How Do You Approach T'filah? Here's a Way to Connect Students to Prayer
Here’s a challenge for Jewish educators: An 8th grade student tells his teacher how he doesn’t feel a connection to prayer, even as he "put forth positive energy" to the practice. The student says he’s searching for a way to break through "the blockade between the heart and God.”
This true heartfelt story highlights what many educators know: that while it's important to study the words and mechanics of the prayer, in many ways it's even more important to guide students toward finding the intention that gives meaning to the prayers.
As educator Batsheva Frankel writes in The Jewish Educator's Companion, "It's difficult to help students relate to the ancient language and imagery of the siddur. If they don't understand the words, it can seem like gibberish. And students often aren't exposed to models of adults engaged in passionate or meaninful t'filah, so they don't see the value in it. ...To aid students in finding the relationship, connection, and meaning in modern times, it's helpful to explore how to engage with God through both communal and personal prayer."
Making T'filah Meaningful is a series that aims to bridge that gap between prayer literacy and personal connection.
Designed as a pick-and-choose series, Making T'filah Meaningful focuses on students in grades five through seven because this is a crucial time in the development of a child’s Jewish identity.
Each of the 12 booklets focuses on a single prayer or set of related prayers, and is filled with activities, stories, and questions to help students connect these ancient words with their modern-day lives.
In Bar'chu, for example, an activity called "Focus in Daily Life" explores the concept of attention and concentration. Students to are asked to name three things they do to help them focus on various activities, such as playing a sport or reading a book. That can open up a discussion about the notion of kavanah, concentrating and focusing one's heart and mind on prayer.
The series is flexible, both in format and content, designed for use as a supplement to any Hebrew program, to add meaning to t'filah time, or to enhance family program. Choose only the prayers you want - each package includes five booklets of the same prayer. The prayers (or prayer excerpts) are provided in both Hebrew and English and the booklets and lessons do not teach Hebrew or even presuppose Hebrew reading competency.
Teachers can easily add the booklets to notebooks or binders to supplement students' weekly school t'filah experience.
The series' Lesson Plan Manual is essential for educators, as it contains 36 complete lessons - three for each prayer booklet - plus optional activities for digging deeper into topics as time and resources allow. It also includes tips for addressing challenging ideas, such as God, tips for helping students with special needs, and ideas for engaging students' families in the learning.
To learn more about Making T'filah Meaningful, a list of prayers in the series, and online prayer resources, click here.
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