Every year, Hatzola NW organises a Tehillim rally during the aseres yemei teshuva. It takes place in our shul, as it’s the largest public space in the area, and although it’s primarily for boys, who come en masse from virtually all the local Jewish schools, a number of women and girls also go. (There is a similar event for women at one of the girls’ high schools, with a live link up to America.)
Yesterday, our whole family went to the boys’ event. It was very impressive – there were hundreds of boys there, mostly sitting in school blocks, with their teachers. The menahel of one of the local primary schools obviously felt that his boys needed more than just a couple of teachers at the end of rows to ensure that they behaved well, and stood in front of his block, guaranteeing with his imposing height that the children conducted themselves appropriately. Seeing all the children in their different uniforms davenning together generated a real feeling of achdus.
After a short inspirational drasha from the head of a local kiruv organisation, the gathering recited a couple of chapters of Tehillim, responsively, lead by a well-known local rav, leading into an emotional Avinu Malkeinu, which had half the women in tears. Then there were selichos, 13 middos harachamim and the shemos, like we say at the end of Yom Kippur.
As well as davenning, I was also watching the half of the crowd I could see from our side of the ladies’ gallery. It was fascinating! Many of the boys were davenning very fervently – screaming out the verses and swaying to and fro. I wondered what an outsider would think – whilst I looked down fondly and thought how lovely it was that the children were davenning with such kavanah, to the uninitiated, they looked disturbed. I’m pretty sure that this sort of religious frenzy was not the sort of thing that the builders of the shul in the 1920s would have had in mind!
It was also interesting to watch the behaviour of the various rebbes and teachers who had accompanied the children. One row of quite small chassidishe cheder boys had a teacher at each end, one of whom was reassuringly holding the hand of a very small boy who looked a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. A much loved rebbe, who is now teaching the children of his former pupils, was trembling as he said the shemos. I felt very blessed to have someone with so much yiras Shamayim teaching our children.
Overall, it was a genuinely inspirational occasion, smoothly organised, and definitely one of the highlights of the yomtov season.