fit. That it has meaning, and the disparate parts connect to history or scripture, grounds it all. I am grateful for the structure.


I incorporate Jewish practice beyond the synagogue as well and have folded in practices over the years. At bedtime I say the Shema, the central tenet of Judaism – שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד – Listen Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. When rising, I say the Modah Ani, thanking God for restoring my soul after sleep. Seeing sleep as a ‘little death’, then expressing gratitude for waking up, is a beautiful way to start the day. Praying before eating various foods is also a reminder of the Divine force beyond my comprehension, that I am not the center of the universe and not the source of all the good things in my life. Besides these daily practices, I am usually studying something: Hebrew, scripture, or history. The traditional Jewish practice of studying with a partner, called a Havruta, is a flexible and effective way to learn. I am grateful for the process and the knowledge.


Since the Israel/Hamas war began, conversations have become more challenging and tender, calling on us to be more thoughtful and sensitive to the timing, length, and tenor of the exchange. My immediate response to the 7 October assault was shock and horror. When the initial shock settled to distress, I wondered about the possibility and effectiveness of my work. Speaking with people walking other religious paths seemed pointless in the face of war. Thankfully that shifted yet again to believing that the conflict makes my work even more vital. So, I carry on, with special attention to the conflict in Gaza when I speak with my guests and others. I am reminded that it is easy to be an armchair commentator, and rather more challenging when a situation hits close to home. My energy and capacity for anger is finite, and I remain wary and distressed, often silent especially where social media is concerned. Nevertheless, my ears, mind, and heart are open to caring discussions. I am grateful for the many conversations, both within and beyond my work, however challenging they are.


Given the heavy blanket of communal grief, the Jewish prayer for the deceased, the Mourner’s Kaddish, is again on my mind. Contrary to what one might expect of a prayer said when mourning a loss, it does not focus on death or an afterlife, but rather on praising God. Saying Kaddish for the loss of connection and compassion these days seems appropriate. I grieve those losses but am strengthened by all that is good in the world and in my life. It carries me through. I am grateful for the path I walk on and the blessings in my life.


Holding onto gratitude, and with the help of these structures – prayer, community, study – Judaism is present in daily life. My practice has evolved over the years, and I expect that process to continue. I am grateful for it all.




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Thoughts? Send comments and questions to me at info@talkingwithgodproject.org or write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! Méli


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