Where do YOU pray? היכן אתה מתפלל أين تصلي

“There is beauty in extreme old age”-The Mikado

Every Thursday during the blistering months of July and August, I volunteer for a group known as Min el-Bahar which means “from the sea” in Arabic. Under the auspices of Min El Baher, Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank enjoy a day at the sea, followed by a boat cruise.

For most kids, its the first time at the sea, and their first encounter with Israelis who aren’t soldiers or settlers. The Palestinians are accompanied by either one of their parents, a teacher and at times a male chaperone from their village.

We volunteers stay very close to the kids to ensure their safety, serve them icy-icy, watermelon, and play ball with them in the water. We dance with them, sing, play drums and have a truly wonderful time.

Most of us know enough Arabic to get by, and some of the kids know English as well. Our professional life guard, an Arab Israeli, is perfectly bilingual.

So, I have been playing ball with this group for about half an hour. And joking around. Everyone is laughing. And this fully clad lady asks me as we toss the ball around in a circle, “are you Christian or Muslim”? This part I understand. I tell her “neither. I’m Jewish”.

“No you aren’t”, she semi defies me, in good humour. Then one of her daughters asks me a question in Arabic that I don’t understand. The lifeguard translates for me. “Where do you pray?” I tell the lifeguard that I don’t pray. He translates for them-they are bewildered. Absolutely shocked. As if I told them that I am from Mars.

For a few  seconds, the happiness dissolves. All is quiet. Eyes drop. Contact is lost. Then joy returns as if all is set aside.  All is back to “normal.”

My guess is that both sides have learned. They have learned that some nice people don’t pray. I have learned how far we all have to come before we eventually get to understand one another in this hot and humid, unholy land which no one will truly understand until all assumptions are set aside.

Back to normal

Followed by watermelon









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18 thoughts on “Where do YOU pray? היכן אתה מתפלל أين تصلي

  1. Allon, you absolutely DO pray. I resonate with Rabbi Heschel’s writing that prayer is not in words, it’s in actions/deeds/choices/how one leads one’s life. Your actions are your prayer, especially in stories like this.

  2. Your case for not praying is stellar in its logic. Here is what I get from your story: Should there be no God, why pray? Should there be a God, the thing you ask for is either good for you and for the world or else it is not. If it is, then a loving God will do it anyway. If it is not, then He won’t. In either case, prayer doesn’t make a difference. But if this argument is sound, surely it is an argument not only for not praying but against doing anything whatsoever.

    But you did do something, Allon. Why? It is in that deeper intention that prayer lies, in that connection where a non-praying Jew does something that brings joy to children. Why did you “stay close to them to ensure their safety and serve them icy, icy watermelon”. What is the why of the why? Your action in space and time on that beach is timeless and spaceless as everyone returned to normal play once their shock of the non-praying Jew admitting “I don’t pray” passed.

    In this spaceless and timeless place of love of your presence to those kids, your action in that time and space was the least supported by any devotional feeling. For your action came from a deeper level than feeling: willing the good of those kids as kids, the way they were and the way they were not.

    I am blessed to know you.

  3. A friend of mine once told me that he was playing with a young child, a distant relative. The child asked him his religion and he said he had no religion, that he did not believe in a god. The little boy then said to him ‘but if you have no god then what makes you do the right thing?’

    You do the right thing Allon because it is what you believe and think, because it comes not from obedience in hope of some compensation but rather because it is what you know is the right thing in your head and your heart.

    And that is what matters more than where you pray.

  4. Chapeau Allon for your yearly determination to this event in spit of your understanding that this drop of humanity will not change the sea of hatred we are surrounded with.

  5. Prayer is not something that one does..but something that one is…it is a spiritual connection with God and humanity…not some formal ritualistic process intended to appease, propitiate, or otherwise influence. The most powerful prayers are those which align our concerns with the concerns with the universe, with those who are downtrodden, and with those who are powerless. But prayers that evoke no action on our part, no empathy, no purpose outside of own existence are chants into darkness..

    thanks my borther

  6. St. Francis of Assisi is claimed to have said … Preach the Gospel (good news) at all times. If necessary, use words.

    Blessings, Allon.

    Dr. Julie (yes. Finally finished my PhD)

  7. That Thai team and their coach. Like no prayer before this, nor after.

    The Spirit does not visit the same way twice, or evermore.

  8. It may be hard for others to hear, but I love your simple clarity, and I also love what you are doing with those kids. How odd for you to say something that is hard for others to hear lol!

  9. Pingback: On surviving the rule of the protracted rule of the right wing | Allon Shevat

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