The synagogue today | New prayerbooks for kids designed to deepen spiritual connection

This year, two new prayerbooks — “The Koren Children’s Siddur” for students in kindergarten through second grade, and the “Koren Ani Tefilla Weekday Siddur” for high school students — offer a fresh approach to prayer education in synagogues, religious schools and homes. The books are the first two volumes in the Koren Magerman Educational Siddur Series, a joint project of Yeshiva University and Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Page from new children’s siddur photo/courtesy koren publishers

Based on dialogue with close to 100 elementary, middle and high school Jewish educators, the books were published in February and offered to Jewish day schools during a short trial period, according to Scott Goldberg of Yeshiva University. After positive feedback, the books are now available to the general public. Two more volumes, one for children in grades 3 through 5 and another for those in grades 6 to 8, should be available next year.

In an introduction, publisher Matthew Miller says the siddurim serve two purposes. One is the obvious: prayer. The other purpose, however, is much deeper.

“Each page is replete with teaching opportunities to bring the tefillot contained in the siddur alive cognitively and emotionally for our children, advancing the overall goal of developing a spiritual connection to prayer and to God,” writes Miller.

Giving children age-appropriate siddurim is a paradigm shift, says Daniel Rose, project director of “The Koren Children’s Siddur” and author of the adult educational companion. Rather than putting the focus on Hebrew literacy, tropes and choreography, Rose hopes the new prayerbooks will help  students connect to the prayers and their meanings on a spiritual level.

In the children’s siddur, this is accomplished through a combination of visually stimulating, detailed and intentional designs coupled with creative use of trigger questions and quotes. Nearly every page has a particular meaning and message.

The high school version  offers an intellectual, visual and emotional connection to prayer through UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ translation of the prayers. As Sacks sees it, now is the time to move from mechanical recitation of prayer to the central spiritual experience that prayer is meant to be. “I think tefillah is a transformative experience,” he says. “And we know the result of transformative experiences: They allow us to see the Divine presence in our lives.”