DIVIDING STUDENTS INTO SMALLER GROUPINGS
Our schools found that working with smaller groups of students is generally more effective than having a larger tefillah with as many as 200 or 300 students. As in the classroom setting, tefillah education seems to work best when students do not feel they can get lost in the crowd, where there is a sense of community, and where participation is valued.
SHARING DURING TEFILLAH
One of the most powerful forces in our educational thinking and experimentation has been the notion of just talking about prayer out loud in a personal meaningful way rather than simply text analysis or conveying what tefillah means to other people. It is relatively easy to teach text, but for a variety of reasons we have been slow to share aloud the personal aspects of prayer that we each encounter. Educators have discovered the enormous value of empowering members of the community to find their own personal voice within tefillah. The more students hear from others, especially other students, not only about their challenges, but about their connections to tefillah, the more likely they will be to create their own.
EXPLANATORY MINYANIM (SERVICES)
Some schools have divided students by motivation, and then tailor the service accordingly — be it in terms of length (abridging Shacḥarit to more minimal halachic requirements) and/or the amount of teaching or explanation involved. Explanatory minyanim require a halachic decision about parameters, but the benefits can be huge in terms of actually teaching what prayer and the siddur are all about – subjects that tend to be overlooked in traditional curricula.
TEFILLAH WORKSHOPS/TEFILLAH ENHANCEMENT PROGRAMS
These are both variations of the explanatory tefillah minyan, but instead of learning about prayer during the minyan, students are taken out of the regular tefillah group for a limited number of workshop sessions or for a full-year enhancement program. These programs were both very effective in deepening students’ connection to their tefillah.
ALTERNATIVE MINYANIM (SERVICES)
This option has become much more viable in the past few years as schools try to “shake things up” and get students to look at tefillah in a different light. Girls only, Sephardic, Freshmen, Hashkamah, and special Minchah prayer groups were among those offered. Providing alternative minyanim daily does run the risk of the innovation itself becoming routine and losing its appeal. At the same time, we do not want to innovate so much that minyanim lose any semblance of a routine service. We want students always to see themselves as part of standard services, both now and in the future.
FORMAL TEFILLAH TEACHING OUTSIDE OF MINYANIM
Finding time within an already packed school day for yet another subject is a challenge for many schools. At least two schools found innovative ways of creating the time for tefillah education – one held a class in tefillah three times a week for about six weeks; the other offered select students who voluntarily attended the Hashkamah Minyan before regular school hours an Advanced Tefillah Shiur (ATS) during the time slot of the school’s regularly scheduled Shacharit minyan.
A number of schools are experimenting with what it means to have a tefillah curriculum:
how much to focus on textual analysis, halachah or developing a personal connection to God. Almost all the schools agree that empowering students to connect to God should be the main focus. Not surprisingly, this goal was the biggest challenge of tefillah education. Much more work needs to be done in this area.
INFORMAL EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAMS
Among the more experimental initiatives to inspire a deeper connection with tefillah were:
• Art-Based Spiritual Expression
• Tefillah Libraries
• Early Morning Shacḥarit at the Beach
• Student-led Minyan at Local Retirement Center
• Hallel Project, in memory of an Israeli teenage girl murdered by terrorists in Kiryat Arba