When I was a kid, a great break-time favourite was 'group levitation'. Someone lay supine on the floor and four other girls arranged themselves, two down each side of the subject's body, and raised her using only their forefingers. It was a great stunt and I'm still baffled how we did it. Was it simply because the subject thought "light" and her assistants thought "lift"?
Hmm! Is this the same as the power of prayer? Certainly, one of my cousins is a great believer in its force, no matter its provenance. After Julian's accident, she told me how friends and acquaintances of many faiths and backgrounds had helped her to recover from a major illness with the force of their prayers.
Certainly, my first instinctive reaction after learning the news about my brother was to contact the rabbi of our 'new' congregation in Karmiel and to ask him to offer the traditional supplications. Our relatives, friends, acquaintances - even strangers - appalled by what had happened - immediately offered to have prayers recited - and also asked for Julian's Hebrew matronymic. In Jewish tradition requests for healing are made in the mother's name.
Certainly, if healing were effected by prayer alone, Professor Charles Sprung and his team at Ein Kerem Hadassah Hospital would be redundant and Julian would by now be cart-wheeling down the hospital corridor in preparation for a brisk 'power walk' home!
Generally, the older I get the more cynical I become about those things that many people take for granted. Prayer, for instance. I look at the Hebrew passages - with their English translations - and see them more as repetitive, formulaic - if sublime poetry - than as a way of persuading Heaven to intercede in what's happening on earth. Every morning when I see the glorious Galilean countryside surrounding Karmiel and its striking similarity to the terrain of the Pennines and Lake District in England, I understand how first the Biblical psalmists and then the English romantic poets of the 18th and 19th centuries were inspired to pen the prayerful poetry with which many of us become familiar from early childhood.
The imp inside me insists it's the same thing - and this I confess, is partly why I rarely attend synagogue. But there are times when I am glad to have made the effort. This happened during first day Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year), Kol Nidrei (the eve of the Day of Atonement) and Yom Kippur day itself. On each occasion, Rabbi Reuven Resnick, the engaging spiritual leader of Kehilat HaKerem Masorti Congregation, delivered three hugely entertaining sermons by rote in Hebrew but provided English and Spanish translations for people like me whose spoken Hebrew is very limited. Unsurprisingly that for Kol Nidrei was devoted to the power of prayer.
He said, inter alia, in a passage after my heart: "... Furthermore, traditional Jewish prayer is long and stuffy. The rabbis tell us when we have to pray. The siddur (prayer book) tells us what to say. The system appears to be neither spontaneous nor user friendly. It's almost as if we're being told: "Don't let me catch you praying"!
But Rabbi Resnick went on to suggest that the best time to pray was often when a person was not in the right 'mood', as the prescribed prayers, which are mostly about communal needs, help a person to regain perspective. He pointed out also that "we don't always get what we pray for, but praying just might make a difference".
Could this be why, despite my inbred cynicism, that the prayers recited for Julian, by so many kind people from a huge range of backgrounds, in Israel and elsewhere, have appeared to have made some 'difference'? Well, I'm still unsure.
I'm more like the character from the Chasidic tale who blows his tin whistle during Yom Kippur services because he can't recite the prayers. I've been whistling like hell in the dark for more than a fortnight now because I can't concentrate on formal prayer in synagogue. But meanwhile I've found a pleasant prayer in the siddur produced by The Movement for Reform Judaism in Britain and it's short enough to share with you here.
"A Prayer on Behalf of the Ill
God I pray for ..... in their illness. May it be Your will to renew their strength and bring them back to good health. Renew their spirit also and free them from anxiety, for You watch over their body and their soul. Though I cannot share their pain, please help me to bring them good cheer and comfort. Give us the joy of helping each other through all the fortunes of life.
"Blessed are You, our Living God, the faithful and merciful healer.
"ברוך אתה יהוה רופא נאמן ורחמן"