My siddur, my prayerbook, is now part of a crime scene, a killing field.
The slim, cloth-bound, all-Hebrew book is called Va-ani T’filati, “I am my prayer,” and was the one I carried with me in the same bag as my tallit and tefillin wherever I took them. On October 20, I returned home from celebrating our friends’ daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah in the Tree of Life sanctuary to realize that my bag felt lighter than it should. About one small, hard-cover book lighter.
It was, of course, in the book rack on the back of the pew, in the center-left section of the sanctuary about 10 rows back, just where I left it. No worries. I had a busy week, but on Thursday, October 25, I remember to e-mail the Tree of Life office to ask if someone could locate it. I would pick it up . . . later.
Now it is later, and there has been so much else lost that my siddur has become insignificant.
“I am my prayer.” If there is one man I know who embodies that phrase it is Daniel Leger. Our prayers every morning tell us that God straightens the bent, places comforting hands on the fallen, gives eternal life to the dead and heals the wounded. Our tradition tells us that we are created in God’s image and our job is to take these same responsibilities on ourselves.
Dan has lived a life, made a career, of being prayer. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said that marching in Selma he felt as though his feet were praying. In the time that I’ve known Dan every fiber of his being, every moment of his time has been prayer.
Decades of nursing work at the Children’s Institute helping amazing kids with incredible challenges reach whatever heights they were capable of. Late in his career, hearing the need for comfort at the end of life, transitioning to hospice nursing, spending long hours at the bedside with both old and far too young as they drew their last breaths, providing them peace. After “retirement,” finding new energy as a chaplain in the hospitals, bringing his calm, gentle demeanor to ease the tension and provide hope – including to my own father early last summer.
It seems impossible that he would have had free time, but he did. In that time Dan brought light to the living through playing chamber music. He brought enlightenment to the inquisitive through his work with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He brought dignity to the aging with his advocacy for a different kind of late-life care. He brought honor to the dead with his work in the chevra kadisha.
I may never see my siddur again, but we will be blessed to see our embodied prayers again as Dan recovers from his injuries and resumes his life-as-prayer, even from the first words he spoke. May our friend Daniel ben Sara receive complete healing of body and spirit.