Thursday, May 31, 2012

Seeking Sublime

I first read seriously about the concept of the sublime when I discovered Kant. One physical location that jumped out from the text was the Swiss Alps. To me, the agency of tefilla is to reach the sublime of life everyday.

I am heading off to see the Alps and looking forward to contemplating the beauty of nature and some vacation. The Alps also remind me of the following story:

It was said about Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch that when he was well into his 70’s he decided to travel from Germany to Switzerland for a vacation. This was in the late 1800’s when cars and airplanes were unheard of. The trip was an arduous trek by train and coach. He was asked, ‘Rabbi, you’re an old man. Why are you taking such a trip?’ Replied Rabbi Hirsch, “After 120 years, I’ll meet my maker and he will ask me, ‘Raphael, did you ever see my Alps?’”

Have a wonderful weekend and hope that you too will see the sublime in life.

A Good Network is Worth.....

It is so wonderful to be connected to amazing and thoughtful people.  As such, I feel it as a need to share some of these resources with you.

Shlomo Ressler started sharing a dvar Torah in 1995 and has continued to do so, week in and week out, with thousands of people.  He called the project the Weekly Dvar - and I encourage you to join the readership.

The latest post, in the name of Rabbi Avi Weiss, captures a simple and poignant message:

Perhaps the most famous blessing is found in this week's Torah portion. The Birkat Cohanim, the priestly benediction is recited by the priest and by parents to their children every Friday night. (Numbers 6:24-26) The benediction is divided into three sentences each containing two important elements; God's blessing, and a prayer to avoid possible pitfalls of the blessing. 
In the first part, the priest states: "May the Lord bless you and keep you." The Sifrei understands this to refer to monetary benefits. But money has the potential to corrupt. Therefore a blessing for money is not complete unless accompanied by an assurance of protection  from its dangers. Hence the last word of the sentence, "May the Lord guard you." 
In the second section, the priest states: "May the Lord cause His light to shine upon you." The light of the Lord is often associated with Torah knowledge (Proverbs 6:23). However, while one can know every word of Torah, one can still lack the ability to interact and engage others in an appropriate manner. Hence, this blessing concludes with the word, ve-hunekah, from the word hen, grace. This last statement is telling us to remain gracious to others because knowledge often makes one insular -- even arrogant. 
In the final part, the priest states," May the Lord lift His face to be near you." This blessing expresses the hope that one should always feel the presence of God, for too often we sense that God's face is hidden from us. (The Hebrew word yeesah, to lift, is the opposite of God being lowered or hidden.) Although we hope to always be absorbed in God's presence, sometimes even that experience can distort one's perception of how to change the world. Too often, people have done dastardly things in the name of God. Therefore, the text concludes, with a blessing of a grounded belief in God, of shalom, coming from the word shalem, whole. 
This threefold blessing reminds us that there is no absolute good. Every step forward always contains the possibility of unforeseen problems. May we be blessed with this awareness.

On the topic of tefilla, I think it is worth reflecting on the importance of graciousness.  What do you think>

Monday, May 28, 2012

Is There an Age to Start Growing your Spiritual Side?

I think this is a fair question to ask.

This thought was instigated by the reading/hearing of the weekly Torah portion in synagogue.  In Bamidbar, also known as the book of Numbers, we learn about the census of the Israelites in the wilderness.  The criteria for counting the people really is for a military purpose in that the desert was a staging ground for the eventual and supposed swift move to Israel.  Further, the essential criteria is for men "from the age of 20, all those that went to fight" (1:3) was  clarifying who could go out to war.

The tribe of Levi was not counted with their brethren, and were selected out for a different purpose - to serve in the Mishkan (the travelling Tabernacle that was the precursor to the Temple).With a careful reading, one can see that the Levites are counted from one month and older, yet they will only serve in the Mishkan from age 30 to age 50.  Thus their training and education for their spiritual burden begins at a much earlier age as well as their actual career of practice is limited to a period of peek performance.  Juxtapose this to the military men where there is no specific criteria beyond their age (note even physicality), there is a stark difference in their call to duty.

