Synagogues from across Bergen County will come together on May 4 to conclude a project designed to make prayer more meaningful.
At the event – to be held at Cong. Keter Torah – participating congregations will complete a joint reading of “Praying With Fire” (Artscroll Mesorah).
The book, divided into 89 five-minute daily lessons, is intended to increase awareness about the importance and power of prayer, according to its author, Rabbi Heshy Kleinman, who will address the gathering. Also speaking will be Rabbis Shmuel Kamenetsky and Mordechai Willig.
The Bergen County-wide learning program was established in January at Teaneck’s Cong. Bnai Yeshurun when the shul president, Shimmy Tenenbaum, asked longtime member Rabbi Simcha Katz to establish a committee to help improve the quality of prayer among congregants.
They enlisted the help of Kleinman – a Brooklyn rabbi, author, and lecturer – who runs the nonprofit V’Ani Tefillah Foundation, which provides education and tools for more effective prayer. The proceeds from “Praying with Fire,” which is being translated into several languages, are used to benefit the foundation.
Kleinman spent a Shabbat at Bnai Yeshurun, where he was “an instant hit,” said Katz, chairman of the tefillah enrichment committee. Some 350 of Kleinman’s books were distributed, and many people volunteered to spend five minutes a day for 89 days learning how to enhance their tefillah, said Katz.
The Coby Levi Memorial Fund, founded by synagogue members Ernie and Sally Levi in memory of their son, sponsored free copies of the book for the synagogue; 1,400 copies were subsequently distributed throughout Bergen County.
According to Kleinman, the format of his book enables readers to accomplish their goals.
“The aim of the program is to grow one step at a time,” he said. “With focus and dedication, people can go up the ladder one step at a time. The idea is not just to read the book but to internalize the lessons, to actualize a change.”
“I think if you take a look at what’s going on in the world, it’s obvious that we are not in charge,” he said. “We need to pray. Hopefully, we will merit that God will answer.”
Katz said that organizers were motivated to launch this program now, since “people are seeking divine help in reaction to the dire financial situation, problems in Israel, and conflicts around the world.” He noted that the Jewish community today is facing extraordinary financial pressures.
“Our institutions and families are strained to a point where business can not continue as usual,” he said. “We need help.”
Israel, he added, “is under an existential threat from a nation that is being led by leaders with a fanatical hatred toward Jews – a leadership that has denied the Holocaust but is threatening a new one, all the while developing the weapons to implement its threats. Tefillah is our most powerful tool in relating to our Creator and asking for that help,” he said, noting that the tefillah initiative was intended to enhance the meaningfulness of prayer both for individuals and the community.
Kleinman’s five-minute-a-day program has been implemented at more than 100 synagogues in the U.S. and Canada.
After the program began at Bnai Yeshurun, “Beth Aaron heard about it and wanted to do it,” said Rabbi Yoseph Siev, who headed the initiative at Bnai Yeshurun along with Katz. From there, it spread to shuls in Englewood, Fort Lee, and other parts of Bergen.
“It’s become a community-wide effort. People have taken it very seriously. I think this brought the community together. It united people because they were all engaged in the same effort. On a more personal level, it provided inspiration for a lot of people.”
Beth Aaron launched the program in February. Joel Richter, a member of that shul, credited the program with bringing his prayers to a higher level.
Richter said the program “has done wonders for my kavanah [intention] in my tefillot.”
“I have gained a new-found understanding and excitement for my tefillot [and] I am able to daven with much more feeling and understanding of what I am saying,” he said, adding that he now has a deeper feeling for how each prayer relates to his life.
Richter said that the book, with extensive footnotes from various rabbinical authorities, has also inspired him to pursue further Torah learning.
Betty Ben David, a member of Bnai Yeshurun and a participant in the program, also said the book has enhanced her prayer experience. “Prayer is good for any and all circumstances and a person can begin with small steps – even one prayer or blessing a day makes a difference,” she said. “Tefillah is the only way in our era to have a direct line with HaShem.”