One of my earliest memories is reciting the Shema in the Heder every Sunday morning. I didn’t come from a religious family, but we were a more traditional family that went to shul three times a year. And although he did not attend a Jewish school, he was able to recite the Shema word for word from an early age. Year.
At some point, probably when I stopped going to heder after my bat mitzvah, I stopped saying it. Since then, it has remained dormant in the back of my mind.
It was just a few days ago, when I was on my way home from work. We (my husband picked us up at the station) stopped at a traffic light and by a large advertising sign. The billboard featured a photo of a heavily tattooed man wearing a kippah, his right hand covering his eyes, deep in prayer.
At the top were written in large Hebrew letters the words “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Ehad.”
I found myself drawn to this larger-than-life, extraordinary image on many levels. Tattoos and religious imagery are generally not compatible, so not only was that appealing, but I felt something stir within me when I read those words.
Shema Yisrael, Hashem Erokeinu, Hashem Ehad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, and the Lord is one God.
I took a photo and later posted it on Facebook without comment. To my surprise, this post received countless responses. Some, like me, were fascinated by this image, while others found it disturbing or offensive, even calling it “religious coercion.”
I later learned that the man in the photo was former Big Brother contestant Ben Wiernik. He was also featured in a video sharing interesting stories about the Shema and its role in Jewish history.
He tells how this prayer was often used to discover the presence of Jews when all other methods failed.
Discovering Jewish Presence at Shema
For example, on October 7, Shema played an important role. He “shouted ‘Shema Yisrael’ to the soldiers to make the survivors hiding in the bunkers aware that they were Jews and not the enemy in disguise.”
Wiernik also explained how Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, grandfather of Israel’s Chief Rabbi and President Isaac Herzog, saved more than 500 children after the Holocaust. Thousands of Jewish parents sent their children to convents to save them, but after the war, there was no one left to take them. Although the abbot of the monastery and even the Pope denied that there were Jewish children living in the monastery, Herzog did not give up on his mission to save Jewish orphans.
The time spent at each monastery was only a few minutes, and it was almost impossible to tell who was Jewish among the thousands of children. Confronted with this problem, he shouted, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Erokeinu, Hashem Ehad” before walking away.
“Then something amazing happened,” Wiernik says. “Seven little hands rose up of their own accord and covered their eyes.” The rabbi exclaimed, “They are Jewish children.” Their mother taught them to say Shema Yisrael every night before bed. ”
These fascinating stories symbolize the power of this prayer for me, and no doubt for many others. This is a universal prayer recognized by Jews around the world, regardless of age, gender, background (Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrachi), or level of observance.
In fact, consciously or unconsciously, the Shema plays such an integral part in the lives of most Jews that one synagogue in Australia requires newcomers to recite a prayer before entering and offers security services. Shema is used to strengthen the. “Safe without muscles!” As someone described it.
Considering everything that’s going on in Israel right now, seeing the opening words of the Shema above a photo of someone reciting a prayer brings me some comfort when we least expected it. – as it undoubtedly did for many Israelis.
To me, these words mean Jewish unity and bind us through thick and thin. These words are as relevant now as they were 70 years ago after the Holocaust and just a few months ago on his October 7th. Sadly, my memory seems to be fading as I couldn’t remember all the words. The last time I spoke it was about 40 years ago. But simply placing my right hand over my eyes and reciting the first few lines of the Shema brought a cozy blanket of security. In that moment, I felt connected to my home, my country, and my people.
In Wiernik’s words, “Being Shema Yisrael doesn’t mean you’re religious. It means you’re Jewish, you’re an important part of it, you belong.” No matter what you are going through, no matter where you are, no matter what your situation is, you can always place your right hand over your eyes and say, ‘Shema Yisrael.’ .”
The author is a former lawyer from Manchester, England.She currently lives in Israel where she works jerusalem post.