I got up to give the dvar Torah in davening the other day and began by describing the following scene (one of my favorites):
How was this relevant to anything? I explained to my 7th and 8th grade students that davening is a completely unnatural experience, and it in fact goes against everything that we do all day long. For an entire day, student have adults tell them that they are unique in some way or another. More and more, educators are learning the value of seeing beyond test scores and providing an ever-widening range of assessment, differentiated experiences, and extra- and co-curricular activities designed to allow each student the maximum number of opportunities to display and develop his or her talents and interests.
And then we bring them in to davening. Davening - where everyone says the same words, and sits and stands and bows and take steps forwards and backwards in the same way at the same time. Where the singing is imposed and everyone sings together with no voice standing out. How does this fit in with the messages that we impart to our students all day long, and given this fact, how can we blame them for not looking forward to davening?
The easy approach is to say that part of Judaism is the need to be a part of the collective. As much as we celebrate diversity of character, and as much as we would like everyone to develop their own talents, it is still important for everyone to have moments where they abandon their individuality in order to melt into the greater whole. Tefilla is the model for this - while each person has the right to add something to his or her own private Shemoneh Esrei, the fact is that tefilla, when done with a minyan, is a minyan-centric activity, with a uniform pace and any other changes being down on a communal level.
However, this is a lesson that is not easy for teenagers, and certainly not modern teenagers, to digest easily. And thus, there are two ways to go. One way is to say tough luck. Some lessons are not so easily learned, but they have to be learned because they are important. There is no question that there is some truth to this position. However, perhaps we can examine the other approach. Perhaps there is another way to explain tefilla to kids, or perhaps there is more that we can do to appeal to our students while still maintaining the integrity of tefilla. I will muse more about this in future posts - what do you think?