The Prayer Project is designed to help Jews explore prayer as spiritual practice: something we engage in with specific aims, forms, and techniques to cultivate our conscious connection with God.
Many Jews think about other practices such as meditation, yoga and Tikkun Middot, as spiritual disciplines. But prayer is more often regarded either as something that happens spontaneously without forethought, or as something encoded in “services” which one simply and passively “attends.”
But what if we had teachers, forums and communities to help us explore how we might actively cultivate our own particular practices of prayer: teachers who have spent their lives exploring authentic Jewish prayer; safe forums for deep and honest questioning; and, communities for support and inspiration?
We believe that if more Jews felt empowered and guided to take active responsibility for their prayer lives, not only would they individually experience a greater connection to the Divine, but they would collectively enrich and deepen the vitality of communal Jewish worship.
It is true that a Jew never worships as an isolated individual but as a part of the Community of Israel. Yet it is within the heart of every individual that prayer takes place. It is a personal duty, and an intimate act which cannot be delegated to either the cantor or to the whole community. We pray with all of Israel, and everyone of us by himself…
[T]he worth of public worship depends upon the depth of private worship, of the private worship of those who worship together. We are taught that the fate of all mankind depends upon the conduct of one single individual, namely you. This undoubtedly applies to what goes on in the houses of worship. A.J. Heschel (Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism)
Shifting the Paradigm – Yamei Iyyun
One of the central aims of the Prayer Project is to shift the dominant American Jewish paradigm of discourse and practice from passively “attending services” to actively “engaging in prayer practice.”
In addition to teaching this new paradigm in all our Institute for Jewish Spirituality cohort programs (such as Clergy Leadership Program, Kivvun, and Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training), we also designed and ran two large Yamei Iyyun (Days of Study) for prayer leaders in order to share thinking and best practices in support of this paradigm shift. Much of the learning of these days can be freely accessed through video and audio recordings, and print materials here:
2013 Yom Iyyun in NYC
2015 Yom Iyyun in the Bay Area
Interested in bringing a Prayer Project Yom Iyyun to your community? Email Nancy@jewishspirituality.org
Learning to Engage Prayer as Practice: Month-Long Intensives
Most Jewish teaching about prayer is precisely that: teaching about prayer! One may learn the history of how the Jewish prayerbook was compiled or specifics about the meaning of certain prayers themselves. One may also learn prayerbook Hebrew to be able to say the words of the prayers, along with synagogue etiquette (when to stand, sit, cover the eyes, etc.), all of which is certainly important and may help one engage in external acts of prayer. But what of the inner dimensions? What about learning how to train the mind and heart to engage in the inner experience of prayer itself and to allow it to deepen moment by moment as it unfolds in the mind, heart, body and spirit? For such training, one needs an expert teacher, clear instructions, dedication to regular practice, and a community of fellow practitioners for support, inspiration, and insight.
Toward this end we have developed month-long intensives featuring video instruction and on-line discussion (with an optional, live, small-group, weekly processing call with the instructor). Each intensive focuses on one particular prayer modality, such as: chant; traditional, prayerbook-based Jewish prayer; contemplative prayer; and, engagement with psalms.
For more information and descriptions about upcoming month-long intensives, click here.