Discovering the Art of Prayer
This month our Rising Voices Fellows are examining how their Jewish and feminist identities intersect. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
Adults may scoff, and my friends may hypocritically mock me, but I can never deny that I would want to stand out in a crowd. Whether a college application, a creative thesis for school, or even the food that I bring for lunch, I want to discover a personal uniqueness that I carry so I can have some special pride in my stride. Luckily for me, I can already claim an artistic and spiritual individuality that I bring to the table as a female Jew.
Unlike men who have continuously been granted positions as spiritual leaders, we females had to work for our stripes to gain leadership roles in Jewish prayer. I know that I would not have been able to read Torah at bat mitzvahs for three consecutive years if it were not for the individuals and organizations who have battled for women to gain a foothold in Jewish spiritual prayer.
One organization that I especially admire is Women of the Wall. These feminists have fought for decades in Israel for women to be able to conduct Torah services on the women’s side of the kotel. These tenacious feminists have continually read Torah at the Western Wall since their establishment in 1988, even after being repeatedly attacked, verbally and physically, by ultra-Orthodox men and women. Their female-Jew power is certainly one to reckon with, and the strength that they have inspires me to prove to the doubters that women have the right to hold their position as Jewish spiritual leaders.
The motivation that groups like Women of the Wall and individuals like me have harnessed to rise above ancient biases has certainly paid off, because the empowering feminist voice is reflected in all our prayers. It makes us the special ones because we have taken our frustrations from the years of spiritual deprivation and channeled it into creating an art form with our distinct feminine prayer.
It definitely requires something extra from an individual to take something ritualistic and repetitive like prayer and turn it into an art form.
When art incorporates prayer, a unique, individual topic like the belief in God can be transformed into a message that engages every audience member. One may be surprised how many times dance choreographers have incorporated prayer and religion into their pieces. Alvin Ailey uses a lot of gospel music for his soundtrack in his iconic Revelations piece, but I never feel uncomfortable with the constant repetition of Jesus’s name because the art of dance connects me to that performance. The underlying themes of hope, trust, and faith exhibited in the piece connect me to the un-relatable lyrics and allow me to reflect on my own spirituality.
A parallel phenomenon occurs when prayer incorporates art because the congregation is already in harmony with the specific words of prayer and the art creates an extraordinarily moving effect. Even if members of that certain synagogue, mosque, church, etc. never experienced the breathtaking feeling of art they still can identify the passion behind a cantor’s song and crave for more of the artistic spiritualism.
The prodigious Jewish women like Debbie Friedman who have channeled their frustrations into a spiritually moving art form have changed lives—something I aspire to do with both my prayer and art. One Orthodox woman said, after hearing Debbie play at a Jewish education conference, “I’ve been praying all my life but today was the first time I felt like I was really davenning.” This is why I know that being an active Jew is cherishable, because I know I am part of a movement that loves to inspire while chanting a prayer or simply expressing G-d through art.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Link, Olivia. "Discovering the Art of Prayer." 11 March 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 1, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/discovering-art-of-prayer>.
I visited the Wailing Wall in 1980, and felt very sensitive to the ultra-orthodox air, so IÌ¢âÂã¢m encouraged to learn from your article about the womenÌ¢âÂã¢s rituals there since 1988. Also, itÌ¢âÂã¢s inspiring to hear of women like Debbie Friedman who reach the range of orthodox and non-orthodox congregations. Despite conventional beliefs, women are expressing their spiritual rights, and I really appreciate your article about it! Now signing off in the words of the artist Barbara Streisand, Ì¢âÂÒPerforming for me has always been a very inner process.Ì¢âÂå
This is beautifully written! I'd like to give praise to your article because, personally speaking my family follows a certain religion that I'm not fully invested/devoted in. In your article you explain that although in Alvin Ailey's Revelation the name of Jesus is repetitive, you never felt uncomfortable because of the underlying themes of: faith, trust and hope. This resonated to me for someone who doesn't quick follow a religion and is still exploring. Thank you for sharing :D
In reply to <p>This is beautifully by NMI
Thank you so much! I am glad to hear that you could relate to my thoughts about art and religion on a personal level!
I appreciated how you strive to find ways to connect all that you experience to your own beliefs and also how your individualistic perspectives are steeped in the human experience.
In reply to <p>I appreciated how you by WMcL
i like ur discussion of how u were able to connect with something from a different religion thru dance because it resonates with the story u tell about the Women of the Wall: something about the art of expression allowing Jewish women to shed religious intolerance in search of connecting with G-d.