Next Thursday (March 22) our first graders will celebrate their year of tefilah (Jewish prayer) learning through Chaggigat Hasiddur (Celebration of the Prayerbook). They will sing with us; they will share with us, and they will each proudly receive their very own siddur (Jewish prayer book) to be used for years to come. Students at Denver JDS have participated in this tradition for many years, and each year is a little different because the program reflects the unique nature of students. This year will be different in another way, too, in that this year our students will be receiving a different siddur.
Over a year ago we began evaluating our use of the siddur as an educational tool, wondering if the siddur that we use is what is best for the learning and growth of our students. Ideally we wanted a siddur that would help the students connect to prayer and grow as pray-ers. We considered whether or not it should have English translation. We considered whether pictures and colors would be a welcome addition. We also considered what kind of siddur would be represent the values we instill in our students.
Denver JDS takes pride in being a pluralistic Jewish day school, and we wanted our siddur to reflect that value. Pluralism at Denver JDS means being rooted in one’s own identity while seeking out multiple perspectives in order to clarify, refine, and challenge ideas and interacting with appreciation for those who think and act differently as we unite in our shared values as a Jewish community.
For us at Denver JDS, pluralism runs throughout everything we do. It impacts how we interact with each other, how we teach social studies, and how we pray, and we wanted a siddur that reflected that commitment to pluralism.
The siddur we chose is called Siddur Am Achad (one people), and it was created by a pluralistic Jewish day school in Washington, D.C., because their community had similar needs. The siddur reflects the various traditions of prayers, showing students that there is no one right way to pray. It has a linear English translation and pictures, giving students other ways to connect to the words on the page. It provides choices for certain prayers, allowing students the opportunity to find their voice in the tefilah.
Our hope is that, through this siddur, students will be able to engage in dialogue and questions about the role of tefilah in their lives and in the community. They will find a way of praying that works for them while understanding that there isn’t one of way of praying that is right for everyone or even right for one person all of the time. They will appreciate that it is all of these many voices coming together as am achad, one people, that makes the Jewish people so special.