I first digested this point in reading Gideon Weitzman's Sparks of Light a few years ago.  Weitzman, a delightful teacher and scholar on the philosophy of Rav Kook, highlights this differing roles between the national entity and spiritual component and argues that this set up was to guard a balance for the nation to "survive and thrive".

One of the most influential books that I have ever read was As a Driven Leaf by Milton Sternberg - which if you haven't read, then what are you waiting for. The book is a historical fictitious account of the life of Elisha Ben Abuye. Sternberg, in sharing the travails of the protagonist, cites the enigmatic Mishna in Pirkei Avit chapter 4:20:

Elisha the son of Abuye would say: One who learns Torah in his childhood, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on fresh paper. One who learns Torah in his old age, what is this comparable to? To ink inscribed on erased paper.

Connecting to the idea presented in the beginning of the post - must spiritual people be nurtured for a longer time and thus before they may be corrupted from complex or negative thoughts?  Is there a latent message in the text promoting the notion of Tabula Rasa?

As a parent AND teacher, tis a daunting task - to raise moral and good children who will strive to care for their world and the people in their community.  And we know that we have to start at a young age to impart habits and values and not just wait to our young people have the physical maturity to "take" responsibility" (I have previously written about the issue with the age of bar/bat mitzvahs). But how can we properly prepare to shape the soulful side and properly measure our effectiveness?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Extra (Musaf) Prayers

The Musaf prayer for the Chagim is a very explicit tefilla.  Perhaps it is because my understanding of the Hebrew is adequate, I find the language of this prayer to be very powerful, acknowledging the special moment that is a Jewish holiday.   "Because of our sins, we have been exiled from our lands...." I think this verse draws a direct link to the purpose of our tefillot in reality lacking a temple to bring a sacrifice.  The tefilla's drawing out of the context allows for a reenactment of the temple service of that Biblical holiday and not only mentions the wish to return to a higher/closer level of worship with language, but evokes the people and spirit of the day. 

Usually I am not into extra prayers; I am of the philosophy that less is indeed more.  There is even an element to the Shabbat Musaf that is routine enough for me that it can pass without exceptional notice.  But I do feel I higher level of enjoyment/simcha when davening on the chagim and wonder if I am the only one.  

חג שמח!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Davening with 40,000

I watched and read from afar about the NY Rally at Citi Field on the dangers of the Internet.  In one article reviewing the event on Tablet, author Michah Stein slipped in the following comment:

The event kicked off (45 minutes late) with a communal reading of psalms and a stadium-wide mincha service. For all the hype and hoopla surrounding the event, the sight of 40,000 people praying together was undeniably moving.
I can only say that this is an interestingly kind observation in otherwise skeptical review. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Do You Hear the Cry?

This is a famous story in the Jewish world, and was often retold by Rav Yehuda Amital zt"l as one of the founding educational principles of his yeshiva, and I felt inspired to share it here with you:

The founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Ba'al Ha-Tanya, was studying Torah in the end room of a railroad flat.  Two rooms away there was a baby sleeping.  In the middle room, his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, was learning.  Suddenly, the Ba'al Ha-tanya, heard the baby cry.  The elder rebbe rose from his studying, passed through the room where his grandson was studying, and went to the next room to soothe the baby to sleep.  Meanwhile, his grandson was too involved in his studies to notice the baby crying.  On returning to his room, the Ba’al Ha-Tanya told his grandson to stop learning.  He proclaimed, “If someone is studying Torah and fails to hear a baby’s cry, there is something very wrong with his learning.” 
I think for teaching tefilla, there is the same standard of application. How do we teach our students this precious lesson?

One way is to really address the power of prayer - not just for the individual, but its effect on other people outside of your personal room. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who's Afraid of an Evaluation?

It is May and the end of the school year is very much in sight.  Students are counting down, teachers are also counting down, and administrators are busy evaluating and making decisions that will impact next year's academic schedule.

However I am finding that some schools just don't want to talk about tefilla.  Doesn't matter that it is now "late" in the year - as it was during the summer prep time or in the beginning of the year preparing for the High Holy Holidays.  It is often stated that tefilla is an important part of the curriculum and that they are searching for ways to improve student engagement and participation but when given the opportunity to actually get free resources on the topic, some people are too busy with other important matters to give tefilla attention.

