By Wendy Goldberg
There are many ways to pray and many reasons that people pray. Part of our role at Heilicher is to teach children how to pray. It’s a bit of a conundrum if you believe that people are naturally spiritual beings, to teach them the “proper” way to pray. And yet, we have Jewish customs (minhagim) of how and when to pray, in what Rabbi Alexander Davis calls, “a curated collection” over time.
While we have lists of which prayers we teach, developed over many years at Heilicher, it has been a while since we have examined our prayer life in an organized way. Thanks to a grant from the Heilicher Foundation, I attended the Pardes T’filah (prayer) Education Conference for Day School Administrators in June and came back ready to study our prayer life in a deep, meaningful, thoughtful, and organized way. You’ll be hearing kernels from the Pardes T’filah Education Initiative during the year, but let’s start with three ways to look at T’filah (pronounced in two syllables - t’fee-LAH) or prayer.
T’filah is sometimes character education. When we say a blessing that tells us God lifts up the fallen, for some of us it’s a reminder that our bodies can stand up each morning. For others, it reminds us to help someone who has fallen, is down, or is in need. In Hebrew we could call this, bein adam l’atzmo, between a person and themself.
T’filah is sometimes a way to strengthen our relationship to God. When we’ve done something for the first time, in a year or ever, we might say the She’hehiyanu prayer, thanking God for arriving at this moment. For some of us, God is infinite and all-knowing. For others of us, this is the name we give to the big expanse, the infiniteness of the universe, the idea that there is something beyond what we can comprehend. In Hebrew the words are bein adam l’Makom, between a person and God.
T’filah is sometimes a way to connect to the community and the Jewish people - both the people who are in the room with us and the generations of Jews who prayed in a similar manner. When we say a healing prayer (mi shebeirah) we are thinking beyond ourselves and praying on behalf of someone else. A Hebrew term for this could be bein adam l’haveiro, between a person and other people.
New this year, on Monday mornings, we will have an All-School T’filah (prayer) service in the Dolly and Edward Fiterman Theatre. Our students will chant Torah each week. We’ll celebrate birthdays and milestones. We’ll honor those who need healing and who have died (in a developmentally appropriate way, of course). And we’ll have a place to pray, whether that means working on our character, connecting with God, reflecting and/or rejoicing.
You are welcome to join us on Monday mornings from 9:15-9:45 a.m. If it is your family’s practice, please bring your own tallit (prayer shawl) and t’fillin. L’dor vador, from generation to generation, we will gather together in sacred prayer that transcends time and place.
Assistant Director of Jewish Life