My great-grandfather, the rabbi of Krasnostav, Ukraine, said the Shema Yisrael just as the Nazis shot him. He and all the 850 Jews of the town, including my great-grandmother and great-uncle, were were left to die in a mass grave.

His Shema Yisrael was one of dying for G‑d.

My grandfather said the Shema Yisrael thousands of times during his 20 years in Communist Moscow. He tried to raise his family of 13 children (a fourteenth died from hunger during the war years) in the ways of G‑d, despite threats of imprisonment, lack of job sustainability due to his Shabbat observance, and ten-hour waits in breadlines.

His Shema Yisrael was one of defiance for G‑d.

My parents’ generation said the Shema Yisrael despite the unpopularity of religion and faith as they grew up. The “isms” of the times attracted myriads of Jewish souls, and walking tall and proud as a devoted Jew took guts. Rebuilding Jewish life from the ashes of Hitler and Stalin demanded courage.

Their Shema Yisrael was one of fighting for G‑d.

Today, we say Shema Yisrael with a new connotation. In the face of comforts and freedoms that our ancestors would’ve considered messianic, we say a Shema Yisrael that declares: I will not drown in the shallow. I will not get stuck in the entrance halls of the King’s palace. I want to see the King! I want to find G‑dliness – not out of death, desperation, or revolution – but because II want to see the King! want to fulfill G‑d’s mission for me. I want the truth for the sake of the truth.

The Shema Yisrael of our time is unique even among the billions of Shema Yisrael’s that have been sung and shouted throughout our unfathomable history.

Never before have we faced such opportunity and freedom and yet chose G‑d.

The Shema Yisrael of today is one of living for G‑d. Living and thriving in the world and at the same time proudly asserting our identity as Jews.

And we each have our own individual Shema Yisrael, those moments where we must uncover within ourselves the strength and sacrifice to choose G‑d over the temptations of the world.

As for my children? I hope and pray that their Shema Yisrael will no longer be a statement of faith, but rather a declaration of messianic reality: “G-D IS OUR G-D, G-D IS ONE!”