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Palette Investigates

How AJA Davens

When it comes to davening, AJA is constantly evolving. Most years, there are new options and group configurations for the daily morning davening, in addition to the traditional minyan that is consistently available. 

High School Judaics Instructional Team Leader Rabbi Allan Houben, who runs and manages tefillah groups, feels that there is value to a traditional minyan because it is important for students to understand this model of tefillah and also have exposure to it. However, he noted that this structure can be very hard for some people, which is why the school often tests new options. He feels that school tefillah produces the ongoing challenge of trying to balance students’ individual needs with the needs of the collective community. To best cater to all of these needs, he said that the administration has “tried throughout the years to have an ongoing conversation with students about tefillah,” and “the school is always open to student input and suggestions.” 

When it comes to davening, AJA is constantly evolving.

In regards to the student body’s opinions about the current tefillah groups, feelings vary from group to group. In the all-boys minyan, they recite the whole morning davening, as opposed to the abridged minyan. Yaakov Wasserman, a freshman from the all-boys minyan, said that he “liked that they did the whole davening.” However, Oliver Mason, also a freshman, thinks that the length of the service can cause some issues. He said that combined with the already lengthy davening portion, “We often go over the time for tefillah because people are talking or people aren’t on time for school.” He elaborated on the effects of this issue, saying, “I often miss clubs because it runs into office hours.”

In addition to the two minyanim, there are three discussion-based tefillah groups that provide their own set of strengths and challenges. Head of High School Dr. Sim Pearl and Rabbi Houben alternate leading a co-ed group, allowing the students to approach davening in a variety of ways. In addition to traditional davening, the group practices appreciation through creating a sticky-note tree inscribed with what they are grateful for. This works in tandem with discussion prompts presented to the group about what tefillah looks like for different people. 

The other two groups consist only of girls; Judaics teacher Mrs. Michal Lashansky’s group consists primarily of freshmen girls, and Judaics teacher Morah Galia Magen’s group pulls from girls of the three other grades. Starting this past February, all the girls in these groups join the girls in the abridged minyan each Friday morning. Rabbi Houben explained that this is because the faculty believes that all the students should have at least some exposure to the traditional form of davening.

On Mondays through Thursdays, in Mrs. Lashansky’s group, some of the time is devoted to conversations and listening to prayer-related songs or videos. But, most of the time is spent in prayer, where chosen girls are expected to recite tefillah aloud for the group. Freshman Talia Sarnat, a member of the group, stated that the expectation to pray “can feel very forced.” Similarly, Tova Bregman, a sophomore who davens in Morah Galia’s group, said, “davening feels forced sometimes,” and she “wishes there was another option where people could do other things instead.” She elaborated that in the time when girls are expected to pray, “there are lots of people that just sit there,” suggesting that this method does not seem to be an effective mode of prayer for many students. 

To the students hoping that the school changes its davening methods, Rabbi Houben explained that they are not married to one certain system. He emphasized that when it comes to new ideas, the administration needs to consider, “Is this the right thing to run? Does it seem like something worthwhile? Can we practically pull it off?” In response to many students’ desire for change, the administration seems to be willing to modify what davening looks like at AJA. Rabbi Houben explained that it boils down to “someone having the bandwidth to own those conversations and students being committed to those conversations.” 

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