I can’t forget Reb Meir Levitt, the oldest member of our minyan in the 1990s. He was a survivor of Auschwitz, his life spared not only because he worked as a tailor, but through many open miracles which he would recount in awe.

As he aged, his memory reached back yet earlier, into the memory of Russian soldiers, soon to be replaced by German soldiers, sleeping on the earthen floor of his home in Poland during the First World War. With zeal and a young spirit, he would recite the pages of Talmud he had learned in cheder— all by memory, all without a fault.

But my most vivid memory of Reb Meir was one night after Selichot.

We had convened as usual on a Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, and at midnight we began our petitions to G‑d. Within 35 minutes or so, we were done.

But Reb Meir was shaking his head violently, waving his hands in the air, muttering epithets in his Polish Yiddish that I could barely understand.

“Reb Meir, what was wrong with our Selichot?” I asked.

For which I now became the target of his barrage of anger.

“Slichos?” he answered, correcting me with his oldtimers' pronunciation. “This was Slichos?! Where? What? How do you call this Slichos?”

“Well, it’s our version, maybe not the one you used back home…”

“Slichos! I’ll tell you what Slichos is! Slichos is every man, woman and child waking from their beds in the middle of the night, coming to the shul, opening a Slichos—if they had one—and pouring a river of tears for two hours straight into that little book! That is Slichos! Even the floor was soaked with tears!”

He looked towards the floor, as if hoping to find at least a single teardrop glistening down there. Instead, his eyes caught a Book of Psalms lying on the table. He grabbed it, and even in his fury did not fail to kiss its cover.

“And this Tillim,” he continued. “Do you know what Tillim is?”

I dared not answer.

“Yes! You think it is a book of words that you mumble as fast as you can so you can leave and go to work.”

“This Tillim is where my mother cried fountains of tears over her lost children, where my father left tears of blood as he cried like a small child early in the morning before leaving to work in the factory.”

“This is not a book—it is a Jewish heart! And now, there is no heart. No one knows how to cry. Just a mumbling of words. And now you can all go back to your comfortable beds. Goodnight and sweet dreams.”

Jews have many books. They call us the People of the Book. We keep a scroll of the Five Books of Moses in the holiest place in our synagogues. We spend our days in yeshiva and our mornings and nights in places of worship everywhere in the world poring over the text of the Talmud.

But more than any book, the one we opened the most, the one every simple Jew knew as his or her closest companion, the one even an ignoramus could recite by heart, was the Tehillim.

If you want to find the wisdom of the Jews, together with the heart and soul of the Jews, all wrapped up as one, read the Book of Tehillim. But only if you can read it as did Reb Meir and his generation.

Whatever you do, don’t read the Selichot, not as I did that night. Open the faucets of your heart and pour out all that has built up inside over a year, over a lifetime—and do it with those words so precious to our great-grandparents, those words of Selichot.

That is prayer, to share with G‑d all that is in your heart. And if there’s one thing the world could use for a new year, it’s a Jewish heart.