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The Jewish Prayer That Has Helped Me Since My Divorce

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Recently my 3-year-old has been sharing his potty mouth with his friends at daycare. (I formally apologize to all the teachers and parents of children in his class.) While I accept most blame, he does have two older brothers who have contributed generously to his vocabulary. I do need to be more careful with my words though. He absorbs everything.

The other day I heard him say, “God give me strength,” an expression I clearly picked up as a kid in Texas. I guess I say it often. Well, it sounded ridiculous coming from his little mouth and made me consider how effective it is to beg for help from a Higher Power when I am stressed. Truth is, I find no satisfaction when I say it. I might as well be saying hocus-pocus. I mean the God I know doesn’t just drop a pretty basket of relief from above every time I lose my shit with my kids or make an error at work.

I think God has a different system.

Since my divorce, I call upon God much more than before. Some might say I use God as my crutch, and maybe I do. But I think there are worse crutches to have. “God give me strength,” however, just wasn’t cutting it, as the toddler pointed out.

READ: Why a Huge Fight with My Teens Ended Up Making Shabbat Better

Now I’m not a trendy person. I have no idea what people watch on television these days, nor do I follow fashion—couldn’t afford to even if I wanted to. I do read a lot of parenting books and blogs, however. And I noticed that one word has been popping up regularly everywhere: mindfulness.

So when my therapist and my divorced parenting support group both started talking about practicing mindfulness, I decided to follow the crowd, figuring there must be something to it.

Mindfulness, as I understand it, simply means being present. But being present is freaking hard to do. When I am at work, I am thinking about my grocery list and tasks I must accomplish before I get the kids. When I am with the kids, I am thinking about work and all the details I forgot to take care of during the day.

But all of that changes briefly on Shabbat when I teach a second grade Hebrew school class. For the first hour of the morning, we sing and dance during tefillah (prayer) before moving to our classroom for our lesson. That hour is my favorite hour of my week because I am entirely engaged with my class. I actually feel restored afterwards. Without even intending to, I have been practicing mindfulness.

During the service we have a special custom when we get to the Shema that was instituted by a former rabbi of the congregation who was hearing-impaired. Instead of just reciting the Shema, the central prayer in Judaism, we use American Sign Language to sign the first line, which proclaims the oneness of God. It reads as follows in English:

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Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

When we sign this line with our hands, however, we do not sign the word for hear, but rather pay attention. The reason is because it would be insensitive to tell someone to hear if they are incapable of hearing. We raise both hands up to our face and then move them forward and then back to our face again, like we are drawing in others or trying to get someone to look our way.

I still need God’s help, no doubt. But thanks to the toddler and my second grade class, I now have a magic word that actually works.

When the kids are arguing in the car and we are late in the morning, I say Shema. Pay Attention! I visualize my hands rising up to my face. When I get a nasty text from my ex or the boys are wrestling in the living room I say Shema. Pay attention! The word helps me to pause, return to the present moment, and stop reacting automatically to the stressor. Shema forces me to consciously deal with the problem.

READ: The Daily Jewish Practices I Have–And Haven’t–Kept Up With

Every night, the three little guys and I recite the Shema together. We raise our hands up to our faces and I pay attention. This moment is all we have, and I don’t want to miss it.

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