Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Into the CAJE – 2

Posted by rabbiart on August 13, 2008

The first time I attended CAJE it was the Conference on Alternatives. I discovered yesterday that some rebranding took place while I was in the wilderness of high tech for 25 years. Now its the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education. Nuff said.

Yesterday I went to a session given by Rabbi Ed Feinstein. It dovetailed nicely with the StorahTelling session from Monday afternoon. He observed that when people come to talk to him in his office, no one has ever told him to “keep it short.” In services, that’s another matter altogether. He began by collecting a list of distractions to prayer that people have. As a person who liked Hebrew school – even before going to Mahaneh Ramah and trying to keep up with day school and better educated campers who could daven from the good old Shilo Siddur – and eventually became a Rabbi, I am blessed to report that I don’t have the “common problems” with prayer that people reported. But that might make it harder for me to find ways to open up the tefilot to Jews who are not so lucky.

Rabbi Feinstein laid the ground by saying that teaching the siddur requires 3 disciplines; teaching the skills of saying the prayer (Hebrew language and bodily movement), teaching the understanding of the prayer (what does it say), and teach how to pray the prayer. The last part is, obviously, the most difficult, primarily because someone went and invented the printing press. Prayer, he said, used to be of a form like hip-hop or rap (I have often said jazz). Only the theme (the final hatimah (signature) was fixed; the rest of it was meant to be improvised.

What was new to me was an exercise in personalizing a prayer and accessing its emotional content. He used hamaariv aravim – the first prayer of the evening service. He asked for vounteers to describe a “sunset moment” in their lives, then turned their stories into a “prayer version”, concluding with the standard hatimah. Something I can barely wait to try at home.

Yesterday’s evening plenary was a combination of Craig Taubman (and band) and Rabbi Feinstein. In between the musical pieces, Rabbi Feinstein observed that it is a miracle that sixty years after the Shoah, Jewish life and Jewish education is being reborn. He talked about how easy it is for Jewish educators (and for rabbis al achat kamah v’kamah) to become discouraged and beaten down. So Craig had selected three people to come onstage and speak about their individual “miracle moments”. Quite moving to hear (understatement!) and an important reminder to any Jewish teacher to focus on and treasure the moments when we truly touch someone’s heart – and forget the rest.

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