I was in an angry place at the age of 15. I attended an out-of-town high school, and the administration and I rubbed each other the wrong way. I had a dorm room full of too many people with whom I didn’t see eye to eye. I had no personal space, and as an introverted teenager, that didn’t work for me. Then my father called me to tell me the horrible news that his mother, my grandmother, hadI was not on good terms with G‑d
been diagnosed with an illness. That certainly did not encourage my faith in
G‑d. By the end of 10th grade, I had had enough, and I switched to a school in
the busy city of New York.
I moved in with my grandparents, my mother’s parents.
I was not on good terms with G‑d at that point. My paternal grandmother’s health was quickly deteriorating, and I was terrified. I couldn’t process what it would mean to lose someone who meant so much to me, and I translated that fear into disrupting my life in different ways.
A few months into the year, my nightmare came true, and my beloved grandmother tragically passed away much too soon.
I took that as a declaration of war between G‑d and me.
I was furious. I was sickened. I did not know how to deal with the loss, and I took it out on the One who was responsible. I turned my back on G‑d.
Daily prayer had always been a sensitive subject for me. As a child, I often just skipped the morning prayers because they felt too long and too boring. In high school, davening (praying) was a mandated part of the morning schedule, so I tried to force myself to pray. But the prescribed Hebrew words held no meaning for me. I didn’t fully understand the prayers, and I certainly didn’t understand why I had to say words written by rabbis who had nothing to do with me.
But if I had forced myself to pray before, this was a whole new experience. The words felt like chalk in my mouth, and after a while I just stopped saying them. I wasn’t going to pray to this G‑d.
After it all became too much, I knew I had to express my knotted emotions so that someone could help me untangle them.
In a voice shaky with tears, I told my father that praying to G‑d had become undesirable for me. That it took physical strength to get myself to say the words, and even when I did, I didn’t believe what I was saying.
He sat down with me, and we talked it through. He let me cry and speak. I felt the knot that had taken up so much room in my soul slowly untie.
I began trying a little harder.
I focused on the words a bit more.
Praying anytime other than while in school was beyond me, but since the school handed me 45 minutes to pray, I did my best to say the words each day. I still didn’t understand everything I was saying, and I wasn’t praying on weekends andI felt that knot slowly untie
vacations, but at least I was climbing up the hill instead of sliding down it.
I kept my father’s words in mind, and I was no longer angry at G‑d.
After high school, I attended a seminary, where we learned about Jewish philosophy and practice. In the middle of the year, the school took us on a two-week trip to Israel.
It was life-changing—and that is an understatement.
It was there that I discovered G‑d and His glory. Everything I saw took my breath away. I soaked up the holiness and the knowledge that was so easy to find. I lived for each new moment, and I held on to everything I saw and learned.
It was there that I prayed every single morning. Not only did I pray, but I prayed with excitement. There, I could feel G‑d. I could practically see Him. I prayed at the Kotel (Western Wall) and the resting places of our ancestors. I felt the Torah come alive, and everything suddenly made sense. I couldn’t believe I had spent years questioning what was so obviously true.
Israel was a balm to me. It soothed my frayed nerves, it softened my rough
edges, and it opened my heart to the possibility of loving my religion. After
two weeks of feeling the words I had in my siddur (prayerbook), I knew I couldn’t go back to my previous ways.
My 18th birthday was on the very last day of the trip, and it was then that I made my silent vow to G‑d that I would pray every single morning.
I haven’t broken that promise yet.
A few weeks after my trip, I was home and had a bit of extra time in the morning. I decided to pray out of a beautiful siddur with translations and explanations, a gift I had received in 12th grade but never really used because it was too bulky to bring to school. As I prayed, I spent a few extra moments on each page to understand the words that I was saying. Suddenly, I froze. I slowly read the words הרופא
לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם—“He heals the brokenhearted, and He bandages their wounds.”
This is exactly what I had needed to hear after my grandmother’s death! I couldn’t believe that it was right there in the siddur all along. Tears filled my eyes as I kept reading, suddenly discovering a world of prayers that literally offered the words I was searching for. When I didn’t know how to praise G‑d anymore, here came these words—ancient words, words so relevant and meaningful—and all I had to do was whisper them.
The nextAll I had to do was whisper
words I stumbled upon told me that G‑d created everything. That He created light, and that darkness is just the absence of light. Darkness means only that you can’t see what is there.
The good was never taken away; I was just blinded by the darkness.
I felt as if I had written every word in the siddur, and I cried harder that day than I had in a while. It finally felt right. The siddur finally felt like my own.
Unfortunately, just a few months later, I lost another grandparent. This time it was sudden, with no warning. I woke up to the terrible news. My grandfather, Rabbi Klein, was gone.
Again, I was devastated, and I remembered how I had reacted when my grandmother passed away. That deep anger, that deep wound that I didn’t know how to fix. I could tell my parents felt I was a ticking time bomb; they held their breath for my reaction to the loss.
But this time, I had G‑d on my side. I had Him close, in my siddur, in my heart. I opened my siddur that morning and I turned to G‑d. I prayed to him, deeply, achingly, sadly. But I turned to Him, instead of away from Him.
The next night, my sisters and I were gathered around, talking about what good deed we could take on in the merit of our grandfather’s soul.
We thought about his special personality, the holy things he did, and we sifted through possibilities of things we could take on. My sister thought for another minute and then said, “Zeidy always asked me if I had davened. I think we should all add something extra in our davening, depending on what level we’re on.”
We all agreed, knowing that it would mean a lot to him, and that it was tailored to our own personal levels.
That night, when I closed my eyes, I kept seeing my Zeidy davening. In his house, for the afternoon or evening prayers, in shul, whispering something on the couch. It was obviously important to him.
It had only recently become so important to me.
My grandfather was Israeli, and he spoke fluent Hebrew. I remember feeling jealous at times that he could easily understand the words in the siddur.
I knew that by putting effort into understanding every word that I said in
davening, it would not only connect me to G‑d, but it would connect me to my Zeidy, whom I missed desperately.I had Him close, in my heart
When my grandmother passed away, I lacked that connection to G‑d, I had no
foundation to fall back on, so I fell—far, far down. But this time, I had
slowly been building and building, and now my foundation was strong enough to
hold me up.
After my grandfather’s shivah, I started making time to translate the prayers. Each week I spend time focusing on a new paragraph. I translate it, learn its explanation, and write a small note in my siddur so that I can think about what I learned each time I say it.
Now I realize that prayer is not only about thanking G‑d or asking Him for what I need; it has become a lifeline, something I look forward to each morning. Only now do I know how precious and important each prayer is. I don’t feel like I’m repeating myself day after day anymore. I feel like each morning is another chance to express myself, to really speak what my heart is trying to say.