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.
Schools often struggle with the study of tefillah—finding time for it and strong pedagogical methods. Here’s a solution employed by one school.
Based in an Israeli school that includes students who identify as both “religious” and “secular,” the author describes how the school has created a tefillah experience for each group.
Maayan confronted parents with hardened and conflicting expectations about school tefillah. Her efforts to collaborate with them and forge a new practice of tefillah acceptable to all speaks to the diversity in all our schools.
“You have too much kavvanah at Mirowitz.” Just the other day, I heard these words from a parent at my school who is unsettled with the changes in tefillot that have resulted from the school’s recent merger. Behind these words lies an issue that is paramount to the development of our young school.
There are a variety of techniques that prayer leaders can use to harness student energy and focus their attention on tefillah. This article describes one powerful method: storytelling.
Tefillah, I believe, is a journey into yourself. It allows me to get in touch with the very core and essence of my being, the pure spark of the Divine, חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש—“a part of God above” (Job 31:2), that is within every single Jew. Tefillah is the time and tool to connect with Hashem as is experienced within nature and Hashem that transcends nature. Hashem that we experienced as the “loud voice” at Har Sinai and the quiet voice we struggle to hear in the clutter of noise in our day-to-day lives.
There are two ways that a Monday morning tefillah can go in school, and for better or for worse, it can set the tone for the day, if not the entire week. The students can come prepared with tallit and tefillin, davening can start on time and with enthusiasm, the shlichei tzibbur can lead confidently, the Torah readings and aliyot having been given out with time for students to prepare, the students can be into it, and davening can feel right and good, and maybe even with the possibility of achieving kavannah.
Two educators from the Pardes Institute in Israel who train and support Jewish studies teachers, provide guiding questions for leaders to grapple with as they seek to strengthen tefillah in their schools.
Keeping a concerted focus on the main purpose of prayer, the cultivation of a relationship with God, enables the contours of a program of study and practice to fall into place.
Study of the ways that rabbinic prayer borrows from and interprets rabbinic sources can make tefillah more engaging both intellectually and emotionally.
Despite obvious differences, there’s much that Jewish schools can learn from observation of their Christian counterparts, which have been wrestling with some of the same challenges for decades.