Pardon my frustration but isn't everything happening in a school important; rather there is a sophisticated juggling of priorities to ensure a clear educational message of content and values. How then does it seem that tefilla is always slipping to the bottom?  If you disagree, PLEASE speak up.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Honesty and Tefilla

A friend recommend to me this anonymous article published at titled "What About Me? A Blog Essay by a Frum Man with Complaints" on April 24th, 2012.  While there is much to say about this blog essay, from gender roles in a post-modern society to the complexity of personal identity in the modern workplace.

The author, in eloquent frustration, describes the pressures to find time in his day to do anything, from eating to davening.  (Warning, you have to read the whole essay to understand the tone the author takes).

I once approached a rabbi with the following inquiry: why do we daven so much if Torah study is greater than davening and our schedules don’t allow for much Torah study. He told me that my question wasn’t really why do we daven so much but why don’t I study Torah more. (Evidently, I don’t even understand my own questions.) He told me that I should study Torah 4 hours a day. Then he stood up and walked away. 
I concluded that either he couldn’t do simple math or he just didn’t understand the life of the baal habayit.
His venting continues:
I have seen gallons of ink spilled on the topic of women and tefillah, whether they can be called up for aliyot or have their own prayer groups. (I wonder what percentage of women really desires these.) I understand the frustration with the rules. I don’t want to shut down conversation there. But I would like to see some conversation on men and tefillah. After all, we all are required to spend nearly two hours a day doing it. Can it be made shorter? Can I skip some pieces if I am utterly exhausted? For all the halakhic gymnastics that go on around agunah, pre-nuptial agreements, and women’s prayer, there is no attempt to help make davening a bit more manageable for men. Yet, adjustments even slight ones to davening, I have never heard mentioned, considered, or discussed ever. 
I feel bad complaining about davening because theoretically it is an opportunity to speak to the Almighty. However, the whole thing starts to unravel when the volume and frequency bumps up against the American materialistic rat race. As one sympathetic rabbi said to me, you spend the days counting milliseconds on your computer. How can you be expected to just stop and daven a 10 minute Shemoneh Esrei? The sheer quantity of prayers forces one to rush and all the feeling goes out the window. 
Two hours a day, three appointments a day. This is a big issue. I don’t see it discussed. Moreover, I really can’t think of a time that I read an article in an Orthodox publication about the plight of the male baal habayit in general, or went to a topical presentation on the subject. I don’t hear anybody getting outraged or looking for solutions. I don’t see people gathering in protest outside the houses of the people who make life very difficult for baal habatim.

His thesis is restated again at the end of essay: 
 My gripe is that we should be working a little as a community to help men deal with their struggles just as we work a lot to help women deal with theirs. In my view, we fail terribly at this task. We hardly take it on at all. And the baal habayit, the typical Orthodox Jewish man, is left asking, “What about me?”

What are your thoughts on this post?   Are Orthodox men's tefilla struggles under-represented in community discussions?  Is there really time in a working person's schedule for meaningful tefilla?  

A Special Siddur

This Shabbat, I read an article in this week's NY Jewish Week and felt the need to share it with the readers here.  The author touches on many significant themes relating to tefilla, from the struggle to be comfortable with the text to the opportunity for transcendent moments. Your responses are welcome.

My Mother's Siddur
Kaddish prayers, from a book fraught with emotion.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Gloria Kestenbaum; Special To The Jewish Week

On the first day I began saying Kaddish for my mother, I walked into shul feeling uncomfortable and out of place. Although I’ve been an observant Jew all my life, I’ve never been much of a davener. Despite being a regular at Shabbat morning services, I did not perceive the synagogue as a place of prayer — I sang and gossiped quite happily, but davening was simply not part of my agenda. So walking into shul on that weekday morning was seriously discomfiting.

Even finding a siddur was a challenge — they all seemed to be for Shabbat only. Finally, on a top shelf, I caught sight of a large-type weekday siddur. I’m of an age where even large type seems surprisingly small, so I eagerly took it down. I opened up the large siddur and caught my breath — inscribed on the flyleaf were the words, “This siddur belongs to Frieda Pearl Stieglitz” — my mother.

