Yom Kippur prayers

by tobybee

As I have previously mentioned, my family has just changed shuls (we decided to make it a permanent change) from an Orthodox shul to a Conservative one. And while I’ve decided that it’s impossible to get a proper sense of a shul from the its Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur services, overwhelmingly, from what I saw and experienced, this was a nice shul to be at. One thing I particularly liked was that at the end of the day of fasting there were cookies and soft drinks for everyone, even if we were coerced into staying through the Maariv service in order to get to havdalah, the blowing of the shofar, and the cookies. I liked that I sat with my whole family – the upside was that, particularly on Kol Nidre, when my mum had the flu and couldn’t come, I wasn’t sitting by myself (the downside of this is that, thanks to my dad listening to me pray, I found out that, apparently, I sing like her – with absolutely no melody.)

But, in the end, my relationship to the prayers hasn’t really changed. I still listen to only bits of what’s going on, I read random English bits of the machzor when I don’t feel like following the prayers, and during the silent amidah I still read bits in English, spend time doing my own reflections, and alter much of what is written for us to recite. I guess part of it is that I’ve never really understood the ‘one size fits all’ approach to prayer – that we all say the same thing, as though we each have the same relationship to god and to prayer, and the same ways of expressing ourselves. So I kind of wonder if the point isn’t that we should make up prayers as we go along.

But there are three prayers that we do as a congregation that I really don’t understand. That is, I understand them as individual prayers, but I don’t understand how they go together. They are the prayer for the Australian state, the prayer for the State of Israel and the IDF, and the prayer for peace. The prayer for Australia begins by asserting that we, as Jews, have it good in Australia – that the state has given us much, and we hope others can benefit in the ways we have. It also mentions the Wurundjeri people who are the traditional owners of the land. The prayer for Israel and the IDF is in Hebrew, so I don’t know what is said, but I have a sense of it – it’s a prayer for the Israeli military and the Israeli state, which are inextricably linked (in my previous shul the Rabbi would always say that in Israel, every man, woman and child is a soldier.) And then there is a prayer for peace, which begins by saying that we are currently in a state of war and we desire peace for all Jews, and all people, everywhere.

Do you see the contradiction? How can we pray for the IDF and pray for peace? or, is it finally that “war means peace”? How can the first prayer say that we are happy in Australia, and the last say that we are are in peril everywhere? Why can the Wurundjeri people be acknowledged, but the Palestinians can’t? There’s a series of incoherencies here that I truly can’t get my head around. And this is my major interest with these three prayers – what is going on for the people who say them and listen to them? Do they make sense as a trio to people? Is it just that I can’t make out the logic?

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