Rabbi Melissa B. Simon, Tiferet Segel and Director of Lifelong Learning at Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis, MN
Imagine praying twice a day, every day.
You might think the service would get a bit stale or repetitive.
But here at OSRUI our prayer life is perhaps one of the most inspiring pieces of my summer as Segel.
I am working with the incredible Chanichim, Madrichim and Moomchim of Tiferet. We begin each morning with T’fillah in our Beit T’fillah outside under a tree canopy. We sit on tree stumps not far from the horse stables and close to a little grove of trees.
T’fillah changes every day. We sing the tunes of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today. We clap, snap and wave our arms. We stand, we sit, we dance.
Last week we joined together in the Shehecheyanu blessing (Hebrew: שהחינו, “Who has given us life”) to mark the first use of the new Tiferet Torah Ark. We read Torah three times a week here at camp (Mondays, Thursday and Saturdays) – the first time many of our Chanichim have experienced so much Torah. When I read from Parshat Balak last week, I used a special technique taught to me by my teachers. I would chant a line of Torah in Hebrew from the scroll and then immediately follow it by “chanting” the English transition. Our Chanichim aren’t native Hebrew speakers, but by chanting the English translation, they were able to understand what we were reading about. Many Chanichim and Madrichim shared with me that they had never seen this technique before and that they loved hearing what the Torah portion was all about.
T’fillah every day leads to some deep reflections. Our services are led by the three members of Segel in our eidah and each of us has our own service styles. When we lead services we often say “please sit or stand as is your custom.”
Which led one of my Chanichim to ask: “Rabbi Melissa, if all of the prayers are important and all of them offer praise to God, why do we sit for some prayers and stand for others?”
I responded by explaining that some prayers have choreography that require standing (like the Amidah which literally is “the standing prayer”) because you need to bow or bend your knees.
But she wanted to go deeper- “Well its like you go to a talent show,” she explained, “and all the kids are really good but you only give a standing ovation to one or two. That doesn’t seem fair.”
We went back and forth, talking about the history of prayer in the Reform movement where people started standing for the Sh’ma because it is an important prayer, talking about what types of prayer is meaningful for her, and what prayer is like at our home congregations. It was one of those fabulous camp conversations that emerge when a child (or an adult) has the time to talk with a rabbi, cantor or educator. That’s what being Segel is all about. After singing silly songs together at breakfast, riding down the waterslide or creating art together in the art studio, you build a relationship with your Chanichim and Madrichim to have those deep conversations. And not only will they shape how our Chanichim and Madrichim see their Judaism, but they also shape how I see mine.