For a second, I thought I had entered some strange magical universe, but a moment’s reflection put those thoughts to rest.  After my mother’s death, we had donated most of my father’s extensive Jewish library to a neighborhood yeshiva, but the odds and ends that were inappropriate there, including my mother’s large-print siddur, we had given to the shul. Still, I sat down in the empty women’s section, somewhat shaken.
I had a difficult relationship with my mother. A Holocaust survivor, her family was killed when she was 9 and she wandered around Poland on her own until war’s end three years later. I never quite understand what that meant, the horrors that entailed, although I heard her story many times. But I do know that she never really lost the wild child that allowed her to survive. She was easily enraged and often angry, at me, my brother, my father or the world. And her handwriting, large and bold, mirrored that rage. 

When I was a child, I would often find her notes, left for us to see — angry, blistering recountings of whatever argument had happened the day before. I came to dread seeing her written notes; even shopping lists gave me an unpleasant frisson. Seeing her name in that familiar, large script conjured up, for a moment, that same queasy feeling. But minyan was beginning and I started to daven.

And that’s where all the years of ignoring the service came to roost. Because although I knew the main tefillot, I had no idea what the speeding locomotive of a minyan was up to. I spent most of that first morning scrambling, trying to keep up with the engine racing through on the other side of the mechitza. My mother’s siddur, with its large type and clear instructions, however, kept me on track. It marked where to sit and where to stand, what to say quietly and what to say aloud.

In the days following, I would take down my mother’s siddur with a growing sense of relief. After a week or two, I was able to keep pace enough to look at the helpful back notes, where the editors had indicated the order of importance of the prayers. When I needed to leave out some paragraphs, which I continued to do in order to keep up, I was able to determine which were integral and which less so.

And for the first time in my life, I was actually enjoying the prayers. The “Pesukei Di’Zimrah,” in particular, with their entrancing, repetitious hallelujahs, were a revelation, magnificent songs of praise — not drudgery, as I’d previously perceived them, but poetry. The English translation supplemented my rusty Hebrew, and when there was a lull, I tried to look back and make sure I understood every word. And my mother’s siddur helped, gently guiding me along.

Every day when I came to shul, I would open up the flyleaf and see my mother’s inscription. And slowly, the inscription lost its negative power. I began to look forward each day to opening her siddur and seeing her words — and soon it became part of my morning ritual to trace those words briefly with my finger before beginning the service. I knew my mother loved me but she wasn’t often able to express it. In the Spielberg tape, which my mother had recorded years ago for the filmmaker’s Shoah Foundation project, and which I could not watch until after her death, she spoke about her regrets in mothering and wish that she could do it over. In the siddur, I felt her positive imprint and it became a way of connecting with the loving and helpful mother I knew she wanted to be. And I was grateful to her for giving me a medium in which to say good-bye to her properly, and to remember her in moments of song and joy, as she would have liked to be remembered.

On the next-to-last day of saying Kaddish — life is never as neat as the movies — I walked into shul, reached up to the usual place, but the siddur had vanished. I searched for a few minutes but with service about to begin, I found another weekday siddur, this time with no difficulty, and sat down to pray. My mother’s siddur was gone, but by now, I was able to find the way on my own. 

Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

10,000 Hours to Daven

You read the title right - perhaps you need to go through 10,000 hours to be a good davener.  That is the theory of my friend and colleague David Katz.  In a recent meet-up in which we discussed the state of tefilla, David applied Malcolm Gladwell's thesis of the 10,000 hours rule to realm of prayer and argued that kids (and for that matter adults) need to put in that amount of active davening time in order to attain mastery of the skill.

