Grade 8 students Bracha, Avner, Eytan, and Jacob share this week’s Student Scene at Heschel. They explain the different ways of experiencing Tefillah at Heschel.

At Heschel, each class in Junior High goes through different rotations for morning Minyan. Bracha, in Grade 8, explains that one of the available Minyans is the drama Minyan. It is led by Morah Margot and Morah Chen and involves playing games. For example, each student says one word from the Shema and then everyone competes as a class to see who does it the fastest without making mistakes. Some activities involve more energy and some include more acting; often, the games are very funny. Most other Minyans are quiet, but in the drama Minyan you get to be active and loud, instead of quiet and calm. It is a very different way of doing Tefillah, proving that Heschel is special!

Eytan and Avner share their experience in Morah Yarden’s yoga. They report that the practice of yoga in this Minyan has taught them many things, including “how to calm your emotions when you are stressed.” This Minyan has helped Avner and Eytan both spiritually and physically. “When we meditate during the yoga Minyan, it helps us control our impulsive behaviours.”

According to Jacob, “Morah Yarden gives the class a challenge with every pose, including for strength, balance, stillness, and more. She chants lines from the Ashrei prayer and highlights a word such as “Gadol,” which means “large.” Students then create poses that demonstrate strength; for instance, “warrior pose,” or “tree pose” to show balance.  For “Dor l’Dor,” which means “from generation to generation,” Morah Yarden instructs us to show “connectivity.” Some students illustrate this by touching their hands or feet together.

Morah Lisa, who leads the art Minyan, combines art with teaching new “nigunim” (tunes). As students listen, they draw and create a visual Siddur, which they add to each week. They are instructed to draw using line, shade, and pattern. Morah Lisa finds this to be a mindful way of engaging Tefillah. “It’s amazing because students are authentically engaging in Tefillah. They are very present and mindful and they are learning different nigunim from different traditions. You can hear a pin drop in the classroom.”

In the dance Minyan, Morah Daphne encourages her students to develop dances based on specific Tefillot or musical renditions of prayers. The students are encouraged to express their spirituality or prayer themes through dance.

On Tuesdays, students in Junior High cycle through learning about different sects of Jewish observance: Traditional, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. The Minyanim are ways of learning about the development of Jewish prayer historically in different communities.

Grade 6 students comment that “there are many fun ways to learn how to pray. We knew there were different types of Judaism, but we didn’t understand what they were until we learned about the Reform movement.” Deya says she learned that in Reform Judaism you can “play music on Shabbat and women and men sit together and are equal.” Jonah comments that he learned how the Reform Jewish community helps people in need by hosting the Out of the Cold program.

At Heschel, the Minyanim are ways for students to reflect on different expressions of Judaism. By experiencing different types of Minyanim, they learn to express their connection to God and prayer in various ways.