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Today on my way home to Iowa I saw a man (I think he was a Rabbi) in the Ft Lauderdale airport performing a ritual I had never seen before. (ps I am not Jewish even though my Great Grandfather on my mothers side was) The man I saw looked to be saying a prayer to the four cardinal directions. His arms were wrapped with leather straps he had in a yamicha (sorry if I spelled that incorrectly) and also had a wooden block strapped to his head. When he finished he put everything away in specially made bags and boxes. Any idea what I witnessed? It was truely fascinating to see.
The boxes have the central prayer in Judaism, the Shema, inside them on parchment. The Shema has the words of Deuteronomy 6, which mention binding the words as a sign on the hand, and reciting them when you’re on your way.
Maybe the man was a rabbi, or maybe just an observant Jew who prays every day in the morning, afternoon and evening wherever he happens to be. He ought to have been facing east, not in four directions, and might have moved forward and back for certain prayers.
It was good that you didn’t interrupt him while he was praying, but I’ll bet he would have answered your questions about what he was doing afterward, when he was stowing his tallit (prayer shawl, also said tallis) and tefillin.
Hope that’s helpful. It’s nice to feel connected to someone because you share a heritage with them.