How can you get an 8-year old to understand the depth and emotion of the Kol Nidre service? How does one teach Yom Kippur and Kol Nidre to kids? These are the kinds of questions that many of us in Jewish Education have struggled with.
Today at Kesher I was privileged to see a beautiful lesson on this very topic for our 2nd and 3rd grade class. After a brief framing exercise in which the two teachers led a discussion about the Kol Nidre prayer and its significance, the topic shifted to the music of the prayer, which for many people is its most important feature.
The students watched three clips of the Kol Nidre music being sung- one with a German melody, one with a Russian influence, and an almost haunting Moroccan tune. The clips are fascinating in their differences and the students watched them with rapt attention.
The students then went upstairs, where one of Kesher’s teachers, who moonlights as a world-class cellist, played “Kol Nidrei, Op. 47” for cello, written by a Swiss composer, Max Bruch, who was so moved by the prayer that he composed his own music based on it. Despite his not being Jewish, the prayer deeply resonated with him and he wrote the music for the cello due to its similarity in tone to the human voice.
The students listened for the beginning of the Kol Nidrei prayer as the notes of the cello echoed through the hall, they engaged in some teshuva reflection as the music filled the room, and they were also asked to draw images that the music was causing them to think about. After forty-five minutes, the dozen students left class with a much richer understanding of the intersection between music, prayer, and spiritual reflection, and with wonder in their eyes at having experienced something completely new.