As a pilot program last year, a small group of 10th grade boys, many with learning and language challenges, learned about the siddur during the week and davened in a special explanatory minyan held in a separate room every Sunday morning. Based on the psak (halachic ruling) of the YU Roshei Yeshivah (deans), the tefillah was stopped throughout the minyan to add explanation, ideas to ponder, stories, and most importantly, questions upon which the students could reflect during the tefillah to make it more personal. A special breakfast was served so the students could spend more time davening without sacrificing their breakfast time.
The entire program was rooted in the students’ daily learning about the siddur and reflections about their understanding of tefillah and relationship with Hashem. The concept was that if the students learned the prayers as text during the week, they would then be able to use their knowledge to reflect and personalize their tefillah and avodas Hashem (serving God) when they davened together on Sundays. The teenage boys learned the basic ideas of most of the siddur and broke through the challenging barrier of expressing their feelings and emotions about tefillah.
MTA also organized a weekly Sephardic minyan with the Mashgiach (supervisor) of the Sephardic minyan at YU. This minyan took place every Sunday and other special days throughout the year. It was especially important for students of Sephardic descent who have attended Ashkenazi yeshivot their whole lives and are unaware of Sephardic laws and traditions.
"My students grew in their learning about davening and appreciation for tefillah. They learned to personalize many of the messages from the siddur and make the tefillah meaningful to them." -- Rabbi Shimon Schenker, Associate Principal