What is Prayer?

In this resource, we’ll explore prayer: what is said, to whom it is directed, what we pray for and when we pray. We’ll broaden our view of prayer through the study of the prayer-poem “A Walk to Caesarea” by Hannah Senesh.

Resource Ages: 12-14

Source

Walk to Caesarea

Hannah Senesh

 

God – may there be no end

To sea, to sand,

Water’s splash,

Lightning’s flash,

The prayer of man

(Translation from the Hannah Senesh Legacy Foundation, www.hannahsenesh.org.il)

הליכה לקיסריה

חנה סנש

אֵלִי, אֵלִי

שֶׁלֹּא יִגָּמֵר לְעוֹלָם

הַחוֹל וְהַיָּם,

רִשְׁרוּשׁ שֶׁל הַמַּיִם,

בְּרַק הַשָּׁמַיִם,

תְּפִלַּת הָאָדָם.

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How does prayer present us with questions about God and the Divine?
  • How is prayer a vehicle to help us access connections to God?
  • How can I experience moments of connection to God?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?

 

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What is prayer?
  • In addition to the traditional manner, in what other ways can we pray?
  • How can prayer be a tool for emotional expression?
  • What are the internal motivations that lead a person to pray?
  • Can prayer be meaningful even for people who don’t believe in God?

Background for Teacher

In this resource we will address essential ideas related to prayer: what is prayer, to whom do we pray, when do we pray, etc. The resource relates to spontaneous, personal prayer as something that is universal. In other resources, we will explore Jewish prayer....

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In this resource we will address essential ideas related to prayer: what is prayer, to whom do we pray, when do we pray, etc. The resource relates to spontaneous, personal prayer as something that is universal. In other resources, we will explore Jewish prayer.

Both personal prayer and prayer rituals are found in cultures around the world. While they may be expressed differently in different cultures, there is a common universal element that we aim to explore in this resource.

The poem “Walk to Caesarea” serves as a trigger for the discussion of this topic. This prayer-poem, written by Hannah Senesh in 1942, expresses a universal hope for the preservation of moments of beauty and the simple, beautiful things in life. In that way, it differs from many other poems written by the early pioneers during this period, which focused on more national subjects such as the land of Israel. This poem has become well-known and widely loved, among other things, thanks to its simplicity and its focus on universal themes.

Hannah Senesh (1921‒1944) was a Jewish warrior and poet who volunteered to serve in the British Army during World War II. She parachuted into occupied Hungarian territory, was captured and was then tortured and executed at age 23.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • In pairs or small groups: Many of us hold certain assumptions about prayer. Ask the students to choose the statements in the list below that match their own ideas about prayer. Have them explain their choices to their friends.
    (The list can be presented as a slide, written on the board or written on a page that is passed out to the students.)
    – Prayer is a religious obligation.
    – All prayer is directed from a person to God.
    – Only people who believe in God pray.
    – Prayer is a way to express feelings.
    – Prayer is a human need.
    – Not everyone feels a need to pray.
    – Prayer is always done in a synagogue.
    – Prayer is a type of wishing. 

    To introduce the idea that prayer is a universal experience that can be presented in different ways, present the students with a variety of pictures that depict different aspects of prayer in different cultures and sentences that express personal prayers (example). Ask students to identify what all the pictures and statements have in common. Other students may agree or disagree with the answers suggested. Among other responses, we hope to hear the idea that all of the pictures and statements represent prayer in some way (of course, some will disagree with this). Explain that in this resource, we will be relating to prayer in a broad manner that includes and connects these images and statements. 

  • Listen to the poem “Walk to Caesarea” as sung by Bat-Ella Birnbaum.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. Try to define prayer.
  2. Some people claim that everyone prays. Do you agree? Explain.
  3. Do you pray? If so, how and under what circumstances?
  4. There are prayers that are not directed at God. Give some examples of such prayers. What may be the significance of such prayers?

After studying the poem:

  1. Imagine the narrator: What does she perceive with her senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell? Based on those perceptions, what does she feel?
  2. In the poem, what is the narrator asking for? Who is she asking for this?
  3. Do you share the poet’s hope that prayer will always exist? In your opinion, what is the importance of prayer?
  4. The narrator in the poem is speaking to God. Why? If the poem were not directed at God, could it still be called a prayer?
  • To try to connect with the experience of non-traditional prayer, do the following writing exercise in the classroom. Ask the students to think about an especially emotional event –  good or bad – that they experienced. Ask them to identify which feelings accompanied that experience and what statements could express their feelings during that experience. Ask the students to write a personal prayer based on those feelings.
  • You can listen to the song “Katan Aleinu [We Got This]” sung by a large number of famous Israeli singers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask the students how this song could be considered a prayer: How is it similar to prayer-songs and how is it different?
  • Learn about the importance of intention in prayer in Jewish tradition. 
  • Learn about the different types of prayer: prayers that express thankfulness, praise and requests. 
  • Translate and read the lyrics to the song “Kmo Tefila [Like Prayer]”, which relates to prayer as a range of ways in which we express the wishes of our hearts. Ask the students whether the song links faith in God with prayer. According to the song lyrics, what is the main point of prayer? Who can people pray to, besides God?
  • Translate and listen to another prayer-song – “Amen” written by Hamutal Ben-Zev. (Click here to hear the singer Liora’s performance of this song at Eurovision.) Note how the words and phrases in this song are taken directly from Jewish prayers: amen, open our hearts, every soul will praise the Lord.