The stirring sounds of tefillah (prayer) echo in the halls of Akiva as students from across the school come together each morning to learn and pray. Tefillah at Akiva progresses beyond the fundamental skills of reading the text and focuses on the meaningful and transformative experience of prayer.
Recently, first grade and lateral transfer students, those students who joined Akiva this year in grades one through six, gathered with their teachers and families to receive their very first siddur, as part of Akiva’s annual Mesibat Siddur, or Siddur Ceremony. The Siddur Ceremony is a significant and meaningful rite of passage for every student, and each child’s siddur is specially decorated and inscribed by their parents. “The tradition to have parents and caregivers decorate the siddur and write meaningful notes helps our children feel connected and rooted to their families and Jewish community every time they open their siddur,” says Head of School Rabbi Daniella Pressner.
Students spend months learning and understanding the tefillot (prayers) throughout their time at Akiva. This capstone event is a celebration of the students’ hard work and growth. The goal is to instill a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and foster the value of both individual and communal prayer. The Siddur Ceremony is also a chance to celebrate tefillah as a mechanism for connecting the Jewish People throughout history.
Morah Batya Rosenfeld, a first grade Hebrew and Judaic Studies teacher, opened this year’s Siddur Ceremony by reflecting on the power of prayer. Rosenfeld recalled her father rehearsing in their living room in preparation for leading High Holy Day services. She now hears her own son singing those same melodies and is struck by the intergenerational connectedness these prayers cultivate. “When we pray from the siddur it connects us to the prayers and stories of those who prayed before us.”
Dov and Aura Rosenblatt joined the Akiva community this year and celebrated the Siddur Ceremony together with their first grader, Nava, and their fourth grader, Kol. The Roseblatts echoed Rosenfeld’s perspective, noting that, “The celebration, like the siddur itself, connected generations because all parents and grandparents who attended walked away proud that Jewish education shines on.”
The lessons of prayer are those Akiva hopes children will proudly carry with them for the rest of their lives and will connect them with Jewish communities and their Jewish heritage wherever they may find themselves.