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Julie Gardner, an intermarried mother of two boys, writes a monthly column about her Jewish journey. Julie lives in San Francisco and was raised without a religious tradition.
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.
These words, uttered throughout my childhood, were the closest thing I had to prayer in my life. Without the benefit of church, temple, or mosque, I depended on nursery rhymes and Girl Scout oaths to provide hope and chase away my fears.
It never occurred to me to thank God for the birth of my children, but it did occur to me to question His motives when my eldest child, Case, began to have seizures and was later diagnosed with seizure disorder. When my sister, Kathi, discovered she had contracted HIV, I was angered by the pain I felt He brought upon my family. I did not know that it might be meaningful, indeed necessary, to proclaim His presence for each blessing, as well.
When Shabbat, the Sabbath, entered my life, it brought with it the Sabbath prayers. Awkward at first, they now provide a benchmark for the week. They bring peace and thoughtfulness to our home. Moreover, they serve to remind my family to pause, to be thankful, and to love one another.
I had not realized how integral a part of my life prayer had become until I telephoned my rabbi with my concern for my good friend Carrie and her child Charlotte, who had stopped breathing several times within her first forty-eight hours after birth. That I would telephone my rabbi and recognize that prayer might have an appropriate place at such a time, that it might serve a useful purpose, and what's more, that it might truly help and actually make a difference, was not something I would have acknowledged even a year ago. Although I might have whispered a prayer or two, they would have been a prayer of thanks for sparing my own two kids such an ordeal.
Although I am not yet ready to abandon the prayer that recognizes such good fortune, I think I am ready to explore how prayer might serve me, my family, and my life better on a day-to-day basis. Instead of using prayer as a last-ditch effort, I feel more inclined to incorporate prayer into my life, to utter thanks at the end of the day, to understand the miracle that has created my children, to examine the blessings in my life, and to recognize God all around me.
Coming full circle, I have my rabbi to thank for encouraging me to begin to "do" the prayers and the rituals that form Shabbat, Passover, Hanukkah, etc. Each Sabbath and each holiday does in fact (just as she predicted) invoke the holiday that preceded them. Furthermore, they only improve as my children grow and actively participate.
Prayer is teaching me to be thankful. Prayer is showing me that wishes can come true.