Creating Community through Minyan: Havurot in Jewish Day Schools

by Cynthia Peterman

“Hurry up, hospital
Mom. I don’t want to miss Minyan!” “Best part of my morning!” How many Jewish day school educators would love to hear our students talk about t’filah this way? These were comments I often heard from my students during the more than 15 years I led the Havurah minyan at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, dosage
MD. What factors account for its ongoing success? These are primarily three: engaging students in community-building; meeting adolescents’ spiritual needs; and, providing opportunities for experimentation and leadership.

The havurah in America serves as a model for this student-centered minyan with its strong emphasis on community. Havurot are by definition non-hierarchical and egalitarian, often run without rabbinical guidance or with rabbis as equal members of the community. Decisions are made by consensus of the community in a democratic process. More informal than typical synagogue services, the havurah service often emphasizes joyous singing, discussion, and alternative paths to spirituality in the form of meditation, guided imagery, and drumming. Individuals come together for important moments in their lives (spiritual, life cycle) into a community that is both voluntary and has a shared purpose (often with a strong social action component). Often havurot experiment with creating new rituals or developing new approaches to existing life cycle rituals.

For teens, creating a sense of belonging to something with a higher goal is critical to their psycho-social development. Our students live in a society that too often values individuality over community, “my needs” over and against “yours.” This is an opportunity to learn and practice how to be a caring community. It has become common in today’s literature on adolescent development to talk of the “Five Cs” (i.e., Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring). A havurah is an ideal laboratory in which to practice and develop these characteristics.

The Havurah minyan (grades 9-12) functions as a community of equals, from the youngest student to the oldest. In an atmosphere of z’man kodesh, a goal of the Havurah minyan is to start each day with calm reflection, a sense of holiness, and a respect for community – our own and the greater world in which we live. At the beginning of the new school year, the emphasis is on welcoming new members and bringing them into the community. Older students mentor younger students, veterans mentor new members. Community meetings are held regularly to take the “pulse” of the community. Are we meeting the needs of our members? What are we doing well? What could we be doing better? The role of the faculty advisor is to model compassion, warmth, creative leadership, and spiritual growth. However, the service leaders are the students themselves.

The development of student leadership takes time and resources. The Havurah minyan maintains its own library, a collection of books on spirituality, meditation, as well as a resource box full of ideas for leading creative services. Students are encouraged to sign up to lead in pairs, often with someone who is not a friend, to encourage cross-grade fertilization. Allowing students to assume leadership is very important to developing their creativity and their confidence. Students who are reticent to participate in minyan in September often become active leaders by mid-year under the tutelage of older and veteran students. These relationships also move beyond the minyan, bridging the grade level divide as friendships are fostered that last throughout students’ school years.

Giving leadership over to students requires extra effort on the part of the faculty member. It is more time efficient to be the teacher-director in the front of the room, telling students what to do, than to be a facilitator and coach. Sometimes teachers fear the risk involved in giving leadership to students. Distributing leadership among students, at the heart of today’s educational emphasis on student-centered learning, requires thoughtful planning, supportive coaching, and being able to step in if a student needs help. Though this requires more work on the part of the teacher, the reward is in the faces of the students who – at the end of a wonderful morning minyan – smile with pleasure at their own success.

Student leadership also develops character and fosters creativity. Following the model of havurot, the Havurah minyan encourages experimentation in the service, while maintaining respect for Judaism and for the values the community has set for itself. This may be the first place a student experiences guided meditation during davenning, or a drumming circle on Rosh Chodesh. The flexibility of the Havurah minyan allows for students to engage in God-talk with one another, something that rarely, if ever, takes place in a standard minyan. The Havurah siddur, constructed over many years by students, combines standard prayer, student-created prayers, z’mirot, and poetry. The variety of material in the siddur gives students choices for leading services that make davenning different and unique, another key to the minyan’s success.

Each important moment in the life of a Havurah member is celebrated, or mourned, by the community. At the end of each morning we sing Mi She’Berach for family and friends who are in our hearts that day. Birthdays are celebrated, Shabbat and hagim are special days, and new rituals are created for important communal events, such as when the seniors leave the community. This reminds us that when one member of a community of daily worshipers is impacted, the entire community is affected.

As the havurah continues to grow in popularity in America as dynamic, alternative Jewish community, it will offer a unique educational model for t’filah programming in Jewish day schools for students who are looking for a supportive peer group and a a place to grow Jewishly.

Cynthia Peterman is the  Executive Director of The Jewish Teacher Project. The original post can be read here.

