Legacy 613 Aims to Add Meaning to Prayer

June 6, 2018

Source: The Jewish Exponent


Prayer is apparently becoming less meaningful to many Orthodox Jews, as well as to Jews in general, but a pioneer program being tested in a handful of yeshiva high schools — including Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station — is hoping to reverse that. An organization called Legacy 613 (the 613 references the number of mitzvot in the Torah) is behind the program, which was launched in the 2016-17 school year after a web-based survey of almost 4,000 modern Orthodox Jews 18 and older showed that:

  • More than 60 percent of those under the age of 45 didn’t find prayer meaningful.
  • Only half of those 55 and older found prayer meaningful.
  • Just 18 percent of men ages 18 to 34 attended synagogue on a weekday morning, compared to 41 percent of men 55 and older.

“Prayer is about establishing a relationship with God,” said Rabbi Zev Schostak, the founder and director of Legacy 613, noting that the concept seems lost to a generation. “They [pray] because they feel some obligation to do so … but they don’t really connect with that.” Legacy 613 has developed a high school curriculum that aims to make prayer meaningful to younger Jews, he said. Some basic tenets include small-group instruction and discussion periods about what the prayers mean and what they mean to the students.

“Once the kids get into a discussion, it leads to all sorts of things,” Schostak said. “The kids are talking to God, not just talking about God.”

As part of Legacy 613, Kohelet Yeshiva implemented several initiatives aimed at enhancing the tefillah experience. Those included a tefillah class titled “Jewish Outlook,” special minyanim throughout the year, an assigned seating system in the Beit Midrash, and a newly created tefillah curriculum.

The “Jewish Outlook” tefillah classes for ninth- and 10th-grade students met three times a week for about six weeks. Meantime, a freshman minyan, a singing minyan, a Sephardic minyan and a special minyan for students who had difficulty davening were added. And a tefillah curriculum was developed that included week-long minicourses with topics such as “Does Davening Work?” “Biblical Sources in Tefillah” and “Tachanun Workshop.”

Legacy 613 launched the Tefillah Initiative in 2016-2017, partnering with NCSY and six innovative yeshiva high schools across the USA. The students learned much about the daily Shacharit and Minchah prayers they recite during the school day, but more importantly, they learned how prayer can connect us to God. The pioneer program was extremely successful, taking tefillah education and inspiration to a whole new level and changing the way students relate to their davening on a personal level.

The participating six schools were:

  • Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood, Ohio
  • SKA High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, NY
  • Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles
  • Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station, Pennsylvania
  • Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA) in New York, NY
  • North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck, NY

Legacy 613 has assessed the effectiveness of each of the school programs and is expanding the Tefillah Initiative to several more schools in the 2017-2018 school year including DRS Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere, NY; Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Skokie, IL.; Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, and Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) in Hollis, NY. Legacy 613 and the schools will build on the most effective programming developed during the pilot year of the Tefillah Initiative.

Updated: Jun. 28, 2018