Wednesday, February 22, 2012

School Prayer

Last week, I visited/participated in tefillot at high school in Los Angeles.  Oh, what a way to start your day!  Perhaps it is just an impossible task to harness the energy of a teenager at 7:45 in the morning, especially when they don't want to daven.

I am curious - and would love feed back from high school teachers - if your school has one, are you obligated to go to morning minyan?  Is it part of your compensation package or job description?  Do you enjoy it and find it transcendental?

Perhaps this post is just a venting of my frustration but I must point out that something is just not working in this school.  Most of the kids were not into it and the measure for this statement was the level of participation.  Cleverly, the school recites the entire Shema aloud which I think shows both its theological importance and teaches proper pronunciation (one person told it me it was also because they students usually had to wait for the rabbi to finish which led to a lot of chit chat). It was the teachers who were mostly chanting the tefilla, and I noticed that barely about half of the students were moving their lips, let alone saying it aloud.

The atmosphere of the tefilla was such that one teacher stood in the center of the room near the Torah table, frowning most of the time. Seemingly his job there was to record who was on time or late, and to wake up or refocus those that were drifting away.  He worked the room, ambling over to awaken a few sleepy heads and silence a few conversations (I saw one kid hide his iphone as this teacher drew close).  This was the model of tefilla management that I remembered but thought had disappeared. Are there schools that have empowered their students to daven?   In the coming days I will be reviewing one project by a community day school that davens as a community twice a month and has successfully changed the culture of prayer.

As for my experience in Los Angeles,  I am praying that the next time I visit this school something, anything would be different in the davening atmosphere.

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