For teens attending yeshiva high school, prayer is not a choice: It’s a daily requirement.
Finding meaning in prayer is a different matter.
And helping teens connect to the daily services has become a topic of much discussion among Jewish educators.
NCSY has responded by changing the way it handles services at Shabbaton weekends – which are, in essence, extra-curricular activities.
The traditional Orthodox prayer service, leavened with explanations, is now only one of four worship options, explained Glasser.
There’s also an explanatory service, with fewer prayers, that focuses on the origins of the siddur; a Jewish meditation service, offering a more experiential variety of prayer; and “an alternative program to davening that focuses more on faith and belief and spirituality and God.”
Letting teens choose “makes them more invested” in the program he said.
“The challenge is that these alternatives are not necessarily replicable in an Orthodox synagogue, so it’s not a long-term solution. But it gets kids motivated and opens the door to developing a commitment to prayer.”
For Prof. Alan Brill of Seton Hall University, an expert in the history of modern Orthodoxy, this customization of the prayer service, as well as the broader concerns about teen spirituality, are a sign that the modern Orthodox community has followed the move in American religious life from building institutions to answering individual needs for meaning.
“That trend has caught up with Orthodoxy,” he says. – L.Y.