Congregation mounts prayer campaign
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Congregation mounts prayer campaign

Teaneck’s Cong. Bnai Yeshurun has launched an ambitious campaign on Shabbat prayer that is spreading beyond its membership.

Shimmy Tennenbaum, who began his term as president in June, said he had become aware of numerous concerns about aspects of the Sabbath prayer experience in the 800-family synagogue.

“I wanted to have a larger initiative to address what davening means and how one does it and prepares for it properly,” Tennenbaum said. “The concept I had in mind was to enrich the environment and get away from ‘shushing’ to a better understanding of why we’re davening in the first place.”

With the cooperation of the synagogue rabbi, Steven Pruzansky, and Rabbi Yoseph Siev, chairman of the adult education committee, Tennenbaum tapped Rabbi Dr. Simcha Katz, a longtime member, to chair a new tefillah enrichment committee.

After consulting with the Orthodox Union’s Synagogue Services division, Katz called Rabbi Heshy Kleinman, author of “Praying With Fire: A 5-Minute Lesson a Day” (ArtScroll). The Brooklyn rabbi runs the non-profit V’Ani Tefillah Foundation, providing education and tools for prayer. The committee booked him for a Shabbaton the weekend of Jan. 2.

Kleinman was “unique and appealing in his approach,” said Siev. “It’s not a one-shot deal, but a commitment to spend five minutes a day for 89 days learning how to enhance one’s tefillah.”

Free copies of Kleinman’s book were available at B’nai Yeshurun on the Saturday night of his visit, made possible by support from the locally based Coby Levi Memorial Fund, founded by members Ernie and Sally Levi in memory of their son. Siev said about 70 people signed up for the 89-day communal effort, and others – members and non-members alike – also went home with copies of the book.

A video of the Saturday night talk, “Making Sense of the Global Financial Meltdown and Turbulent Times,” is available online at bcbm.org.

“Prayer is an area that needs constant strengthening,” Kleinman said in a phone interview. “If you want to be healthy, you exercise and get proper nutrition. It’s not haphazard. In the same way, prayer is an important and relevant part of life that takes skill to maximize.”

The format used in his two “5-Minute” books, the former pulpit rabbi said, “is the most logical way to accomplish anything. If one wants to succeed, one goes up gradually. You set a goal that’s a little above where you are and then you can pace your success. It’s not about just reading but internalizing and changing behavior.”

The reason the first book contains 89 lessons, he explained, is to allow the reader to review the short lessons four times a year in the Jewish calendar. “Each day is a complete thought, which was difficult to accomplish since we didn’t want to go over a certain number of words. People are busy and we want to give them an incentive to focus on something inspiring that connects to their life.”

Especially at this time, he added, people are seeking divine help in reaction to the financial situation, the crisis in Gaza, and the massacre in Mumbai.

A daily e-mail goes out from B’nai Yeshurun reminding participants about that day’s reading. “I do the readings,” said Tennenbaum, “and it has enabled me to focus on my davening and find areas where I can improve it.”

Kleinman’s approach has been implemented at about 60 synagogues in many locations ““ most recently at 24 synagogues in Baltimore. On Feb. 7, it will begin at Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron. The two local congregations will have a joint event at the end of the effort. Several other synagogues have expressed an interest as well.

“We want everyone moving forward together,” said Kleinman. “It’s more powerful when you have many people pushing together in the same direction.”

Tennenbaum said there will be a weekly insert in the shul bulletin, written by Pruzansky, addressing different halachic aspects of tefillah. Pruzansky also will talk about the topic once a month “to raise consciousness in a very positive way.”

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