TanenabuamCHAT is one of the only Jewish day high schools in North America that doesn’t require some form of regular tefilla (prayer). A few of our graduates commented that they regretted that CHAT never taught them how to pray in a traditional service.
To address this gap, I proposed that we offer Grade 12 students an option. For two weeks during their Rabbinics course in which they were studying about Tefilla (prayer), they could have a choice: Continue to attend Rabbinics class as usual or attend four Shacharit (morning) services and four Mincha (afternoon) services. We would provide two minyan options: mechitza and egalitarian.
At TCK, Judith Shapero and Jaclyn Klimitz agreed to coordinate the egalitarian minyan, and at TCW Alexandria Fanjoy and Rabbi Lori Cohen agreed to do the same. The mechitza minyan would run as usual at each campus.
Our two-week experiment has come to an end. On each campus approximately 30 Grade 12 students elected to attend minyan.
The overwhelming majority of the students found it to be very worthwhile.
Below are some of their comments:
“It allowed students to learn by doing.” It was a “hands-on approach that got us involved in praying rather than just hearing about it.” “I really liked that there was an egalitarian option.” It allowed students to “have a feel of what it is like to pray.” “It brought students together with their prayers.” “It was a great experience and I would do it again next year.” It made a “really good connection with the curriculum.” “ I liked that that I got to pray with my friends and connect to God with other members in my school.” “I got to know some of the prayers better.”
“I am a secular Jew. Therefore going to a Tefilah service was a first time experience for me… It was empowering to pray all together in one combined spirit, but my own independent prayer was most compelling to me.” “I liked having a more spiritual experience of life for two weeks.” “I liked that most of our grade came together at once to pray to God.” “My connection with God was strengthened.” “I used to do it all the time in middle school, so it brought back great memories.” “I liked that after learning what each prayer meant in Rabbinics class, I was able to actually understand what I was saying and could pray with purpose.” “After morning prayers I genuinely felt like I had more energy to take on the day.” “I liked that we had the option to attend either a mechitza or an egalitarian service, which allowed students to pray in an environment most comfortable to them.”
The students had many good suggestions on next steps. Our hope is to give other students opportunities like this, opportunities where they can explore their relationship with God in a safe and respectful place and gain the skills to feel comfortable participating in religious life.