February 5, 2013   No Comments

Tu BiShvat

By: David Levy, sales exerted from a post written for Jewschool.

When Tu BiShvat falls on Shabbat, phthisiatrician as it does this year, diagnosis I love the chance to build a Shabbat menu around fruit. Back in 5763 (aka 2003), when I was in my first year as a full-time Jewish educator, Tu BiShvat also fell on Shabbat. The shul where I worked had a very successful monthly community Shabbat dinner event. I asked if I could take the lead for the month when the dinner would coincide with the so-called birthday of the trees.

I was met with some skepticism. “Our congregation loves the dinners as they are. We don’t want any programming,” I was told. “Don’t worry,” I assured them. “I’m talking about menu and decorations. You won’t even know that you’re taking part in a Tu BiShvat seder.”

Kids' PlacematHaving made the bold claim, and not entirely sure how I was going to back it up, I got to work with my partner-in-crime, Robin Kahn, then the synagogue’s family educator. We bought up every mylar tree that iParty had for sale. We made up vertical seder plates with four levels, representing the four Kabbalistic spheres the seder traditionally mentions. One set of plates was filled with the expected fruits (the top level being left empty, natch). The other filled with dips like hummus and olive tapenade, because we’re classy like that — and because it gave us a second set of surfaces on the table to which we could affix labels. A third set of four bottles of soda or juice (representing the color spectrum from red to white) gave us our third canvas. The labels we places on each level, each bottle presented all the information of the seder in small, non-threatening and non-invasive chunks. (And lest you think I forgot about the שבעת המנים, the seven types of grains and fruit grown in Israel linked to the holiday, we had crackers made of barely & wheat to complement the rest of the fruits & dips on the seder plates.)

Our crowning achievement was the placemats we created. They were double-sided, with one side aimed at kids featuring a word search, a Cosmo-style “What Kind of Tree Are You?” quiz, and more. The adult side included a timeline detailing the evolution of the holiday from the time of the Second Temple though today, some text about the mitzvah of baal tashchit (the commandment not to destroy), and the words to the song השקדיה פורחת. No one had to look at the placemats if they weren’t interested, but to load the deck in our favor, we set the table with transparent plates and cutlery.

The dinner was a success, both from a culinary standpoint and an educational/programmatic one. Placemat for Grown-UpsToday I printed out a new set of those placemats to use this Shabbat. It’s weird to look back at something from so early in my career — I admit to going through and changing the way I spelled the name of the holiday (thanks, BZ!) (although now I noticed I missed a spot). But I’m still proud of the work Robin and I did. And today it serves as a reminder to me that Jewish education can touch even those most resistant to it if we approach it with a little creativity and a lot of office supplies.

If you’d like to use my placemats at your Tu BiShvat table this year, feel free! here’s the adult version and here’s the one for kids.

David Levy was an Everett Fellow at the 2009 Summer Institute.

January 28, 2010   1 Comment

Programming For the Havurah – Not Davening

By: Bob Freedman

Davening (prayer) havurot are defined by the need to sustain worship each time they meet. Non-davening havurot are different. Their “mission” is defined by their members – their ages, viagra 100mg family situation (children or not), pilule collective expertise, viagra and interests – and can include studying, celebrating holiday and life-cycle events, and more. You can use this guide for ideas to further your community’s programming.

A few guidelines:

  • Make programming only as complicated as there are people who are willing to organize it. If a suggested program attracts no volunteer coordinators, call for more ideas.
  • Use email to solicit input about programming so that a maximum number of people buy into it. One way to do this is to send out a message to the group giving three suggestions and let them vote.
  • Rotate hosts.
  • Serve food. The best strategy is to make this “Jewish potluck,” that is, whoever is the host for the program puts out a call for contributions, then makes more than necessary.

Programming Ideas

This is a huge topic. Please post your suggestions in the comments below. Here are some ideas to use as seeds. They have been divided into three areas of non-davening programming: holidays, study, and everything else.

Holidays:

  • Rosh Hashanah:
    • Share your dreams, hopes, and prayers for the New Year. Compile the prayers and give each family/individual a copy to recite at their erev Rosh Hashanah (eve of Rosh Hashanah) dinner.
    • Sponsor a “mikvah (ritual bath) morning” the Sunday before Rosh Hashanah in a member’s hot tub or pool. Ask people to share what they hope to wash away and to recite the traditional prayers before immersion.
    • In keeping with the theme of memory during the Musaf service of Rosh Hashanah (Zichronot), gather to share your Jewish memories.
    • Go apple picking at a local orchard to get apples for the holiday.
    • Create a Sefer Hayyim (Book of Life). Gather a lot of magazines. Provide an 11″x17″ piece of paper to each person, glue sticks, colored markers, and scissors. Ask each person to create a collage of pictures (or words) cut from the magazines that tells their memories of the past year. Bind the pages together with string, create a cover for the book, and display it at a meal or gathering for all to see.
  • Sukkot:
    • Find out where local produce farms are. Try to find one in each of the four directions. (If you wish, limit your search to organic producers.) Buy food from each one. Gather in a sukkah to wave the lulav and etrog in the directions of each of the farms and give each a blessing of fertility. Cook, serve, enjoy, and bless the food you bought from the farms.
    • Organize or participate in a local CROP Walk, often sponsored by Church World Service.
    • Host a Sukkot pumpkin-carving event. Encourage Jewish-themed carvings.
    • Arrange to go to local farms to glean the leftover produce and give it to the local food pantry.
    • Have a water fight in honor and memory of the water drawing ceremony (see Mishnah, Tractate Sukkah, 4:9 and following).
    • Divide the assembled people into small groups (2-3 people each). Ask each group to decide on three people to invite to the sukkah. They could be famous or not, Jewish or not. Go around the room and have each group tell whom they invited and their reasons.
    • Sponsor a traveling Sukkot party (moveable feast).
  • Hanukah:
    • Bring your menorah and tell its story.
    • Hanukah gift exchange.
    • Package gifts to go to a local holiday gift drive.
    • Have a sing down with songs that include the word light.
  • Shabbat:
    • Have a traditional Shabbat dinner in a member’s home. Provide food by potluck, “modified potluck” (main dishes catered or determined in advance and the rest of the food brought as attendants wish), or catered. Ask someone to lead singing.
    • Celebrate Havdalah and discuss the moments of separation in your lives.
  • Passover:
    • Sponsor a seder for your havurah. Rent a hall; assign people to bring food, assign parts of the seder to families or individuals, appoint an emcee.
    • Sponsor a matzah brei breakfast competition.

Study:

Other Programming:

  • Discuss “What did your parents teach you about telling the truth?”
  • Discuss, “Elohey Avraham, Elohey Yitzhak, vElohey Ya-akov (God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob); What did your parents teach you about God?”
  • Discuss names – how you are named, how you named your children, how you react to your name.
  • Discuss divided loyalties: Struggling with choosing from many different ways of being Jewish, especially when your choices may be different from what you grew up with.
  • Discuss the relation of religion to science.
  • Learn about the different branches of Judaism. Have one or two people research each branch and present the material that they found.
  • Have everyone bring at least two Jewish jokes or short funny readings.
  • Bring Jewish objects from your home. Tell their history and what they mean to you/how they connect you to Judaism.
  • Bring articles about religious issues from local or national periodicals and discuss the issues. Decide on discussion guidelines in advance; for example, no judgment, courteous and respectful speech, don’t say more than you mean.
  • Sponsor a Mitzvah Day. Find public projects that need doing – like working for the local food bank, cleaning the litter from the sides of a road, etc. Gather in the morning for bagels and a short moment of dedication, then send participants off to whatever project they want to do. Gather back in the afternoon to tell each other what happened and share more food.
  • Make candles for Shabbat, Hanukah, and Havdalah. Begin with a discussion of the ritual use of candles, the symbolism of light in Jewish observance and in other traditions.
  • Have an Israeli dinner. Use recipes from a Sephardi Jewish cookbook.
  • Go on a walking tour of the Lower East Side of NYC. See the Tenement Museum.
  • Go to the Jewish museums in your city or organize a field trip to a museum in a nearby city.
  • Ask participants to tell about their families of origin and their ancestors. Make explicit that this will include the non-Jewish families represented. Show pictures, tell stories, and bring objects.
  • Do Jewish arts and crafts activities: make challah covers, miniature sukkot, spice boxes, mezuzot, etc.
  • Hire someone to teach Israeli dances.
  • Watch Jewish movies and have a discussion afterwards.
  • Hire someone to teach how to make challah.

For suggestions about how to organize and present your programming to be both “green” and to reflect Jewish concepts of justice in the workplace go to Green & Just Celebrations. There you can download a booklet that, though written for the Washington, D.C. community, has many ideas that apply to other areas.

Bob Freedman has attended numerous NHC Summer Institutes. He is on the NHC Board of Directors.

December 26, 2009   3 Comments