Three Takeaways from a Digital 4th Grade Tefillah

Three Takeaways from a Digital 4th Grade Tefillah
  • Outside the Classroom
Shayna Friedman

By Shayna Friedman, Director of Admission


I had the pleasure of facilitating 4th grade tefillah this morning at 9:00. At 8:59, I had no idea how transformative this experience would be for me as a professional and as a human being, but by 9:23 I had practically composed this blog in my head. To 4th graders: you are resilient and enthusiastic and engaged, and thank you for bringing me so much joy and wisdom this Monday morning as we all muddle through on this murky trail called COVID-19.  Here are three takeaways from my time with you.

#1: Buildings aren't sacred. People are.

Every time a student joined our meeting, I was reminded of this. The first student logged in at 8:43 this morning for our 9:00 tefillah. Slowly, others logged on...27 in all opted to join us.  One introduced his new puppy, which elicited lots of “she’s adorable,” and other expressions of congratulations. Elana and I joked about how these meetings remind us of the Brady Bunch and shared the role this show played in our childhood. My oldest son, Isaiah, a senior at Denver JDS sat down and joined us for morning blessings before he had to log onto his morning class. The mutual respect and appreciation was palpable. We were miles apart from one another, but we were more connected than I have felt to a prayer community in a long time. 

#2: Our liturgical tradition has a lot to offer.

This is not likely a big shock to you. After all, I am literally a professional Jew, so of course I’m a fan of our liturgy, right? Confession: Prayer has always been a challenge for me. I struggle with the theology inherent in much of our liturgy (even though my most favorite line in prayer is the final line of Adon Olam: God is with me. I will not fear...go figure). I haven’t been part of a weekday morning service in quite some time. And my Rabbi will tell you I’m not a Shabbat service regular. Still, in preparing for today, this passage called me. Take a minute to read the eighth blessing of the weekday Amidah.

Heal us, Hashem, and we will be healed; Save us and we will be saved: for You are our praise. Grant a perfect healing to all our wounds; Because you are God, Ruler, Healer, faithful and merciful. Blessed are You, Hashem, Healer of the sick of Your people Yisrael. 

After some beautiful student led morning blessings, we turned to page 153 of Siddur Am Echad to unpack this blessing. The students were just so present. When I asked them who knows someone affected by COVID-19, they raised their hands. We took a quiet moment to think about someone each of us knew that might be in need of emotional or physical healing.  I hope our time with this blessing will inspire a student to contemplate all the ways they can heal themselves and others. Or maybe it will help a child simply sleep better at night thinking about how one of God’s many roles is to heal. I can’t interpret Judaism for them, but I feel privileged that I can remind them it’s there and waiting for them to make meaning. And I feel privileged that I get to work in an environment where that’s what I’m actually encouraged to do.  And finally, I am so grateful that our liturgy is available and flexible enough to serve as a call to action, a source of comfort, or an invitation to reflect. 


#3: Our community is extraordinary.

Up until March 16, showing up meant something very different. Many of the extrinsic motivators we’ve relied on for our entire lives have been removed.  How easy would it be for any of us to opt out now? Instead of tefillah, teachers could use the 20 minutes to clean up the breakfast dishes in their own homes. Students and parents could focus on a different learning goal in a time when many are worried about whether their kids will still be able to read when school starts back up again (they will, by the way, but that’s another blog). Surely others,, like me, feel the magnetic forces of the bed, couch, fridge, streaming services, and social media inherent in spending every day at home. This community resisted all of that this morning and continues to every single time we log on to Google Classroom or Zoom or SeeSaw. This feels extraordinary to me. There is so much to worry about….on every level. My mom has asthma. Will she be exposed? My son is graduating this year. What will his college experience look like? How many times do I have to ask my kids to walk the dog? What if we run out of dog food? I used my last paper towel this morning. But for 24 minutes this morning, my life was filled with community, hope, and comfort. It led to clarity that can serve as a beacon in the wake of whatever unfolds in the weeks to come. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

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