Dear RPRY Community,
I have been thinking a lot about tefilah lately. I began writing this article a few weeks ago, after Rosh Hashana, during Selichot, before Yom Kippur and Sukkot. I was spending a lot of time in shul!
But I’ve also been thinking about the davening of RPRY students. Tefilah education is replete with challenges because tefilah is a challenging endeavor even for adults. In fact, the most recent issues of both Jewish Educational Leadership from the Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan University and Jewish Action from the OU are dedicated to this topic.
How do we make davening more meaningful? Can kavana be taught? What is the proper balance between focusing on the formal structures of tefilah versus fostering the internal spiritual experience of our students? How do we promote the development of a relationship with Hashem?
There are so many things we are doing right at RPRY. This morning, we had a long Rosh Chodesh tefilah in the middle school and I was very proud of how beautifully our students davened and sang. It is because our early childhood teachers lovingly teach why we say brachot, and because our lower school teachers inspire their students to connect to Hashem, that our middle school students can enthusiastically run their own minyan.
Of course, there is still room for growth. I continue to work on my own davening, and we should do so as a school community as well. In the middle school, the rebbeim often share an inspirational thought about tefilah after davening in the morning. We have groups which leave the regular Mincha on a rotational basis for a more instructive experience with Morah Drillman. And we have been discussing changes we can make to further engage our students in tefilah.
I believe one of the most powerful factors in instilling a connection to tefilah is for parents to daven with their children. (For this reason, I have mixed feelings about teen minyanim, though I know that in the local shuls in East Brunswick and Edison/Highland Park they are excellent.) It is wonderful that we have a number of parents who sometimes join our minyan here in school, and I encourage others to do so as well. Daven with your children on Shabbos and Sunday. Show them that regular tefilah may not be easy, but it is a commitment that we take seriously.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback on this important topic.
Rabbi Daniel Loew
Head of School