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Prayer Signs
Rabbi Nicki Greninger, Director of Education at Temple Isaiah, Lafayette CA

In addition to our Sanctuary, we use two spaces for Religious School prayer (one is a smaller "Beit K'nesset", and one is called the "Adult Lounge"). We wanted to create a more 'prayerful' environment in those spaces, and we wanted to help our kids & their parents reflect on the experience of what tefillah is (or could be). We therefore created "prayer signs." The following statements were printed in large font on a blank paper (one statement per page), and we framed the statements & hung them around the room. That way no matter which direction you look, you see statements related to tefillah. I think it's had a big impact on what people look at and think about during tefillah. I've also used them in the context of tefillah, with 3rd-5th grade students... I gave each student 3-4 stickies, and asked them to walk around the room and put a stickie on each of the signs that they most agreed with. Then we talked about which signs had the most stickies, the fewest, etc. We also talked about why the signs were there, and how prayer can be lots of different things... Here are the statements (adapted from something similar used by our local Jewish day school):

Tefillah is a way to speak to God
Tefillah connect us as a community
Tefillah is the word for Prayer
Tefillah is a link to Jews around the world
Tefillah is a link to our ancestors
Tefillah is a response to the wonder of being alive
Tefillah creates a moment for spirituality
Tefillah is a way to learn Jewish values
Tefillah is a way to study Torah
Tefillah gives us the chance to look inside ourselves
Tefillah gives us the chance to sing, clap, & hum
Tefillah requires Kavanah: concentration, focus, aim, attention
Tefillah requires Keva: structure, fixed times & composition

Silent Meditation: When I was the Education Director at Temple Kehillah Chaim, the cantor (Barbara Margolis) led weekly T'filah during religious school for 3rd - 7th graders. Cantor Margolis led the students in prayer in a way that, from my point of view, allowed the students an opportunity to 'pray'. I believe there were two keys to this 'successful' T'filah: first was the formality of a service (and students did participate by leading some prayers in Hebrew), and second was the opportunity each week to say a silent prayer. Cantor Margolis was able to bring the students to quietly reflect on their lives and provided an opportunity for each of them to connect with God. Often students were seen with their eyes closed, and a few times I saw students put their palms together in front of their face (as if to say their bedtime prayers, in a traditional Christian picture!). No, I don't have proof that students were connecting with God, but I do believe the opportunity was there. Conclusion: Students need an opportunity for silent mediation, and the T'filah leader should help lead them to that place.

Mi Shebeirach: I am not a T'filah leader and will not attempt to do so (I can't carry a tune!), but a few years ago, I taught a few 5th grade Hebrew classes at a nearby synagogue (not where I was the director at the time). My role was not just to teach them to decode the prayers, but to encourage connection to the prayer and praying. One day I siezed on a teachable moment, and had the students looking at the Mi Shebeirach (I don't remember what prompted this, and the prayer was not in the curriculum). After a discussion about usage of the prayer, I asked the students to stand, and before we said the prayer together, I asked the students to name someone that they wanted to say the prayer for (if they wished). I learned that almost every student in my class had a close family member struggling with a major illness (sadly, a lot of cancer - a parent, a grandparent, a teacher). We said the prayer together - and I believe connected with each other, and perhaps with God. It was a serious few minutes in the classroom, with more than one student shedding tears. My conclusion is that we need to provide students an opportunity to connect to prayer in a way that relates to their personal, outside of synagogue lives. Our students have worries just like adults, and as I discovered, many are open to connecting with God as a way to share their burdens. Let's provide the opportunity to say the Mi Shebeirach with kavannah.

Respectfully submitted:
Diane Zimmerman
Assoc. Director Religious Education
Temple Sinai, Washington DC

Special Purpose / One of a Kind Sacred Time and Space I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you're looking for, but this unusual prayer moment jumped out at me. The weekly URJ e-letter dated August 12, 2011 included a link to a posting on a Camp Newman blog dated August 9. Newman's Educational Director (and current HUC Rabbinical/Education student) Jaclyn Fromer shared the experience of helping to create a prayerful ritual moment out of a teen camper's decision to shave her head as a result of hair loss due to chemotherapy. Jaclyn includes some text taken from Siddur Sha’ar Zahav; published by Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco:
I wasn't there, but it seems like all involved shared a powerful sacred space during that service, in part because it was tailored to a specific situation that was meaningful to everyone there. ( Suggested by Lynn Flanzbaum, HUC/LA.)