In the Spirit of the Times: OTS Network-Wide Corona Prayer Competition

The beginning of the school year is typically marked by excitement and anticipation. But this is no typical year. After living in the shadow of COVID-19 for over six months, excitement mixed with uncertainty, anxiety, and constant changes between in-person and online learning based on incidences of illness in various schools and changing Israeli government regulations.

Ohr Torah Stone’s junior high and high schools and men’s and women’s post-high school yeshivot and seminaries began the school year prepared to safely educate and support their students amidst this new reality, in accordance with Ministry of Health restrictions – and very much aware of students’ heightened need to express themselves and connect to a sense of spirituality.

Appropriately, the first month of the school year is the Hebrew month of Elul, a time of spiritual reflection and preparation leading up to the High Holidays. As a result, Ohr Torah Stone announced a competition to give students throughout the network an opportunity to express their own personal prayers while reflecting on the challenges we are facing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Students from each of Ohr Torah Stone’s schools and programs were invited to submit original prayers and poems  written “in the spirit of these days,” and dozens of students, young men and women, answered the call. They poured out their hearts and souls in prayers begging for clarity, asking God to hear our cries, to forgive us, to help us, and to heal us — as illustrated succinctly in “Master of Forgiveness,” one of the finalist entries, by Derech Avot student Omer Maoz:

“Master of forgiveness, have mercy on the boys and the girls; have mercy on the youth and on the adults, have mercy on us all.”

A six-judge panel including teachers from Ohr Torah Stone’s various schools announced the winners just after Yom Kippur. First prize was awarded to Achinoam Orbach from Oriya High School for Girls first prize for her prayer, ידיד נפש – “Soulmate”:

Soul mate, three years of silence

There is a wall

Soul mate

I’m not capable

Already three years and I haven’t opened it

My father and your will push me

And silence

This beautiful generation shows me your face

Show me a sign

That you still hear

I have longed to see you; I have longed

You took him from me

And I cannot change this

Just show me I have someone to pray to

This isn’t supposed to be a one-sided relationship

Already three years have passed and the silence hangs in the air

Father, my soul mate

Quickly, show me

My world has been destroyed

And the prayers are like stones

Set on the dry ground of my soul

Quickly, I will love, I will try


ידיד נפש , כבר שלוש שנים שיש שתיקה

יש קיר

ידיד נפש

אני לא מסוגלת

כבר שלוש שנים שלא פתחתי אותו

אבי משוך אותי אל רצונך משוך


הדור נאה הראה לי את פניך

הראה סימן

שאתה עדיין שומע

נכספתי לראותך


אתה לקחת אותו מימני

ואת זה אני לא יכולה לשנות

רק תראה לי שיש לי בשביל מי לשאת תפילות

זה לא אמור להיות קשר חד צדדי

וכבר שלוש שנים שהשתיקה עומדת באוויר

אבי, ידיד נפשי

מהר הוראה לי

עולמי חרב אלי

והתפילות כאבנים ישובות

על אדמת נפשי שיבשה

מהר אהוב

אני מנסה

מהר אהוב כי בא מאוד




Another winning entry was submitted by an anonymous 12th grade student at Oriya High School for Girls, entitled “שמע ה” (“Listen God”):

Listen God

I’m calling you

Hear me

Hear the cry

The jarring scream

The cry

The loud crying

Hear the deep rift

Hear the will

The hope

Hear me

שְׁמַע ה’

אֲנִי קוֹרֵאת בְּקוֹלִי

שְׁמַע אוֹתִי

שְׁמַע אֶת הַצְּעָקָה

אֶת הַצְּעָקָה הַצּוֹרֶמֶת

אֶת הַבֶּכִי

הַבֶּכִי הָרָם

שְׁמַע אֶת הַשֶּׁבֶר הֶעָמֹק  

שְׁמַע אֶת הָרָצוֹן

אֶת הַתִּקְוָה.

שְׁמַע אוֹתִי

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, expressed his pride, saying, “We are all in the midst of a very challenging time. I am so proud of our schools for giving our students this much needed opportunity to express themselves; and of our students, for seizing the opportunity to create such moving and relevant original prayers. I pray along with all them that the coming year is easier, and full of clarity and health for us all.”


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