After thinking deeply about David's framing of this approach to tefilla, I wanted to share the following three thoughts.
  • Indeed you have to put a lot of active time into tefilla to begin to get sincere satisfaction from not only on the really great moments (like when singing Hallel or at Kaballat Shabbat) but in the quiet munday moments, like a Tuesday morning.  It isn't just about showing up either, but rather necessitates moving one's lips and thinking about the processing of prayer to test this principle.
  • One really needs time to tinker and try to daven in a safe space.  Do most kids feel safe with our shuls, classrooms or siddur
  • Considering the ritualized time for Jews to daven, it is nearly possible for people who are in a Jewish Day school, go to Shabbat services, and attend a summer camp to have solid appreciation by the time they are in college.  I fear that this will not yield a good ROI for most young people (which reflects the current state of tefilla today.  David, does this rule apply to study of Talmud?  What is the ROI for this today?)  This does not mean that the 10,000 hour rule theory is wrong, it just might mean our methodology and exceptions might not be properly aligned. 
Please share your thoughts and how many hours it took you to reach a comfortable level to daven.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sports and Faith

The follow is an interesting article (published May 4, 2012) about a hockey player and his faith, and how the two are intertwined.  Jaromir Jagr is one of the most talented players ever to lace on a pair of ice skates and apparently, from reading this article, has a Monkish approach and focus to his service of God and hockey.

I have discussed previously sports and tefilla and think that this article raises some new angles the drive and purpose needed to preform at a top level, be it in sports or in your service of Hashem.


Jagr sticks with his faith
Daily News Staff Writer

INSIDE JAROMIR Jagr's locker stall, in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center and any arena where the Flyers play, a small memento is wrapped in blue felt. It is a trifold, no more than 6 inches in length. It sits next to Jagr's hockey tape, stick wax, and various weights and braces and training contraptions.  It does not stand out, except for the shine reflecting off the gilded hand-painted faces of the Eastern Orthodox Church's Holy Trinity, and the fact that religious icons in hockey dressing rooms are rarer than Stanley Cup-clinching goals.

Jagr, 40, rarely leaves home without his religious relics. He keeps one with him at most times, in his pocket or in his wallet. Jagr has a cross drawn on each of his game sticks, just under where his cocked hands perform nightly miracles of a different kind on the ice.

Hearing his Flyers teammates talk about his "religious" work ethic, you would hardly know Jagr is a man who visits church on mostly every game day, even on the road. He doesn't much talk about his faith. It's a subject even close friend and fellow Czech Republic native Jake Voracek has yet to broach with his boyhood idol.

To understand Jagr as a hockey icon, though, is to understand him as a person. For Jagr, religion is everything. He firmly believes his faith has everything to do with the reason he has not only made a Hall of Fame living in the NHL but also why he is still going strong at his advanced age. It helps explain his renaissance in Philadelphia after a 3-year absence from North America and why he is the go-to leader on a team full of kids.

"People might think I am crazy," Jagr said in a wide-ranging interview last week. "Everything in life is energy. [Albert] Einstein said it best: Energy will disappear if you transfer it to other things. If I go to church, my head is burning. It's on fire. I feel like my head is hooked up to electric steam. I feel it in my head right away, as soon as I walk in.

"It is a long process; you've got to do it 10 years, 20 years; it doesn't happen overnight. You've got to listen to your body. But you can harness that energy in your life. I don't think I'm getting old that quickly. You've got all the energy coming in your life if you ask for it. Only because of this, it's the reason I think I can still play until I'm 50."

Jagr is the Flyers' resident philosopher. He thinks the game differently and more intensely than anyone else. Jagr is obedient, but he is a free thinker. He brings his own ideas to the table, something coach Peter Laviolette says he enjoys.

Jagr's most strikingly different - and well-documented - trait is his unique workout regimen. He likes to train when most are sleeping - and it's not because he is a night owl. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he asked Flyers management for his own key to the Skate Zone in Voorhees.  "He thinks the game," Laviolette said. "He's a smart guy. When you talk hockey, or you bring out a board, or things that go on, he speaks up. He's seen a lot. He's done a lot."

Legend has it that his teammates returned from a preseason game in New Jersey in September after midnight and Jagr was skating by himself on the ice in half-darkness. "I still do it all the time," Jagr said. "It's a lot easier. No one is bothering you, you can do whatever you want and work on whatever you want."  The security guards who keep watch over the locker room in South Philadelphia love him. Jagr is worth a few hours of overtime pay per game. More than 2 hours after most games end, Jagr and the cleanup crew are the only ones left, along with the security guards who can't go until Jagr does.

