There is a prayer that is done in synagogue called a misheberach. This prayer is done whenever someone is called up to read the Torah, asking for G-d's blessing on the reader and his family, but, in most synagogues, at a certain point, the rabbi or cantor will ask the entire congregation if they have anyone they would like a misheberach made for. Depending on the tradition in that synagogue, the person will either walk to the front or stand at their seat and announce the name of someone they feel needs extra prayers, particularly someone who is ill, and the leader of the services will say the appropriate prayer.
In 1993, a musician by the name of Debbie Friedman released "Mi Sheberach", a short version of which is now sung in countless synagogues. With both hebrew and english lyrics, it gives the entire congregation an opportunity to offer up their own prayers for their friends and loved ones, in song.
One of the phrases in the song asks G-d to bless those in need of healing and offer them a renewal of body and a renewal of spirit. The latter phrase - the renewal of spirit - popped into my head last night and has taken up permanent residence there.
I, along with Glenn and my parents, volunteered at the 2008 New Jersey Special Olympics this weekend. Our assignment, which we've done for a number of years, is to work the Track & Field Awards area. The athletes compete in their events and come over to the awards tent, where they wait until the paperwork with their times comes over. When it does, volunteers put the awards (medals and ribbons - EVERYONE who participates receives something), the athletes are lined up, walk out to the podiums, and receive their awards from some wonderful New Jersey police officers, usually to the adulation of their friends, family, teammates, volunteers, fellow competitors, and, well, everyone in the general vicinity! The man who usually announces all of the athletes and awards was not there this year and I was asked to step in. This was right up my alley and I was so incredibly honored to be able to recognize each and every track and field athlete, for each of the events, over the two days, with the honor and respect that each deserved.
For those who don't know, it was pushing 100 degrees in New Jersey this weekend. The games were outdoors and, I have to say, it was brutal. I worked up a sweat walking a quarter mile to the bathroom (heck, I worked up a sweat sitting and working the microphone!) and, yet, the athletes, each and every one of them, still gave it their all and, in many cases, performed better than their qualifying times! You cannot watch them without being moved in ways you didn't think possible. Whether they were receiving a ribbon for finishing in 8th place or a gold medal for finishing first, they showed the true spirit of the games.
And, while I still have my worries about the medical things going on with me, I have to thank the athletes of the 2008 New Jersey Special Olympics, for, to say I experienced a renewal of spirit this weekend, would be a gross understatement. I now know what Debbie Friedman meant when she wrote that line. My spirit has been renewed.