Communal prayer is one of the foundations of Jewish peoplehood. Praying together transforms us from individuals into a community. EHA is dedicated to fostering an environment in which students are initiated into this millennia-old tradition and empowered to participate in Jewish prayer for the rest of their lives. But prayer is also a private endeavor, even when undertaken publicly, and we aim to create opportunities to practice and experience both aspects of tefilah. We aim to teach both the ritual practice, the choreography and content of daily prayer, and to make space for individual spirituality, allowing our students to engage with feelings of distance and closeness to the creator. In a phrase – we need to educate for “Kevah” and for “Kavannah” – consistency and concentration. That way, our children can both achieve ritual fluency and develop their desire to pray and connect to their people and to God.
Tenoki and Nursery classes pray every morning as a group before we start the day’s lesson. At the beginning of the year we sing several tefilot, and add more throughout the year as the children can sit for longer periods of time. Tefilah is fun! We sing and clap and pass around the Torah to be hugged and kissed. We also learn that when we daven we are asking and thanking Hashem for things. This idea takes root more firmly as the children mature in their understanding of who/what Hashem is.
In Pre- K, a Chazan or Chazanit turns the pages of the “Davening chart.” We begin praying at the carpet with traditional English songs thanking Hashem. We practice washing ‘Nagel Vasser’ and learn morning brachot. The children actively engage in prayer, often clapping, banging the table, and dancing. We recite Shema and end with Adon Olam and giving tzedakah.
The Kindergarten class prays together with a chazan or chazanit, a position that rotates each week. The chazan/chazanit stands at a lectern before the ‘congregation’ and leads the class in prayer. On Mondays and Thursdays, we take out the Torah from the class Aron Kodesh. The children at this stage of development know the class tefilot by heart and have begun the adventure and challenge of reading the words from the Koren children’s Siddur.
First grade students pray using the Koren Children’s Siddur from the first day of school. Although they are not yet reading fluently and independently, they make use of the Siddur, becoming familiar with the look of each letter and word as they memorize the various tefilot. Those tefilot are discussed in class conversation throughout the year, enabling students to explore their meaning. As the year progresses, more tefillot are added and there are a variety of songs added on Fridays for Shabbat and Kiddush as well. Students look forward to and celebrate their Chagigat Siddur and receive their own Koren Youth Siddur at the Siddur Celebration.
In second grade, students use their Koren Youth Siddur but with an emphasis on reading the words from the siddur rather than just saying tefilot by heart. With a focus on reading mastery, the students work on learning to use the ‘trop’/cantillation tune for the Sh’ma, paying special attention to pronunciation and emphasizing the correct syllables for each word. The Koren Siddur notates the sh’va na and sh’va nach differently, and the students learn how to differentiate those and pronounce them correctly.
That emphasis on reading from within the siddur continues and third grade students sing each and every tefilah out loud. In addition to reinforcing those prayers students learned in second grade, the third grade tefilah curriculum introduces the Amidah/Shemona Esrei. Students begin by learning some of the basic choreography of this particular prayer, and reading the first paragraph together and out loud. As students become familiar with the first blessing, and as each new section is mastered, additional paragraphs are introduced.
The fourth and fifth graders are combined for morning davening to form a larger, more cohesive “kehila.” By this point they can easily sing their full repertoire of prayers with kavannah and enjoyment and navigate through the siddur admirably. Each week there is an appointed leader (chazzan or chazzanit) who begins and ends each of the silently recited prayers aloud so that the students become accustomed to the rhythms of tefila b’tzibur, communal prayer.
The middle school young women and men participate in a morning minyan in the Beit Midrash, where they are joined by the students at Yeshivat Kadimah High School. Later in the afternoon they reconvene for for Mincha services as well. The middle school students are learning proper synagogue decorum as well as mastering the navigation of their siddurim in an unabridged service. Students from the middle school will play a variety of roles as they age including Gabbai, chazzan for various sections of prayer, aliyot, d’vrei Torah and other kibbudim including tzedakah collection.