Many Jews — from teens to baby boomers — don’t connect with prayer. The problem is rooted in both the past and the present: for generations, tefillah has been inexplicably ignored in Jewish education. Modern Orthodox yeshiva elementary and high schools have mistakenly expected students to somehow intuitively connect to tefillah, and don’t usually schedule time for tefillah education nor for discussions of faith and belief. As a result, the overwhelming majority of yeshiva graduates are not inspired to connect with God when they pray. They don’t fully understand the siddur and don’t see its personal relevance to their lives.
This problem has been exacerbated for all Jews by the internet, smart phones and social media, and especially affects today’s teens and young adults. Limitless, instantaneous choices allow adolescents to control the messages they are consuming with the flick of a finger at any given moment. As a result, students crave the ability to craft personal meaning on their own terms, not be told how and what that meaning should look and sound like.
This unprecedented personal freedom and focus on individual identity do not naturally fit with Jewish core values of chiyuv – responsibility and obligation. For many teens who deep down yearn for authentic spiritual experiences, the confined routine structure of tefillah remains an enormous obstacle.
A recent survey of nearly 4,000 Modern Orthodox Jews 18 and older from Nishma Research demonstrates just how dire the situation is and how critical Legacy 613’s mission is to the future of American Jewry.
The first-ever survey of Modern Orthodox Jews found a decreased interest in the importance of synagogue and the belief that prayer is meaningful. Only 32 percent of those under age 45 found prayer to be meaningful compared to 50 percent of those 55 and older. The web-based, opt-in survey also found that only 18 percent of men ages 18 to 34 attend shul on a weekday morning compared to 41 percent of men age 55 and older. Only two percent of women of all ages reported doing so.
If you are shocked by the statistic that more than 60% of Jews under age 45 don’t find prayer meaningful, you shouldn’t be! After all, the overwhelming majority of Jewish elementary and high schools in this country don’t offer programs in tefillah education. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Jews – from baby- boomers to millennials and beyond – don’t connect with prayer. Perhaps, the most critical lessons we need to know were never taught:
Prayer is more than reciting blessings, or petitioning God for our needs. It is more than praising God for all the wonderful things that He does.
Tefillah is, in essence, about establishing a personal, lifelong connection with the only One who can make things happen. It is the recognition that all we are and hope to be comes from the Almighty. Our daily prayers offer us unique opportunities to bond with God.
Tefillah can and should be the ultimate spiritual experience.
We, at Legacy 613, want to make the tefillah experience meaningful for young and old and dedicate ourselves to this sacred mission.