When Rabbi Michael Berger came to speak to us a little over a month ago, he asked us, “Who here loves to daven?” I, along with some of my schoolmates, kept my hands comfortably resting on my lap. To me, it was a no brainer. Loving davening? What an outrageous notion! As a logical 17 year old, I can appreciate the fact that Judaism mandates specific time periods during the day to connect with God. That being said, as a 17 year old high schooler searching for my religious identity, I also feel that traditional davening is not the way to initiate a love for Judaism within me.
I don’t exactly know who I am religiously. I don’t necessarily know if I have an unwavering belief in G-d. I don’t know what I want out of this religion that I am so regularly surrounded by. But what I do know, what I’ve always known, is that being forced to do something that I passionately disagree with, three times a day, is not helping anything.
Let me be blunt for a moment: Connecting with God is important. I want a relationship with my creator. Be that as it may, I feel that traditional davening is not the proper way for a teenger like me, a teenager who struggles with his faith on a daily basis, to connect with God. To me, traditional davening is boring, repetitive, and perhaps counterproductive. To me, it’s a shame that it’s such a large part of our religion. Judaism has done a fantastic job at adapting to the times, but this is one thing we have failed to alter.
I struggle every day. I struggle to maintain faith in this religion. This is normal for a kid who is tempted by wrongdoing on a daily basis. This is normal for a kid who tends to be argumentative. I want to discuss my difficulties with Judaism, I want to know why I should believe in what I’m taught to believe. When I sit in a room for an hour, when I put leather boxes on my arm and forehead, it does not help me get where I need to be. It does not inspire a love for Judaism. I need to be able to air out my baggage, to openly discuss my struggles for the purpose of trying to find a solution
To be honest, all traditional davening does for me is make me resent Judaism. It makes me associate Judaism with boringness, with hours of torture. This isn’t how I want it to be. I want to associate my religion with everlasting ecstasy. I don’t want my faith to continue to decline, but traditional davening isn’t helping my cause. The faith of Jewish youth in general seems to be declining at a dangerous rate. We need to find an alternative to traditional davening to counter this rapid decline.
Traditional davening does not excite me. Plain and simple. It’s not interactive, it’s not eventful, and it’s not something I want to be doing multiple times a day. If sports isn’t your thing, don’t play them. If Pretty Little Liars isn’t your thing, then, by all means, don’t watch it. If this religion is dominated by free will, why is our free will being stripped? Why can’t we have a form of davening that is enjoyable, that one will choose to participate in? Traditional davening is monotonous and forced, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
I do want to daven in a way that will stimulate my mind. It should be my choice to attend traditional davening services or not. I know it sounds like a cop-out excuse; I know that many things can easily be classified as boring. But I’m seventeen years old. I want to be entertained. I want my mind to be stimulated. I want somebody to provoke thought, to provoke passion. How we pray every day does not provoke anything in me but sleep; sleep that is taken for the sole purpose of avoiding seemingly endless boredom.
I need a change. I need to be stimulated. I need to know why we do what we do. I need to spend time discussing the things that bother me on a regular basis. I need not say the same thing every single day. I need not pray in an archaic language. These words, they’re plentiful and look pretty when they’re printed in a lavish font, but they mean nothing to me beyond that. All they are is a jumble of words.
I can read; I learned how to in Kindergarten. The fact that the translation of davening is available to us doesn’t give the words any more meaning, but merely a translation. Why should I say the same thing every day if I don’t understand the meaning behind what I’m saying? To even take the time to explain the most important prayers would be beneficial to all struggling teenagers. To read the same thing every day seems nothing short of pointless. I can read a novel 5,000 times. After the first three reads or so, the words in the novel will lose meaning. Though I don’t find meaning in these words, I acknowledge the fact that some people do. For those people, I wonder if they find meaning in saying the same thing every single day. I wonder if they can truly find the inspiration to connect to God with the same exact words they’ve been saying their entire lives.
We need an alternative to traditional davening, a way to use the davening period productively. We must set up a course that is intended solely to explore the core questions us youth have regarding Judaism. We must be able to comfortably, freely voice our opinions and explore our deepest conflicts regarding Judaism. We must make this change quickly, before the rest of Jewish youth loses their faith. I want nothing more than to find reasons to believe in this religion; I just need somebody to toss me a bone.