Now that I have lived in New Zealand for over eight months, it is time for me to dive deeper into the local culture. Being the sports enthusiast that I am, I have decided to get a better understanding of one of New Zealand’s primary sports - cricket. I am a true baseball fan, and cricket is indeed very different, and the original bat sport, before baseball came into existence. Being a baseball coach as well as a player, and having watched a few cricket matches on television when I was younger, I feel confident about analyzing an interesting phenomenon in cricket, since 2003 - the T20 cricket league and world cup.
What motivated the sport of cricket to introduce the T20 league and what can we learn from that phenomenon to Tefilla engagement?
Cricket is a gentleman’s game, and is classically designed to be a long-winded game, with 5 day test matches. The heroes are usually centurions, the outstanding batsmen who can hit for over 100 runs over the course of a test match. New Zealand centurion legends include Ross Taylor. Their names are ever-etched in NZ cricket history.
The cricket purists, however, were dwindling. Ratings were down, fan support and hence sponsorship was plummeting and there was a need for innovation. According to the website: “Home of T20 cricket” - this is how T20 evolved:
“When the Benson & Hedges Cup ended in 2002, the ECB needed another one-day competition to fill its place. Cricketing authorities were looking to boost the game’s popularity with the younger generation in response to dwindling crowds and reduced sponsorship. It was intended to deliver fast paced, exciting cricket accessible to thousands of fans who were put off by the longer versions of the game. Stuart Robertson, the marketing manager of the ECB, proposed a 20 over per innings game to county chairmen in 2001 and they voted 11–7 in favour of adopting the new format.
The first official Twenty20 matches were played on 13 June 2003 between the English counties in the Twenty20 Cup. The first season of Twenty20 in England was a relative success, with the Surrey Lions defeating the Warwickshire Bears by 9 wickets in the final to claim the title.The first Twenty20 match held at Lord’s, on 15 July 2004 between Middlesex and Surrey, attracted a crowd of 27,509, the highest attendance for any county cricket game at the ground – other than a one-day final – since 1953.”
I discussed the transition to T20 with a cricket maven in Wellington, and he said that the deciding factor to transition into the T20 was the time factor. In addition, the T20 format created a different and more exciting style of play. Since there were limited wickets and balls, the batsmen were forced to attack the ball more, try and get sixes and fours, and increased the excitement in the game. This bode well with more casual fans and especially young fans. The increase in the T20 league popularity and recent T20 leagues emerging in Europe and the USA confirm the need was genuine.
What does that have to do with Tefilla?
Tefilla is a main staple of Shule community engagement. The Synagogue is designed for Tefilla - the Torah scrolls, Bima, pews, Siddurim and even the mechitza. The traditional Tefilla, especially on Shabbat, takes between 2 - 3 hours, including the Rabbi’s sermon. Traditional Tefilla is said communally almost exclusively in Hebrew with many silent portions during the course of it as well. Traditional Tefilla is much like the 5 day test match - is designed for long stretches of time, not “exciting” or “energetic” engagement, is mainly contemplative and self-reflective and is designed in the traditional language.
With today’s community, wouldn’t it be ideal for us to reevaluate Tefilla engagement?
Even in the sport of cricket, which is a staple of many countries sports landscape, there was an executive decision to reinvent the game by reducing the time and maximizing engagement and creating a more exciting game at hand. It was the classic example of knowing your audience. How can we redesign Tefilla or tweak Tefilla within the Halachic parameters to maximize Tefilla engagement and get more community members actively participating in the Tefilla service?
First some statistics: Currently, the average attendance on Shabbat morning is about 40-50 people, including children, and on well attended Shabbatot we can average 80 - 120 people. On Monday morning we mostly have a minyan, and have a roster of about 15 - 20 adults who come semi-regularly, and there are still Mondays that we do not have a minyan. Friday nights - we mainly have a minyan if we have a communal meal. How can we maximize engagement?
There is no one “magic solution” to this question, but if we break it down there are three main elements of Tefilla engagement, which I wrote about when I had my educational project, “The Tefilla Project”- www.thetefillaproject.com:
1. Say it Out Loud
2. Less is More - The Time Factor
3. Learning about Tefilla
#1 - Say it Out Loud! The first element is something that has historically worked but for many social, historical and cultural reasons we have moved away from a system that work: Saying the Tefillot out loud! The best illustration for why this works is to close your eyes and picture your favourite Tefilla experience. I bet you (at least 99%) that it wasn’t mumbling words under your breath. For many people it was the inspirational Friday night Tefilla at the Kotel, in a Carlebach Minyan, at your camp, or for others it was singing your favourite tune at the top of your lungs with your community. The key – it was said out loud. Ask any Sefaradi young adult what Tefila they remember in their Synagogue growing up, whether they are currently observant, traditional or not, they will most likely recall the tunes and chants. There is a beautiful Sefaradi tradition when all of the young children go up to the Sefer Torah, put their hands on it and say out loud “ימלוך ה’ לעולם אלוקיך ציון לדור ודור הללוי-ה” and the crowd responds, which is recited before the Torah is returned to the Ark.
#2 - Time Factor. The Talmud has a principle: “Less is more” or in Talmudic lingo - one who carries more than they can hold, carries nothing at all. Within Halacha there are levels to how much Tefilla one needs to say, and there is a bare minimum requirement of saying the Shema and Amida (Silent Prayer) to fulfill Tefilla Shacharit, the morning prayers. There are many levels added to those mainstays of the Tefilla, including blessings before and after Shema, Pesukei Dezimra, Aleinu, Tachanun, Ashrei and more. But, even if one says the Tefilla in its entirety - there are time factors for each person. There are two different minyanim I know of in North America, with two opposite views of Tefilla engagement. The first is a minyan I used to go regularly in Toronto, which began every weekday, Monday to Friday, at 5:45am. It would finish no later than 6:05am every morning! They said every word and never skipped a verse or any Tefilla, they just said it very quickly (an understatement!). Another minyan in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, runs Tefilla every morning differently. Each Tefilla session lasts an hour and ten minutes on average, saying every word slowly and without rushing. The time it took to daven in the latter minyan was itself inspiring, and in the former minyan the focus was on finishing by a time that everyone can learn and then go to work, and to keep the Tefilla at a fast pace, in order to minimize distraction and create an intense focus. Every person has their own pace that suits their Tefilla needs. As a community, we need to decide collaboratively what that pace is and if and how we can accommodate a variety of pace points. At this point, ending by noon after a 9:30am start is a happy median.
Some may be more traditionalists and like the full Tefilla, whereas others may prefer either an abridged version of Tefilla or a faster pace. This is an obvious challenge for a small community, who cannot afford two styles of minyanim in parallel, but an interesting conversation to be had.
#3 - Learning about Tefilla. Probably, the main challenge for Tefilla engagement is understanding the Tefilla, its structure and content. This need is what led me to start my Tefilla mini-drasha before the Torah service on Shabbat. One of the most powerful strategies is using Tefilla as a personal growth tool (see my other article in this edition of the Centre News for more).
Whether you are a traditionalist or an innovator, would rather sit through 5 days of cricket or can barely sit through 3 hours, there are many engagement points to Tefilla, and we do our best to facilitate that experience at the WJCC every week!