Yesterday, as I sat on the train, I felt slightly out of place. I was obviously Chassidic, and if my clothing didn’t make that obvious enough, I was davening from my siddur as the carriages jostled their way through tunnels, beneath cities, and out into the suburbs. I was surrounded by people who most certainly weren’t of my own kind, and whom didn’t seem favourably inclined towards my religion. I paused when I reached the Shema. When I say the Shema, I cover my eyes with my right hand and say the first verse aloud in Hebrew. I didn’t think this was the timer or place for Hebrew. Should I shut my siddur and finish davening at the station? Read the Shema silently? I looked around me, at everyone else, rapt in their conversations, straining to be heard above the noise of wheels on train tracks. And then I looked back down at the Shema. And perhaps for the first time in my life, I realised what I meant.
The Shema is the declaration of faith, of G-d’s Oneness. It reads “Shema Yisroel, Adonoy Eloyhanu, Adonoy Echod“- Hear, O Israel, Hashem is the Lord, Hashem is One. It’s the only part of shacharis which I say aloud in Shul. It’s one of the few parts I have memorised- an easy feat, considering it’s just a few words long. But it is not, in fact, just a few words. It’s my identity. It’s why I live the way I do. In short, it’s my faith and love for G-d summed up in six words. Possibly the most powerful six words I’ve ever spoken.
Returning to the train. I continued watching the passengers surrounding me, wondering if my words would be an expression of faith or foolishness. If anyone would notice, even. If anyone would care. If they’d realise the immense importance of what I was saying in a language they didn’t understand. And I wondered how much my excuses really meant in the grand scheme of things. So I, the token Jew on the train, covered my eyes and recited the Shema. And as I did so, I was filled with a feeling of love and awe for G-d. A kind of love I had never experienced before in my life. It was then that I realised, no matter where I was, no matter who I was with, all I needed to do was call to Hashem, and He would answer.