Despite its central role in most supplementary school curricula, guest blogger Lev Metz observes that most students never really develop a meaningful relationship with prayer or even learn the liturgy. He blames the widespread approach in which "some formal instruction is given on how to participate in specific prayers, but no concerted effort is made to acculturate the students to a community that prays with intention."
He suggests an alternative approach in which "the service itself can become the major vehicle for teaching about the service, with supplementary classroom components facilitated both before and after the service."
"The character and nature of the services themselves should be dynamic, changing regularly and intentionally focusing on a particular prayer or theme that parallels what is being taught in the classroom. These themes could be determined according to the community’s values (via the Religious School Committee or its equivalent), which will both challenge the community to articulate its values alongside the clergy as well as help to bring a widespread buy-in for the program among community members.
"Acculturating students to the tefillah [prayer] experience will require a dynamic balance between instruction on how Jews pray . . . and an exploration of why we do so. It is our responsibility to show our students the possibilities that tefillah can provide for them. Spiritually, tefillah can provide a ballast to balance out such pervasive American cultural norms as materialism and narcissism. Educationally, tefillah provides a lens and window through which we can connect to Jews around the world - past, present and future."
The complete article is available here as a Microsoft Word file.
Lev Metz is a graduate student at the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.