I have been having trouble praying since October 7. I desperately want to pray for the safety and welfare of individuals and groups in more danger than ever. But I have become accustomed to praying from a place of joyful gratitude, even when times are tough. I am genuinely grateful now, in some ways even more thankful for safety, power, and community since the atrocities of October 7 and the ensuing war. But, there has not been a lot of joy.
Yesterday, the joyful prayer switch flipped for me when we celebrated a student's bar mitzvah with our community. Shane has been at Beit Rabban since kindergarten- he had a gigantic smile as a little child that I assumed he would grow into. As it turns out, his smile continues to grow alongside the rest of him. His teacher, Matan, spoke about him at the bar mitzvah yesterday, describing him as a generous and joyful "motek," sweetheart. This cheerful and sweet affect is contagious, and I caught it yesterday at his bar mitzvah, and it seemed to spread to everyone in the room.
I'm still holding on to some of that joy today, and I want to spread it just like our bar mitzvah boy. Generally, we kick off our weekly whole school assembly, Shabbat B'Yachad, with raucous dancing. That hasn't felt appropriate the past month. And yet, we do want to be joyful as a community as an expression of Jewish values, just as we were yesterday at the bar mitzvah. We do have to find ways to tap into meaningful joy as a community during these times. Today, we had the chance to do that at Shabbat B'Yachad when the eighth graders and I taught everyone one of my favorite old-school Diaspora Yeshiva Band songs at Shabbat B'Yachad this afternoon, "Ivdu et Hashem B'simcha." This quote from Psalms instructs us to "worship God with happiness, to present ourselves before the Almighty joyfully." Next will be my #1 favorite Diaspora Yeshiva Band song, "Hafachta Mispedi L'mechol Li" (You Turned My Sorrow into Joyous Dance), based on another beautiful Psalm. It will just require a far longer assembly.
It feels important to remember that being a part of the Jewish people also requires us to share happy moments, not to cancel simchas, and to worship joyfully in community and with meaning, even as we hold the reality of ongoing pain and suffering.