For: Middle or Upper School
Pathmaps Points: Awe and Mystery, Relationships, Transformative Experience
Summary: While students are learning about the Hebrew Scriptures, they may learn how Jewish people pray when at the Western Wall and have a chance to develop a meaningful ritual of their own. This exercise was developed at a school where most students were not from Jewish backgrounds, but it could be adapted for other groups.
First the teacher must provide the students with a brief timeline overview (which will continue to be discussed throughout the semester) of the history of the Jewish people in the Hebrew Scriptures. The concept of the Western Wall of the temple in Jerusalem is introduced at the end of the timeline.
Begin with a short discussion of what "prayer" means in a Jewish context. Read examples of how Jewish people have described what prayer is for them or summarize the concept. For example: a question, expression of thanks, care, or other intention, or a request or promise on behalf of oneself or others that is directed towards a divine being or presence.
To help the students relate to the experience of the Jewish people writing and putting prayers in the Western Wall, the students may begin each class during a selected period of time by writing a prayer on a slip of paper. After the prayer is written, the paper is rolled or folded and placed in a box, the prayer box. The students are allowed to write a prayer about whatever they want to pray about, but prayer prompts may also be available.
Examples of prayer prompts:
- Think about an area in your life were there is conflict. Ask God (the Divine, the Sacred, Spirit) to help you bring peace to that situation.
- Think about someone you have a difficult relationship with here at school. Pray for that person.
- Think about those sitting in your row, and thank God (the Divine, the Sacred, the Spirit) for something specific for each person.
- Think about those sitting in your row. What do you know about them? Write a prayer for each individual.
During the prayer writing time, it is important that all students stay quiet. After the prayers are written, the students roll or fold their papers and place the prayers into a box. The prayers stay in the box throughout the selected time period. The students need to know that nobody will read the prayers.
As a closure to the project the teacher should ask the class or classes what should be done with the prayer slips. Options may include burying them and burning them. Allowing the students to have a say in what the options are and then helping them have some ownership of how the ceremony will be designed will help make it authentic and more likely to turn into a meaningful ritual. In one school, students designed the ceremony to include prayers, readings, songs, the use of a singing bowl to open and close the ceremony, lighting a fire, the placing of the prayers on the fire.
An example of readings from the Hebrew scriptures chosen for the closure ceremony:
King Solomon’s Prayer when dedicating the temple. I Kings 8:57-61:
"May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never forsake us. May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, laws, and regulations that he gave our ancestors. And may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may uphold my cause and the cause of his people Israel, fulfilling our daily needs. May people all over the earth know that the Lord is God and that there is no other god. And may you, his people, always be faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his laws and commands, just as you are doing today."
Nehemiah’s Prayer before rebuilding the Temple from Nehemiah 1:4-11
"O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, laws, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. "Please remember what you told your servant Moses: `If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands, even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.' "We are your servants, the people you rescued by your great power and might. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you."