Having been raised in a somewhat agnostic family, prayer was a bit alien to me for quite a long while.  It wasn’t that my family didn’t believe in G‑d, but were a bit reluctant to profess any true and solid faith.  My father, of blessed memory, had been in one of the first American battalions to enter Auschwitz during WWII.  What he saw there seemed to haunt him for the rest of his years.  As a result, he refused to follow anything that meant religious commitment.  I can still hear him saying, “Some day, perhaps, some day; just not now.”  But “some day” never came. 

As I grew older, I tried various religious avenues on my own. Yet nothing felt completely right. I always felt a bit out of place even though I couldn’t put my finger on it. One of the things that always bothered me, every place I tried, was that not once did anyone even ask if I knew how to pray, ask me to pray, or inquire as to my ability to pray.  It seemed as if I was simply expected to know how to do this and why.  It makes one stop and wonder:  if it is such an important thing to do – pray, that is – then why wasn’t it taught, or at least talked about seemingly anywhere?  It was something I would have to find out about all by myself. 

As years went by and I aimlessly visited places of worship here and there, I began to listen to what others prayed about, and how they went about it.  It was a very interesting thing, this praying.  Some, like me, had a very difficult time trying to find the “right” words to say; to use words that would be satisfying to everyone around them.

Then, there were those who had a gift of sorts; who could pray at the literal drop of a hat with prayers that lilted like a song from their lips.  Some could make you feel guilty because you could not pray like they did; others made you glad you didn’t.  Some would repeat G‑d’s name over and over, or another name, as if the repetition was the “key” to getting the prayer answered.

As time passed, I came to the realization that prayer is as individual as the sands in an hour glass.  Singularly, they didn’t seem like much and their importance might feel like little; but together, ah, together, they were as mighty as the beaches.  They become firm and yet are a cushion against a mighty sea of adversity.

It wasn’t until I discovered Judaism that I found a real reason and need for prayer.  When I first saw all the prayers in the Siddur, the prayerbook, I thought it strange. “What good are these prayers if they are said by everyone?” I thought.  When I took the time to stop and think about it, it became very clear.  As individuals, our prayers may seem insignificant; though in truth they are quite powerful, but even more so, when joined by the prayers of millions of other Jews they become powerful – bombarding Heaven’s gates with the pleading of a people who not only find reason to praise, but to ask together as a whole, for both healing and forgiveness.  The power of the masses is never more than in the moment we come together as a whole before our Creator!

Why do I pray?  Sure, prayer brings me closer to G‑d; but prayer also brings me closer to my fellow Jews, closer to the needs of my fellow mankind, closer even, to my own understanding of myself.  I have discovered that prayer is the key to self-understanding, self-forgiveness, and even self-acceptance and love.  If we cannot understand, forgive and love ourselves, it becomes impossible to hope to understand – even a little – or to accept or love G‑d.

So, in one sense, prayer becomes a bit selfish or self-centered in my search for peace and tranquility in this life.  Yet it is far from that in its totality.  For in prayer I am connecting with the universe; going beyond the limits of time and space as we know it – connecting with the Supreme, the ultimate Source of life!  Together we can change the world as we know it through our spiritual connections in prayer. 

That change is a spiritually fulfilling change that in turn changes the way we look at the world around us; how we perceive it and what we contribute to it.  It is a self-changing yet universally connecting change far from the understanding of many.  This somewhat mysterious manifestation of prayer-induced change may seem beyond the realm of reality, but it is my reality for now; and just a small part of the unexplainable reasons I pray.

I like knowing I am connecting with others – even people I have never met – to petition my Creator for the needs of many; putting my own needs last.  This letting go of me, this, was probably the most difficult of things I learned; but the most necessary.  Once I was able to get myself out of the picture when I prayed, I was able to open my mind and spirit to the needs of others.  Then is when I found that relationship with Gd that is special, warm and accepting.  Like a child sitting at the feet of her father in quiet repose, sometimes saying nothing at all, yet speaking volumes; and in turn basking in the warmth of his presence.  It is like that and more.  It is a closeness that is as individual as that grain of sand, yet as firm as the solidity of the beach; a connection that in its totality repels the onslaught of adversity in my life.  And that is one of the best reasons, I find, to pray.