Nearly everyone I know here in Israel has been dragging around for weeks weighed down by dread and anguish, much of it for the truly innocent victims, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of children within range of Israel's and Hamas' weaponry. I tried to post a blog about what I felt for the children of Gaza, where I used to work many years ago, but the only appropriate medium seemed to be prayer. I told my close friend Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman about it, and he suggested I reference the biblical story of Ishmael. I then posted it on haaretz.com. I received hundreds of very moving e-mails from as far away as New Zealand and Indonesia, and am deeply grateful for each one.
If there has ever been a time for prayer, this is that time.
If there has ever been a place forsaken, Gaza is that place.
Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.
Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.
Restore to them their stolen childhoods, their birthright, which is a taste of heaven.
Remind us, O Lord, of the child Ishmael, who is the father of all the children of Gaza. How the child Ishmael was without water and left for dead in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba, so robbed of all hope, that his own mother could not bear to watch his life drain away.
Be that Lord, the God of our kinsman Ishmael, who heard his cry and sent His angel to comfort his mother Hagar.
Be that Lord, who was with Ishmael that day, and all the days after. Be that God, the All-Merciful, who opened Hagar's eyes that day, and showed her the well of water, that she could give the boy Ishmael to drink, and save his life.
Allah, whose name we call Elohim, who gives life, who knows the value and the fragility of every life, send these children your angels. Save them, the children of this place, Gaza the most beautiful, and Gaza the damned.
In this day, when the trepidation and rage and mourning that is called war, seizes our hearts and patches them in scars, we call to you, the Lord whose name is Peace:
Bless these children, and keep them from harm.
Turn Your face toward them, O Lord. Show them, as if for the first time, light and kindness, and overwhelming graciousness.
Look up at them, O Lord. Let them see your face.
And, as if for the first time, grant them peace.
With thanks to Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of Kol HaNeshama, Jerusalem.
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