standing on shoulders

On Our Shoulders

By Rachel Vogler

When I woke up this morning I felt cold. I felt, vulnerable. I felt helpless, and hopeless, and far-removed. They felt familiar, those things, as if we had woken up on a morning much like this only a few months ago, when the repercussions were far closer to home and when my vote didn’t speak for me. I woke up late today, my body was rushing and my thoughts rushed with it. But nothing came out my mouth.

The first thing I said today was sorry, when someone had to get me a chair so I could join a circle. I’d arrived late to shacharit, I’d come to do the only thing I could think of doing when punching my fist into my headboard didn’t seem a safe option. At the end of the service, someone had asked me why I’d come, they’d never seen me there before. I told them It was because I needed prayer this morning. I did need prayer this morning.

When I got home, in a moment of what some might view as pathetic but I view fervently as pleasurable, I looked through the study anthology of the Reform Judaism Siddur. It had helped me, in the past, to find words that better express a myriad of complicated emotions. How do I know that I am not mad? I see that others have framed my thoughts for me, they have written the things I’ve wanted to say, and someone has thought them important enough to select them to supplement our liturgy. I read Steven Katz today.

“When I stand, siddur in my hand, surrounded by the members of my community, I stand on the shoulders of those around me today as together we pour out psalms pray prayers and sing songs. I know that around me are others who, like me, seek to add spiritual breadth, height and depth to their lives. Their faith, their voices, their presence helps me to climb.”

I hadn’t gone to shacharit this morning to pray; not really. Not as much as I’d gone to stand on the shoulders of my community, to add my voice to a collective that were doing the thing that perhaps they knew how to do the best; not to turn their backs in the prevailing of injustice, but to turn their bodies – together, to face east and to call each other to prayer. To turn their bodies – together, inwards to articulate a vision for a world that seems unreachable. To be a collective voice. To know that the world keeps moving, and that our task to navigate it is ever-growing.

In the prayer room of the Leo-Baeck College this morning, we stood on the shoulders of each other. When even the words “Aleinu l’shabbei’ach la’adon ha-kol” (It is our duty to praise the Ruler of all) felt bitter in my mouth as I couldn’t perceive praising something that had allowed such despair, I felt lifted by the shreds of hope left by those around me. I was scared, we were all scared. I was angry, all of us were.

Sometimes I feel that my voice is a whisper – and I think that’s a good thing. In my private prayer, I whisper, and I hope that my voice is heard, all my energy is extracted from myself. My kavana is mustered and however much I can find is the amount that will have to suffice – it is not always as much as it should be, as much as I would like it to be. In my private prayer I am lifted by the impact my community has on me, my voice echoes them. In my public prayer, I am louder, and I hope that my voice is heard, all my energy reflects those around me. My kavana is mustered and however much I can find is the amount I will contribute, to the cry of that day. In my public prayer I am lifted by the voices of my community, my voice joins theirs. Sometimes I need to whisper, but today I needed to be louder, I needed my thoughts to be framed, my words to have already been spoken, my prayer to be collectively prayed.

Often you can tell the quality of your friendship with someone because they can sense that something is wrong, they don’t necessarily need to ask questions. They just need to open their arms (literally) so you can fall in. They’re the best hugs, I think. Like how we say that sometimes the best words are in the silence, so are the best hugs. It’s the way that we make our shoulders available to our friends I think. The humble hug; it’s the unspoken way to say, my shoulders are here. I can lift you.

This morning I picked words instead of hugs because my arms are short. I tried to add my voice to those that were expressing doubt, fear, and hope. I stood on the shoulders of those who didn’t even know they were lifting me, their voices helped me to climb. My interaction with the siddur was meant to be more than to instigate dialogue with god, or, with something.

Today it was more than that, it was to let those who need it know, our shoulders our here – we can lift you.