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GBDS guests blended camaraderie and learning during a Dec. 14 session at PRAY.

What do you get when you cross four gregarious rabbis with a community craving spirituality? To find out, The Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey (GBDS) invited supporters to my home in Wyckoff for individualized engagement with Head of School Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt and GBDS Board Members Rabbi Ziona Zelazo, Rabbi Randy Mark, and Rabbi Joshua Cohen. The event, offered as part of the day school’s popular Schmoozeday Series, was billed to revive one’s spirit, in and out of synagogue. As with other classes in the school’s Schmoozeday syllabus, PRAY attracted adults comfortable with becoming students again.

“The great thing about learning as an adult is you know better what questions to ask,” said GBDS parent Leah Matsil. When it comes to praying, “the Hebrew has always presented a sort of barricade,” said my mother, Joan Silna. “But now I am no longer ashamed to admit what I don’t know.” ”

“There is a thirst for this kind of programming,” said Cohen, who recently began his tenure as rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Franklin Lakes.

After wine, cheese and latkes, the program began. Bernhardt dimmed the lights and urged attendees to relax, on the floor if they wished, and to close their eyes. With modern liturgical music playing softly in the background, Bernhardt, who holds a Master’s in Social Work, led the group through a visualization.

“Picture your very first spiritual memory….It might be playing with your grandfather’s tallis, or baking challah with your bubbe. Perhaps it is a song you heard as a young child at shul,” she said.

The goal? “To remember a time preceding judgment,” the rabbi explained later. “I see it at GBDS every day – our children have strong, positive connections to their Jewish identities. I wanted participants to reconnect with those earliest feelings of joy and belonging, and then from there, to envision a future self, filled with that same holiness.”

Cohen spoke of the tension that exists in all of us between keva (fixed prayer) and kavannah (prayer that comes spontaneously, or from the heart).

“This is not a modern phenomenon,” he said. “When the words seem void of meaning, it is time to integrate your heart, be reflective.”

He introduced a great parallel to the group: “You have no desire to work out, but by going to the gym, you will very likely still accomplish and achieve. So it is with prayer.”

Zelazo offered an anthropologist’s view of prayer, complete with mysticism and yearning, and Mark, of Shomrei Torah in Wayne, shared his personal journey of a secular childhood through to his rabbinic ordination.

Once divided into four groups, attendees shared their upbringings, fears, hopes and intentions. Bernhardt’s group played instruments, Zelazo’s chanted and wrote their own prayers.

“I found the evening enlightening,” said Jodi Abata of Wyckoff. “I didn’t realize there are many different paths that will bring you to the same place.”

To find out about upcoming Schmoozeday offerings, log onto https://gerrardbermands.ejoinme.org/pray.

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GBDS Board members Rabbi Randy Mark, Rabbi Josh Cohen, President Shana Siegel, Vice President Barry Blecherman, and immediate Past President Alex Paley. Front row: Rabbi Ziona Zelazo and Head of Gerrard Berman Day School Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt. photos Courtesy Amy Silna Shafron