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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 7, 2009

No more winging it on the prayer


By David Shapiro

My daughter wrote a blog item last holiday season that revealed things I never knew about her childhood conflicts this time of year growing up with a Protestant mother and a Jewish father.

She enjoyed the gift-giving associated with Christmas, but said she drew her spirituality from our eight days of gathering around the menorah to say a prayer over the Hanukkah candles.

I was touched to read this, but also felt more than a bit guilty.

You see, I was the one responsible for reciting the Hanukkah prayer in the ancient tongue and I always well kinda sorta um made it up.

I took two years of Hebrew before my bar mitzvah at 13, but we were only taught to sound out the characters by rote and never learned what the words we read actually meant.

Three friends and I received our instruction from Rabbi Levine at the home of one of the friends whose parents were out working.

Rabbi was somewhat of a grouchy guy, and it seemed like every other week he'd find a reason to get ticked off at us and spend the lesson hour sitting in his car fuming. We'd hit the backyard and bet on our free-throw shooting prowess best of 10 for a quarter.

I grooved my basketball stroke, but my Hebrew, not so much.

So when called upon by my children to say the Hanukkah prayer, I could only wing it. I figured if there was a supreme being looking down on me, she would be benevolent enough to recognize that it's the thought that counts.

Most Hebrew prayers begin pretty much the same, kind of like the ha'ina common to the ending of Hawaiian songs, so I had no trouble with the first part.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam. (Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe.)

But then I'd start to lose the flow and throw out Yiddish phrases I remembered my elders saying that were totally unrelated to the faith chamoyer du ainer (you blockhead) gevalt geshreeyeh (good grief) a klog iz mir! (Woe is me!)

Finally, I'd get desperate and mumble to a close in pig Latin od-Gay orgive-fay y-may acrilege-say.

This year, I'm going on the Internet to find the real prayer, and it feels good to finally get my shameful dodge out into the open; they say confession is good for the soul. Oy! (D'oh!) That's the other religion.