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Street Prayer Services

February 2, 2021
by Sondra Baras

Prayer is central to Judaism.  Jews pray to G-d, talk to G-d, sing to G-d, informally and whenever they feel the need.  Perhaps the Jew best known for his informal talks with G-d is Tevye, the milkman, from Fiddler on the Roof.  My favorite is when he turns to  G-d, after a particularly troubling crisis and suggests: “I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

But Jews place particular value on group or communal prayer.  There are certain prayers that can only be said in public prayer and reading from a Torah scroll with the accompanying blessings is only done at public prayer services.  And the kaddish blessing, recited alternately by the leader of the prayers and by mourners, can only be said in public prayer.

Ten men gathering in one place to pray is the minimum for a public prayer quorum, referred to in Hebrew as a minyan, and great effort is made to ensure that at least 10 men are present for every public prayer service.  Considering that formal prayer services take place three times a day, seven days a week, this is no easy task.  But it is the rare synagogue in a town with a decent size religious Jewish population that doesn’t have the minimum quorum each day.  In Israel, of course, there are synagogues in every city, town and community and it is rarely a problem to get the minimum quorum together.

And then Corona hit and public prayer was challenged all over the Jewish world like never before.  During the first lockdown in Israel, before and during Passover, we were limited to 100 meters beyond the boundaries of our homes and yards.  All synagogues were closed.  And given the ban against any kind of social gathering, it seemed impossible to have any sort of public prayer.  And, the rabbis were unanimous that prayers could be said at home, that staying healthy was more important than gathering for prayer.

But the desire for public prayer runs deep in Jewish circles.  Men who make it a point of never missing a public prayer service unless they are ill, were literally chomping at the bit.  They missed the gathering in prayer, the ability to recite the Kaddish, the ability to read aloud from a Torah scroll.  So they put their heads together and came up with a new concept — street and porch services.  In Israel, nearly every apartment has a porch so those living in apartment buildings went out to their porches and prayed.  From porch to porch, people recited the prayers together and local synagogues distributed Torah Scrolls to their members so that they could read the Torah portion from their porches, for the benefit of all porch sitters.

For those in private homes or duplex cottages, people stood in their front yard, on their front porch or in their driveways.  Someone in the middle of the block would lead the service so that everyone down the block on either side could hear.  There are people who did not miss a single public prayer throughout this period!  Once the restrictions eased up, we continued to pray on the street but we could congregate a little closer to one another.

Our synagogues are still not open normally.  For a few weeks in the summer, the synagogues opened but were limited in the number of people that could attend any given prayer service.  So we scheduled services back to back, and some of the services were outside the synagogues, in front of the entrance, around the back, and on the porch.  And many of the street services continued, which also accommodated the wishes of those who were hesitant to enter a building for fear of infection.  But for the past few months, we are back on the streets and the synagogues are closed.

My father passed away in September, and I have been saying the mourners’ kaddish once a day since.  I have found great comfort in the street service just outside my house.  I regularly attend the afternoon service, which begins about 15 minutes before sunset.  And just as the appointed hour approaches, the front doors open and the men start to gather.  Most women do not attend these services and I am often the only woman present.  But the men on my street have been so welcoming, to me and to each other.  Before Corona, we all belonged to different synagogues, each one based on the custom of the country our families originated from — North Africa, Europe/North America or Yemen.  We tend to form friendships and social circles with those in our synagogue.  But today, we are praying with those who live closest to us.  And while I may not have become best friends with the family two doors down, we now share a comradery that we never had before — we are praying together each day.

The desire for public prayer, the need to pray in a minyan, has proven more powerful than any of us could have imagined.  During these rainy winter months, we have continued to pray outside, in the rain and cold.  When it is raining hard, we will often gather under the porch of a neighbor, which will keep us dry during prayers but will not shield us from the wind.  But at least it is not freezing in Israel.  There was a photo making its way around the internet of a prayer service in Toronto in inches-deep snow.

What is it about communal prayer that is so powerful, that brings people out into the cold and rain to pray together when they could easily say the same prayers in the intimacy and warmth of their homes?  It goes far beyond fellowship and community.  With today’s technology, people can easily catch up and chat and feel connected via zoom. But we are not praying via zoom.  We are gathering together.

Judaism is a religion with a unique theology and series of laws and customs.  And each individual Jew can follow his faith and keep the laws and customs on his own.  But Judaism is also a people; people-hood or community, have always laid at the foundation of Judaism.  Who are we if we are alone?  Who are we if we are not able to connect to our fellow Jew.  We are connected to all humanity with a concern for each other’s welfare.  But we are connected to our fellow Jews with a shared heritage and a common identity.

An expression of what we share is our ability and our deep desire to come before G-d as one people. Corona has presented us with many challenges.  But it has also offered us opportunities — it has enabled us to rediscover that which we have long taken for granted — our community of faith.

