The Yavneh Tefilla Project
An OU/JILC Project with Rav Dov Zinger and the Renewal Beit Midrash
We propose to revolutionize the way prayer is taught and practiced in North America by importing the work of the Renewal Beit Midrash and Rav Dov Zinger. This project will be piloted and developed for the North American audience on college campus before being brought to synagogue communities; it will be developed as a part of the Yavneh Campus Fellowship, leveraging our national network and staff. It will be developed in stages in order to limit costs and assess impact at each stage.
- To pilot on campus a new approach for teaching and practicing prayer that can be applied to synagogue communities and other venues across North America.
- For college students to engage themselves and their peers in meaningful Jewish text study, prayer and religious growth on campus.
Background and Overview
In the sixteen years since its founding, the Renewal Beit Midrash under Rav Dov Zinger has significantly impacted the teaching and practice of prayer in Israel. The Renewal Beit Midrash trains and mentors over 40 prayer chaburot for adults currently running in Israel; the Renewal Beit Midrash’s tefilla training program currently works with over 140 Israeli schools; hundreds of people attend Rav Zinger’s rosh chodesh tefilla and full moon events. Rav Zinger’s dialogic approach to tefilla has significantly impacted Israel’s dati leumi community and transformed how people in Israel think about and practice prayer. The Renewal Beit Midrash brings people into prayer through conversation, interactive dialogue, and meditation. They have demonstrated the ability to engage Jews of all backgrounds, creating conversation and growth across the spectrum of Jewish observance. In an age where prayer is increasingly divisive, this project has created a way for prayer to be engaging and inclusive.
We seek to bring this successful initiative to North America. We will first pilot the project on college campuses, incubating an approach that can be brought to synagogue communities throughout North America. The project will be implemented in three stages. Each subsequent stage will only commence after a viability assessment based on the previous stage.
Stage 1: 3-day Workshop in Israel
The project began with a 3-day intensive workshop for students in Israel during winter break (January 3-5, 2019). These students were chosen by Yavneh and OU-JLIC staff over the course of the fall semester from a pool of students already planning to be in Israel over winter break. At the end of the workshop, staff and students will discussed launching chaburot on campuses in North America. Staff and students decided that it is appropriate to move forward, and the project is moving to stage 2.
Stage 2: Pilot Campus Chaburot
We will pilot campus chaburot on 2-4 campuses, involving the strongest, most motivated students. The students and prayer groups will be guided by Rav Zinger’s staff and curriculum of non-hierarchy, intentional listening, text learning, group creativity and developing one’s religious intelligence. The student leaders will learn how to run and build tefilla chaburot on their campuses, with the goal of including 15-20 total students on each campus. Each campus chabura will engage in weekly text study and tefilla workshops, guided by one of the Renewal Beit Midrash’s manchim (facilitators). This will include one in-person workshop in America with the facilitator. All Renewal Beit Midrash material (including texts and video) will be translated into English and made available to the students.
Stage 3: Synagogue Communities Pilot
After careful assessment of the campus pilot, the project can be piloted at synagogues in North America. Each synagogue will form a tefillah chabura of 20-25 people. The tefillah chaburot will work with a facilitator from Israel, including 4 in-person visits to the synagogue per year, one of the visits being with Rav Zinger.
Stage 4: Training Facilitators in America
If the project proves successful, the final stage will be training facilitators in America. Groups of people from select cities in North America will participate in a year-long workshop (including a workshop in Israel). These facilitators will then be able to facilitate tefillah chaburot in their home cities effectively and in a cost-efficient manner, serving synagogues, schools and campuses.
Impact and Vision
- Translation of Rav Zinger’s materials into English and the development of his approach for the North American audience.
- Developing a new model for prayer for use in synagogue and campus communities across North America.
- Developing a curriculum and approach to teaching prayer that can be adapted for North American day schools.
- Developing a tefilla training program that can be used for gap year students in Israel, expanding the pool of inspired and trained students on campuses.
- Students will be trained to run chaburot beyond their college experience, creating facilitators who will be able to run these chaburot in future Jewish communities. In this way, the project has the potential for significant, compound future impact.