Blog Post : Finding a Way In, by Rabbi Nikki

Finding a Way In, by Rabbi Nikki | Anonymous (not verified) | Nov 20, 2012

It’s no secret that progressive Jews at NYU have lots of options on any given Friday night—and most of them don’t involve praying. So what is progressive Jewish prayer? What might it be for us, as we strengthen, build, and transform progressive Jewish life at NYU?

Recently, our Bronfman Center community—progressive, halakhic, and every way of being Jewish you can imagine—has prayed with our feet: we have visited neighborhoods affected by Superstorm Sandy, bearing food and supplies. As Rabbi Rick Jacobs recently expressed at the GA meeting, this kind of social justice work is “no less a religious practice than prayer.”

So, we pray with our feet.

But sometimes we pray in other ways, too. We can pray with our voices in song, with our hands in community service, with our breath in meditation. We pray with the entirety of our beings.

At least in the way I understand it, prayer—tefilah—calls each of us to look inwardly and outwardly. Prayer gives us an opportunity to reflect on our strengths and shortcomings. Prayer allows us to feel humility before God or before the immensity of the created world or before the unrolling of Jewish history. Prayer can look just like you might imagine, with swaying motions, a dusty book filled with intricate Hebrew characters, and rows upon rows of individuals concentrating their minds and hearts on the ancient words of Jewish tradition.

And prayer can look differently, too.

I often imagine holding a Kabbalat Shabbat service inside one of Richard Serra’s massive metal spiral sculptures. (thanks, Rabbi Andy Bachman, for putting the notion of worship inside art in my head so many years ago!).  Seeing the rust where the rain we do not control has left its mark. Feeling the metal cool as the sun sinks low beneath the horizon. Realizing how fragile we are, made of flesh and bone and sinew, surrounded by thick metal walls teetering in toward us. Looking up and seeing the vastness of the sky.

The spaces where we pray can take many forms, but one guideline includes: Jews do not pray in windowless rooms. Why? Many reasons are proposed. My teacher Rabbi Dr. Lawrence A. Hoffman, offers a modern one: “Perhaps they make the room where we pray porous to human outcries of suffering from the street. It is not enough that God look into our hearts. When we pray for the ideal world of tomorrow, we are to be able to look out on the world as it really is today” (The Way into Jewish Prayer, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010).

When you look out your window at the world today, what do you see that moves you to tears? What do you see that provokes your anger? What do you see that cries out for repair? Our prayer together can open the window, inviting the world outside into our own Jewish community, and beckoning us to venture out to repair the world that has been entrusted to us.

Each Friday night, a new window opens. Step through the window with us this year.

Contact Rabbi Nikki with questions and ideas (