He takes his time at practice, too. After the usual hourlong skate, Jagr returns to the locker room to put on a 40-pound weighted vest and two ankle weights on his skates to go skate until his legs burn. "When I came into the league with Pittsburgh, I liked to work out, but I didn't know how to work out," Jagr said. "Paul Coffey told me, 'You're going to do everything I do.'

"You should have seen those crazy bastards working after games and practices. It was sick how they worked. [Ulf] Samuelsson, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet, Coffey. They were all insane."  To hear him explain it, Jagr's body has developed an internal voice. He knows his body's limits and when to back off.  "Most people think when you are tired, you take a rest," Jagr said. "Coffey was the one who taught me, when you're tired, that's when you've got to work harder. Since your body is tired, you aren't used to that. You'll raise the level and next time your body won't be tired.

"After the game, I'm just investing myself for next game. Sometimes, it's [bleeping] tough to do that."  Jagr drags himself through workouts after the game to feel fresh for the next one.  "The enjoyment of hockey for me is to be in such good shape that you're not struggling, so you don't feel like the game is hard for you," he said. "All of a sudden, the third period comes and you don't feel tired. When you start believing, it starts working."

Off the ice, Jagr is finally comfortable with himself.

A part of him has always been religious, but it wasn't until after he turned 30 that he recognized that fact. Jagr, a bigger Czech icon than maybe even the country's president, was not baptized by the metropolitan bishop of Prague until 2001.  Jagr's homeland used to be operated under the iron fist of communism. Religion was not practiced, since it interfered with the communist propaganda.

"They put all of the religious people in jail," Jagr said. "That's why in our country, not very many people are religious today."  Jagr's grandfather died in jail in 1968 after being locked up by the Soviet forces for refusing to work his farm for free. That is one of the reasons why he has only worn No. 68 on his jersey throughout his entire career. And the number also honors the brave period of political liberalization and rebellion in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Voracek wears No. 93 to celebrate the powerful and peaceful split of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. (Jagr's trademarked salute goal celebration is not a military tribute, but rather because he enjoyed Terrell Davis' Mile High Salute with the Denver Broncos in the 1990s.)  It took until he left the NHL for Russia in 2006 for him to finally be more open about religion. The religious mementos in his locker are a Russian thing. Sergei Bobrovsky sets up a similar relic in his stall. Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk has been known to carry the same sacred objects.

In Russia, Jagr said, God helped him get through tough times, because "things are kind of [messed] up there."  Ask him about Alexei Cherepanov, his 19-year-old linemate and New York Rangers first-round pick who collapsed and died in his arms on the bench during a game, and Jagr fills up with tears. Ditto with the September plane crash that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslav team, with many friends on board.  "When I was in Russia, I learned not to hide it and not to be ashamed of it," Jagr said. "No one hides it there. No one looks at you like you're crazy there. They need positive energy. Here [in the United States], I'm older and I don't care. But when I was younger and first came into the league, you look around to see if someone will laugh at you. When you are older, you don't worry about that stuff."

He doesn't care what his teammates think. No one has asked, he says. Jagr openly practices religion in a sport that disdains individuality.  "If it was more than three players, I'd be shocked," another player said. "Even if some of those guys went to church in that HBO episode of '24/7,' I'd bet it's the only time they've gone."

Since 1974, there has been a designated chapel in every Major League Baseball stadium for daily and Sunday ritual during the season. More than 3,000 players in the majors and minors participate every week, including notable stars such as Jimmy Rollins, Jake Peavy and even J.D. Drew.  Bible study is a weekly activity in the NFL. Eagles coach Andy Reid, a Mormon by faith, has been known to lead his team in prayer from time to time.  "Nobody really does it, not in hockey," Jagr said. "I think there are so many guys who believe in a higher power, a belief in something bigger than themselves. They believe that good things happen to people who do good things. I think most of the people in this room have that - they just need to find it."

