By: Esther Nahon (11th Grade)
This year, girls davening options have downsized in the school, raising controversy among the student body.
For the past few years, the Hebrew Academy girls were given the option of joining five minyanim to daven in: the Ashkenaz minyan, the Sephardic minyan, the silent minyan, the singing minyan, and the explanatory minyan. But this year, girls are required to join either the Ashkenaz or Sephardic minyan, in which they pray alongside the boys.
“Although I do like praying in that minyan because of good vibes, there are still distractions when you hear others talking around you,” said Gal Gottesmann (11th) member of the Sephardic minyan.
Judaics Principal Rabbi Assaraf claims the reason for the change was because the old system was not working efficiently.
“It was a disaster,” said Assaraf. “The silent tefillah was no longer a silent tefillah. There were like 12 out of the 40 girls in there who were really doing what they were supposed to. When you would walk past the library last year, you saw girls on their phone.”
Assaraf also added an exclusive silent davening option for girls who are serious about davening. He admitted girls with a past history of good conduct during davening, and denied entry to those who normally misbehave during prayer period.
The intentions of the two options are for the sole purposes of limiting talking during davening and making the students realize how serious and important davening is, Assaraf said. However, many girls have never davened in a minyan before and are confused and lost throughout the period.
“I don’t feel focused when I’m praying in such a big minyan,” said Danelle Levi (11th Grade) who had to join the Sephardic minyan. “I’m really just sitting here listening to the boys pray while I try to concentrate on doing it on my own.”
Although many students are upset about the new system, it has satisfied some students who were not interested in praying at all in the past.
“It [the minyan] helped me daven a little more just because I never really enjoyed davening,” said Natalie Alishayev (12th). “But davening with a group and with all the songs, I felt more connected. I kind of enjoy davening now because it’s kind of fun.”
Each minyan has been assigned a female Judaics teacher to accompany the girls. Many of the Judaics teachers are pleased with the current davening and see improvement on the girls’ contribution to the minyan.
“I do think that more of the girls who are davening in a particular minyan, especially the one that I am there for, are actually davening,” said Mrs. Schapiro. “I see a tremendous improvement in my 11th and 12th graders who have matured and learned and appreciate what it means to be part of a minyan, and I’m hoping that the 9th and 10th graders, as they grow and mature and learn, will also be able to rise to those same standards.”
Yet some girls in the minyanim who are serious about praying, say the addition of more girls has caused some disruption because it now includes those who like to talk during the period. “I think minyanim are very important because when you go to shul and you daven on Shabbos it teaches you how to follow along,” said Kayla Wolfson (11th). “But they’re going to have to set more guidelines and figure out how it’s going to work.”
For the girls who were accepted into the silent option, davening is finally happening in the right atmosphere for them to properly concentrate.
“I feel like I have a much more meaningful davening when I’m able to silently pray by myself and not have to worry about other people,” said Eliana Pollack (11th).
The influx of girls into the minyanim affects the boys’ davening as well. Many boys feel that the girls’ addition to the minyan is positive.
“Having a lot of girls in the Ashkenaz minyan makes me feel like I might be doing something right if the girls are there and choose to stay because hopefully they are learning how to daven in a minyan,” said Jeremy Dobin (11th), Gabbai of the Ashkenaz minyan. “However I understand the frustration because there are so many girls and they cannot contribute to the minyan in any way other than simply being there.”
According to Assaraf finding a solution to the girls’ davening problem has been an ongoing issue. Many students and teachers feel there is still a long way to go.