Davening. For some Ramaz students, it is the best way to begin their day—it is a time to connect with G-d and prepare for the day ahead. But for other students, davening means rushing in to swipe their cards on time and then chatting in the bathroom. Ramaz has worked endlessly to help make davening more meaningful to every student. Recently, the Junior-Senior Minyan was moved from the lunchroom to the gym in order to enhance the davening experience.
Rabbi Slomnicki, who made the decision to change the davening location, explained that there were two major reasons for the move. First, the lunchroom is small, making it “too squished and uncomfortable.”
Second, he said, the lighting in the lunchroom was “terrible.” He believes that the lights are too dim in the lunchroom to see the pages and be able to really focus on davening. A similar problem has arisen in the Sophomore Minyan, located in the Beit Knesset. Last year during Torah Reading, someone had to be assigned to shine an iPhone flashlight on the Torah, helping the Ba’al Korah see the words.
“The move was made to enhance the davening experience,” said Rabbi Slomnicki. “We design our shuls to make the space nicer, so too, we wanted to design our davening space at Ramaz to be more inviting.”
Students’ responses have been mostly positive. Michal Seinfeld ’21, said, “I think the change is great. The open space in the gym makes it more comfortable and it’s much brighter.” Charles Spielfogel ’21 also feels that the environment is now more davening-appropriate, even if a little out of the way. He said, “I preferred to daven in the lunchroom because it is a more convenient location, but the plus side of davening in the gym is the extra space. I feel davening in the gym is a more pleasant environment than it was in the lunchroom.”
Another issue that arose in the lunchroom location was the struggle to be heard. The Sephardic Minyan, located in the auditorium, is separated from the lunchroom by a thin wall. While, in theory, the mingling of Ashkenaz and Sephardi tunes sounds beautiful, in practice, it was difficult to concentrate during quiet moments of prayer. A senior said, “It is better [in the gym] because sometimes we would hear the Sephardic Minyan which could be distracting.”
Other students dislike the new davening location. A junior complained, “I don’t love the gym because it’s a gym. I liked davening in the Beit Knesset last year better. It felt more like my shul.” Rabbi Slomnicki acknowledged, “Each room does have its own challenges.”
In addition to the change in locations, seating charts were recently introduced to the Junior-Senior Minyan. Ms. Benus, one of the creators of the chart, explained her intentions behind it. She said, “I feel very strongly about having a specific space for Tefilla. It allows people to feel comfortable and focused. I think a good seating chart allows faculty to put students in a situation where they can be as successful as possible.” While some students are annoyed they can no longer sit with their friends, others are grateful for the chance to concentrate more on their davening. One senior girl said, “I used to sit in the back and talk to my friends. I was really upset that I was moved to the front, but already I feel like my prayers are improving.”
As with every change, only time will tell if this move will improve the prayer experience. Rabbi Slomnicki believes that “it is too early to asses the change,” but he is looking forward to seeing improvement in students’ davening.