"Tatti", my 5 year old daughter quietly whispers by the side of my bed, "nobody said Sh'ma with me." (What's Sh'ma, click here.) (It's 10:00 at night, what's she still doing up?)
We were busy this evening, house repairs in progress, an emergency mitzva drew my wife away, the kids had fended for themselves through bedtime.
"Oh", I said, "you know what, I didn't say it either", trying to make her feel better. "Why don't we say it together?"
"Ok", she said, and looked at me expectantly.
"But", I said, "I don't remember how it all goes, why don't you start and I'll say it with you?" It's very important that a Jewish child know this most central of all Jewish prayers.
"Ok", she said, "Ready?"
She began, "Sh'ma", "Yisroel", (I repeated after her), "Ado-noy", "Echad".
"Umm", I said, "I think you missed something."
"I did?" she answered.
"Yea", "Elo-" I responded.
She jumped in, "Ok yea, Elo-haynu", "Ado-noy", "Echad",
she then put her finger to her lips in a shhh sign,
"baruch shem kvod mal"
(she had a little trouble with that word, it's hard)
"malchuso l'olam voed"
(the shh is because it's said quietly).
We recited the rest of the first paragraph of the prayer together, followed by Hamalach (another bedtime prayer that children learn early), I got a kiss and a hug (worth every penny!) and off she went to bed.
There's a story told about Rav Yoseph Kahanaman, zt"l, the only surviving teacher from the great yeshiva Ponevetz in Eastern Europe after World War II (only the Rav and 4 students from the yeshiva survived the Holocaust).
After the war, the Rav returned to Europe looking for Jewish orphans to take to Israel. He visited some orphanages where hundreds or thousands of war orphans were living, asking the workers to point out which were the Jewish children. With respect, they told him that with hundreds or thousands of orphans, most without any kind of identification and most under 6 years old, it was impossible to determine which were Jewish.
The Rav said not to worry, he would be able to determine which were Jewish.
He walked to the middle of the playground and shouted at the top of his voice, "SH'MA YISROEL ADO-NOY ELO-HAY-NU ADO-NOY ECHAD"
At which point a number of children ran over from the crowd crying "Mama", "Tatti" (mommy, daddy), looking for their parents and thereby identifying themselves as Jewish orphans.
Why? Because most every religious Jewish parent (and certainly many less so as well) begins to teach their child this prayer, or more appropriately recite it with their child as they put them to bed nightly, often literally from birth.
HEAR, O ISRAEL, THE LORD IS OUR G-D, THE LORD IS ONE
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא