“So many of us daven by rote and have lost our perspective as to why we go to shul,” says Frank Buchweitz, the Orthodox Union’s (OU) national director of community services and special projects. “Something has to be done to make prayer and shul-going a more meaningful experience.”
Enter the OU’s Tefillah Education Initiative. Launched in 2008 by the OU’s Department of Community Services, the program brings scholars-in-residence to communities throughout the country to underscore the power of Jewish prayer. Since its inception, the Tefillah Education Initiative has brought its prayer re-energizing programs to community members throughout the New York metropolitan area, including The Five Towns, Manhattan, Poughkeepsie, Queens, and Teaneck, New Jersey. The program has also been in Deerfield Beach, Florida—and it is poised to continue spreading the inspiration.
This multi-faceted Initiative mines the depths of our liturgy and generates a heightened appreciation of tefillah through a variety of programs, including a comprehensive curriculum—ideal for schools, shuls or individual use. Conducted in conjunction with the Shema Yisrael Torah Network, the course consists of weekly e-mails and is available by subscription. The study guide boasts subscribers from around the world—from beginners to seasoned daveners—some from as far as Hawaii and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Subscriptions can be purchased through the OU web site at community.ou.org/prayerguide for the nominal fee of twenty-five dollars.
“If you go to a typical shul and ask people what percentage of the tefillot they [actually] understand, I think it would be impressive if they said they understood more than half,” says Rabbi Ephraim Epstein of Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who is collaborating with the OU on the Tefillah Education Initiative. “We learn how to daven as children, but we do not learn how to daven as adults.”
To address the obstacles to meaningful davening, the OU is encouraging shul rabbis to spend a few minutes every Shabbat Mevarchim emphasizing an aspect of tefillah of their choice. To bolster this effort, the OU is offering resource materials on tefillah to participating rabbis. Additionally, numerous in-depth presentations on tefillah by Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the OU’s executive vice president, emeritus can be accessed at www.ouradio.org.
Upcoming Tefillah Ventures
In September, the Tefillah Education Initiative plans to introduce an array of innovative projects such as “Weekly Tefillah Tips.” The tips, which will be sent via e-mail to individual subscribers and synagogues, will focus on specific sections of Shabbat tefillot, beginning with Mussaf. Supplementing the tips, “Take Five for Tefillah,” available on the OU web site, will enable individuals to listen to or download five-minute audio shiurim on the meaning of the tefillot. Rabbi Epstein will provide material for both of these programs.
Finally, the Tefillah Initiative will sponsor community-wide conferences on tefillah throughout North America, featuring panel discussions and workshops with world-renowned rabbis and speakers. The first such conference will be held in New York’s Five Towns on December 6, 2009.
“Our goal is to inspire more people to focus their attention on successfully communicating with their Creator,” says Buchweitz, who will be coordinating the communal conferences.
As more individuals and communities seek ways to enliven their davening through the OU program’s invaluable resources, it’s becoming clear that the Tefillah Education Initiative is the perfect answer to their prayers.
To find out more about any of the Tefillah Education Initiative programs, or to host a community-wide conference, go to www.ou.org/community_services or contact the Department of Community Services at 212.613.8188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.