That doesn't mean Jagr is eager to pass on his religious beliefs to a teammate. Heck, Jagr is barely willing to share his training tips. It's not because he wants to keep them secret, but he doesn't want to take someone off his game. That is one thing that has changed in him, an added bonus Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren maybe wasn't considering when he signed Jagr to that surprising $3.3 million deal last summer.  Jagr took the Czech national team's young players under his wing in recent years. He has shared the tips, tricks and secrets from a 22-year career that has seen him become one of three players in the entire world to win the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a world championship each twice.

"Any little advice you give someone, I believe, changes their life in some way," Jagr said. "If I give someone advice, I need to make sure that it 100 percent works. I can't be wrong."  His relationship with burgeoning superstar Claude Giroux has been nothing short of a proverbial godsend for the Flyers. Just last week, long after the Flyers had wrapped up an hourlong practice, a sweat-stained Jagr pulled aside Giroux in the hallway outside the team's lunch room.  Jagr is nearly 16 years older than Giroux. A zany skater with a mullet to die for, Jagr was already a Stanley Cup champion before Giroux celebrated his fourth birthday in 1991.

Jagr's impact on Giroux, from the workout tips to the on-ice training sessions, has been evident since Jagr's arrival. His first nickname for Giroux was "Little Mario" in honor of Mario Lemieux, but the "little" moniker quickly fell by the wayside after Giroux's 93-point regular season.  Jagr credited Giroux for wanting to be better, and Giroux soaked in all the knowledge he could from the 1,600-point scorer.  "I feel pretty special to have him around to show me the way," Giroux said. "I'm just a young kid still, I came into this league not knowing what to expect. And then I saw 'Jags,' and he's one of the hardest-working guys in the league."  The conversation with Giroux last week, one of many during that day alone, lasted more than 20 minutes. Jagr was moving his hands in all sorts of directions, as if he was diagramming a play in thin air. Giroux nodded along in agreement.

"Every practice, I learn something new," Giroux said. "I think he's learning, too. I've never had a real teacher, let alone a legend like that."   With anything in life, religion and hockey take dedication, passion and belief.    Amazingly, Jagr says if he were not a professional hockey player, he could see himself being a priest because of the strong connection between dedicating your life to your work and helping others.  For him, priesthood is not too different from his own life. Jagr has his vices. He is no choirboy. His name has made it to the gossip column once or twice in his long career. But he does not drink alcohol and rarely spends much time out.

Jagr is not married. It's not because he is not capable of love or afraid of marriage. In fact, he said love is "the greatest gift that one can give." It's just that Jagr is in love with hockey. One of his country's most eligible bachelors, he has a steady, longtime girlfriend who understands his pursuit of perfection on the ice. His ultimate goal is to make the fans happy, so he can be happy.  He says he doesn't have a wife or kids because he wouldn't be able to bring himself to leave home late at night to train at the rink - or to go on weeklong road trips. Many players juggle family lives, but Jagr does not want to take away from one to give to the other.

"I'd rather be at the rink than be at home sitting and staring at the TV," Jagr said. "What good does that do? I just know I couldn't leave if I was married. That wouldn't be right to them."  Not surprisingly, few players have done it as well as Jagr over the last 2 decades. And that's why Jagr went on his pursuit to find a higher power, to say thanks.  "Not too many people understand," Jagr said. "I've always felt differently. I've always felt like I had a big help, I know I have a big gift from someone else."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

US National Day of Prayer

Today, to my surprise, I learned that it is the American National Day of Prayer. I found this out by a Google alert  USA Today article discussing how it prompts devotion and protest.  There is obvious debate about having a day of prayer in a country where there is a strong and clear rhetorical separation between church and state.

President Obama writes:
Prayer has always been a part of the American story, and today countless Americans rely on prayer for comfort, direction, and strength, praying not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country, and the world.
Prayer has also been a part of the Jewish story - perhaps that is the understatement of the century. Wishing everyone in the US a great day of davening and kavanah (intention/direction) and together we say, "Amen!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Books about Why We Pray

In the trending discussion (if you can call me posting and talking about a trend) on books that might be useful in teaching and inspiring tefilla I have come across the following English selections:
What else should or would you add to this list?