Recently I completed a residency at Heritage Academy, a Jewish day school in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I came to work at first with the Judaic staff on bringing movement into their curriculum. I ended up not only working with the staff, but also with the middle school students finding ways to embody (and thereby enhance and re-member) their tefillah, or prayer.
MODES OF MOVEMENT INTO TEFILLAH
Three distinct modes of how movement and text, in this case the text of tefillah, were used with the middle school with varying levels of success. The three are: wordplay, the essence, and personalizing question.
Personalizing the prayer or text is another way for young people to understand meaning. (Especially middle school students!) Find a question about their lives that relates to the text, and they will very soon find meaning! And, then find movement that corresponds to that meaning. This may look mimetic at first, but with learning how to exaggerate movement by manipulating time, space, and quality, the movement will look more like a dance.
Population: Middle school day students
1. Read the full havdallah prayers in English and Hebrew.
2. Find a key question that relates to the theme of havdallah, such as, separation, or separation between something special, and something ordinary, or normal.
3. The question given to the students was: what do you feel and what do you do when you have to leave something or someone special? (Like leaving Shabbat, for instance…)
4. Answers were: hugs, waving, sadness, looking deep into someone’s eyes, and moving away quickly to not get too emotional.
5. Put the movement they created, or help them find movement for the emotions (e-motion!) they discovered and put it in an order that they like.
6. Recite the prayer while doing the movement, and then just do the movement to the humming (lalaing) of the Havdallah service. Do the movements in silence and see what that looks and feels like.
7. Talk about separation, and why it is helpful to create a ritual around separation. Why do we do havdallah? How does it make Shabbat, and how does it start the week? Talk about other separation rituals in Judaism.