This article provides a compelling framework for understanding Jewish prayer in all its beauty and problematics—one that can foster a deep conversation about a school’s vision and aims for tefillah.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Most day schools are committed to cultivating Jewish prayer, tefillah, as a spiritual practice. In practice, they often find the obstacles formidable: lack of curriculum, knowledgeable and passionate prayer leaders, student interest, awareness of goals, to name a few. Articles here aim to help schools clarify their approach and strengthen the educational bases of school tefillah.
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Studies show that giving students ownership over tefillah is one of the most effective ways for them to find meaning and develop engagement. Rosner describes an initiative for students to learn leadership skills through tefillah.
I am the HOS in a community school that serves all elements in the Jewish community. As a result, I, the board chair and various committee leaders are approached regularly by parents representing left, right and center ideologies, who feel they are not fully served by our school’s religious approach.
B’nai Israel Community Day School of Gainesville, FL, was awarded the Meridian Choice, Hope and Recovery Community Award for collecting children’s supplies for residents of local treatment programs.
Arnee Winshall is completing her term as the founding chair of RAVSAK’s Board of Directors. I am usurping her column this quarter to pay tribute to the amazing work she has done in this capacity.
Several years ago, NPR correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported that “scientists are making the first attempts to understand spiritual experience—and what happens in the brains and bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine. The field is called ‘neurotheology,’ and although it is new, it’s drawing prominent researchers in the US and Canada. Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.”
Seven years ago, a kindergarten teacher brought a student to my office. The children were supposed to be davening, but this young man, whom we shall call Gavi, refused to participate. This had been going on for a few weeks, and the teacher was now turning to the administration in an effort to get the student to comply.
After the shootings in Newton, Massachusetts, many of us were feeling devastated and helpless. As the days after passed, our 6th and 7th graders were clearly still emotional about the event. Their teacher, Samantha Zadikoff, knew she had to respond, but did not want to have a full blown conversation focused on the details of this tragedy. Instead, she turned to prayer. “We looked at everything from Mishebeirach to Hatikvah and really delved into the meaning and structure of Jewish and secular prayer. As a response, students wanted to write prayers for victims, families, children and the country.” We spoke about how powerful this spontaneous lesson was, and a couple of the prayers that emerged were really exceptional.
“Kaddish yatom, the mourner’s Kaddish. All those who mourn and those observing a yahrzeit, please rise.” When I heard the rabbi utter those words, I thought, “Oh God, now it’s my turn.” I stood up and within a moment the words flowed from my mouth, at once with a choked, emotional stutter and yet with fluidity: Yitgadal ve-yitkadash…
Among the many factors that impinge upon tefillah, the physical environment is one that sometimes goes unnoticed. Whether or not a school has a designed space for davening, thought should be given to the literal, as well as metaphorical, place of prayer in a school.
While fraught with pitfalls, engaging parents in formulating school policy can be especially valuable and rewarding in the area of tefillah, which is often bound up with issues of family and community identity.
At many schools, leading minyan is a task for which teachers are least prepared; yet few schools provide the time and support structures for teachers to reflect, learn and grow in this capacity. Margrett discusses his school’s approach.
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