The Power of Prayer During a Pandemic

Posted on 06/18/2021 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Jewish Schools & Educational Services

When the pandemic hit our ECE schools, everyone involved embarked on what can only be termed an “emotional roller coaster.” One way that CAJE sought to make a difference was to provide teachers and their children skills to cope with the ups and downs of the year.
Research shows that the daily practice of recognizing the blessings in our lives (in secular terms - a gratitude practice) and articulating that sense of blessing through prayer helps us manage the challenges we face. 
Thus was born Words from Our Hearts, a prayer and gratitude project for Early Childhood Educators and their students, written and led by Joy Schandler, CAJE’s Director of Early Childhood Education and Congregational Education, and Evelyn Goldfinger, the founder and director of Torahtron, an acclaimed local Jewish Educational Theatre ensemble that engages children, families and adults all around the world in live and virtual performances. 
The program, for which CAJE was awarded a Greater Miami Jewish Federation Incubator Grant, was fashioned for our teachers and students to discover the specific and expressive language in Judaism that helps articulate our most basic needs - including those that help us express a sense of gratitude.  
At the two professional learning sessions held for the early childhood educators, the goals were for each teacher to explore their own personal sense of spirituality and connect with the Jewish prayer concept of todah- thank you/gratitude
Among other concepts, teachers learned the words to the morning prayer Modeh/ Modah Ani - not just the translation of the Hebrew, but the wisdom conveyed in each phrase. Teachers were encouraged to articulate the things for which they were grateful. Then after learning on a personal level, they explored ways to bring this prayer practice into their classrooms by asking themselves how they could encourage their students to recognize their own “todah moments” during the course of the day.
One teacher recognized that in the midst of such upheaval “… even the smallest moments carry profound opportunities for gratitude.”
Another educator said that he will more intentionally incorporate the use of the Hebrew word “todah” right alongside the English “thank you” from now on.
Several participants noted how much they enjoyed learning about the prayer texts. One said the professional development “has inspired me to rethink some of the lesson planning for next year.… I am going to be thoughtfully incorporating more spirituality and mindfulness …. The learning made it clear that our children, as young as they are, are able to connect with spirituality in ways that I wasn't necessarily aware of.”
And several teachers agreed that despite the challenges they were facing “…learning alongside other educators and having discussions about spirituality really illuminated my heart.”
This particular project focused on meeting the needs of our schools by helping our teachers and students develop a stronger sense of spirituality, enabling them to better count their blessings, one at a time, each and every day, and cope with the pandemic.  
Because we know our schools, our educators and their needs so well, CAJE was able to further its core mission even in extraordinary times by serving as a catalyst for connecting Jews of all ages to their rich heritage through targeted, focused and relevant professional learning tailored to the needs of our community.  

Words from Our Hearts: A Blessing of Learning and Reflection

From one of our participants:
"This Professional Development really has made me reflect on how much I enjoy learning about spirituality and being immersed in learning itself. It has deepened my interest for learning more prayers, and learning Hebrew words, and connecting them to my everyday life. I absolutely loved how we dissected and closely looked at the Modeh Ani prayer. That has inspired me to do the same with other prayers. Learning alongside other educators and having discussions about spirituality really illuminated my heart. Looking forward to sharing what I learned with others!