As I have delved into Judaism after so many years of having this feeling of being homesick for a home where I have never lived, I have been learning the prayers and one of the prayers that is most central to the Jewish faith is the Shema.
I have been learning to read and speak Hebrew and one of the first prayers I learnt was the Shema.
The first verse or line is from Deuteronomy Chapter 6.
It is said with one hand covering your eyes.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד
She-ma yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad
Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
The next verse is said or sung in an undertone
בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד
Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed
Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever
The Shema is also the first prayer that many Jewish children will learn from their parents.
I read about Rabbi Eliezer Silver who in 1945 set about trying to find Jewish children who had been displaced after the war.
Many had been hidden and taken in by Christians and in one case hidden in a monastery, but the Priest in charge was of little help when Rabbi Silver visited. He said that many were Christian, in fact the Catholic Church is rumoured to have held onto Jewish children.
Rabbi Silver visited the wards and started to sing The Shema, some faces lit up and children started to join in, this is how they were identified as Jewish. Even though they had been separated from their families, they knew this prayer as they had been taught it, and often it was sung by parents as they went to sleep.
I can now read Hebrew after many attempts, and somehow it has finally stuck, I don’t claim to be good, I am still quite slow, but that will improve over time.
Entering a new religion can be daunting, the structure of the service is unfamiliar and is even more daunting when it is in an unfamiliar language and in this case an unfamiliar alphabet.
But Hebrew soon stopped sounding like an unfamiliar language, it no longer sounded strange and words In 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Silver became familiar.
I say the Shema twice a day, it is a prayer that is now very special to me and being able to read it in Hebrew makes it even more special. To be able to speak this ancient language feels like a privilege and an honour, and I am now focusing on improving the speed at which I read.