12 thoughts on “Street Prayer Services”

  1. Sondra,
    We sincerely appreciate you.
    Thank you for sharing with us who pray and long for “together” time -G-d willing – again with you in USA….beyond and with CFOIC in Israel.
    In Gastonia,NC at Riverwood Congregation we have volunteers working on an outdoor prayer sanctuary gathering place. Hopefully, completed soon.
    What a blest thought to know that in Israel “prayers on street corners and porches in Israel” more so than usual! And beginning here in the USA! Shalom,
    Joyce and Charles Dixon

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  2. I was really touched by the above about street prayer services. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think what would people think if Christians here in the USA did this!!! They seldom pray in churches. Only the pastors do. Particularly public prayer. We all could learn from this. Thank you

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  3. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your father. my church was closed for about one month starting December 26 due to several of our members being ill with the coronavirus, including me. t am apediatric homecare nurse and I started feeling ill while at work Christmas Eve. Imissed 2 weeks of work. My mom also tested positive and she was hospitalized January 9. After 2 weeks in the hospital, including ICU, she was transfeered to a rehab. I have not been able to see my mom, which is very difficucult. It was great to return to church with limited numbers allowed to gather. Prayer is very important, especially during this pandemic.

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  4. Blessings and hugs on the loss of your father. MANY years ago, my 42 year old son was dying in a hospital in Dallas. As soon as I got word, I called our mutual friend, who was also a friend of my son, to ask him to pray for David. Little did I know that he was in Jerusalem and that it was 5 a.m. THERE. But he said that he would immediately go to the wall and pray for David and for our family. That’s the love of a good friend!

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  5. My condolences on the loss of your Father. In New Zealand we are not in lockdown. We were in 2020 for about 3 months. How wonderful it is to read of your Prayers in each Street. Blessings.
    Judith Mackintosh

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  6. Nuestro mas sentido pesame por lamentable pedida , muy alentadora la manera de seguir al Eterno con sus Tefila, una gran bendicion la que se encuentra en esta narracion,muchas gracias por compartir y que aumente nuestras oraciones por la gratitud que recibimos a diario.

    Reply
  7. Dear Sondra,
    Thanks for sharing this very informative and encouraging note about prayer.

    I missed this news about the passing of your father. Please accept my sincerest and deepest condolences.

    We appreciate all that you’re sharing with us, and am so grateful for everything.

    We miss you and look forward to visiting you again as soon as the doors are opened.

    Shalom and blessings!
    Josefina

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  8. Coping with Life storm Mark 4:38 carest thou not that we perishing? Here we see disciples in the Storm the storm came while they were obeying theirs Masters commands. It was Jesus who was on baord that night here it was Jesus who was responsible it was who suggested going across that night in Africa Corona is killing people silent treatment is not at standard we are always in fear and hopeless. Just then a bigger wave than ever struck the ship the world Corona is spirit of fear and sent our church ship staggering and Peter hauling like mad at the rope look at John ‘!!!!!!!!man didn’t stand shivering there! Wake Jesus wake the Lord our God our only hope wake Dr FOCUS KOMBA in asking you to kindly Wake Jesus is available night and Day. Thanks DAR ES SALAAM BIBLE INSTITUTE p.o.box 15412 DAR ES SALAAM TANZANIA -255655001008 am to connect you for More PRAYERS and seminars all over the world invite me into your churches

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  9. I am so sorry for lost of our beloved brother we need to say a scared world NEEDS a fearless Church a fear-stricken church cannot help a scared world. Christian’s are in the secret places of safety must begging to talk and act like it. We, above all who dwell upon the earth should be calm hopefully buoyantly and cheerful Never be convinced the scared world that there is peace at the cross if we continue to exhibit the same fears as those who make no proffesion of Christianity DAR ES SALAAM BIBLE INSTITUTE awpitz@gmail.com+255655001008;Dr FOCUS KOMBA send your prayers request for us to pray Tanzania we do not have Corona pendamic welcome

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  10. Thank you so much for feeding us about Jews and churches in Israel. There are many things which I had not heard or known before but now I can visit tour holy Land while at home DAR ES SALAAM BLESSINGS hallelujah to you all of us may have to show our gratitude and gives offering to support the ministry exist

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  11. I am enjoying your articles. Regarding this one, it convicts me to find prayer partners. Since Christianity is from Judaism, should we not be making prayer more central to every day life even after COVID-19, keep the porch gatherings going! I’m Praying for Israel. God will bring victory. Bless you!

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  12. Thank you,Sondra for sharing the heart of a people who love each other and the God of Israel.Glad to hear the Spirit IS still alive in Israel.May the Lord continue to comfort you with the loss of your father.

    Reply

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