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.


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.

The essence, or essential metaphor of the text, is another way into the text where movement can be beneficial. In looking at a text, often an image comes to mind that is either described or alluded to in the text. This image, or metaphor, can be put into action with movement. The student then can really understand, or stand under, the meaning in new ways.

Lesson 2:
Mode: Essence
Text/Prayer: Elohai N’shama
Population: middle school students in Jewish day school

1. Read the Elohai N’shama prayer in Hebrew and in English
2. Discuss the meaning of neshama, and how it relates to neshima, spirit and breath
3. Relate it to the pasook from Bereshit (line from Genesis) in the creation story that talks about HaShem breathing spirit into man through man’s nostrils. Talk to the students about what we breathe in and what we breathe out. Discuss how what we breathe out also helps co-create or maintain life (trees), as well as what we breathe in.
4. Focus on the act of breath as an act of giving life spirit to oneself, and to the world, of being a co-creator.
5. The essence, or essential metaphor chosen here is one of the cycle of breath as a cycle of life, sustaining creation. The prayer also talks about HaShem taking our breath away in death, and eventually restoring souls to the dead.
6. Find, with the students, ways to make the metaphor physical.
a. This might start with something literal and possibly giggle-producing such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (just enacting without doing for real or real touching).
b. This might move to cycles of life, making circles with arms while breathing and connecting the circular motion to another’s circular motion in the group, and end with either a full circle connected or turning away and disconnected in death, and then re-connected in eternal life…
c. The group may wish to enact a full life cycle, using breath to create the changes and transitions.
d. Allow creativity to flow: what is it to both give and receive breath or spirit? What is it to know our own very physical interdependence with the world around us? How can they create a physical metaphor from this?
e. This movement metaphor need not be slow or precious; speed it up, make it active, do it all in complete silence (a good way to focus the students) but keep it fun!
7. Perform the movement metaphor or metaphors while reciting the prayer.
8. Use the recording of some of the beautiful melodies that have been created for this prayer…
9. Ask the students in what ways did they understand the prayer better, or in what ways did they find the connection between breath and life.