One of the greatest challenges facing Jewish educators is how to turn school Tefillah into an uplifting experience. Every day, my students convey, in one way or another, the desire to feel connected to their peers, and to something greater than themselves. While Tefillah can be the ideal time to cultivate connection with G-d, at times we have all found it tedious, or even alienating. As a solution, we at Irvine Hebrew Day School designed a Musical Tefillah* program, that has helped to infuse our school with the joy of spiritual connection.

Our practice of Musical Tefillah is rooted in the festivities that took place in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem during the festival of Sukkot. For six nights, from dusk until dawn, the generation’s leading scholars danced and made music in the Temple Courtyard. Pilgrims from all over Israel flooded the Temple complex to participate in the elevated rejoicing. Maimonides writes, in his Code of Jewish Law: “Flutes were sounded, and harps, lyres and cymbals were played. Anyone who could play an instrument, played it, anyone who could sing, sang. They danced, clapping hands and leaping, each one to the best of his ability.” (8:13)

While this week-long “spiritual rave” took place only during Temple times, Maimonides relates that in general, “The joy which a person derives from doing good deeds and from loving G-d…is a supreme form of divine worship.” (8:15) In other words, if approached with the right intention, dancing and making music before G-d is a spiritual service akin to communal prayer.

When our whole school gathers together for Musical Tefillah each Friday, smiles beam on our faces in anticipation. We have learned that by singing, playing and dancing as a community before G-d, our joy will give our prayers wings.

*Part of our Tzlilim Mesaprim (Sounds tell Stories) music program is funded in part by a JFFS Impact grant.

Rabbi Amittai Steindler is the Jewish Studies Director of Irvine Hebrew Day School, musician, avid gardener and father to two young children. Published in Jlife 2016.