By Eliza Fisher ‘23
Tefillah facilitators have decided to take a stand against students’ excessive bathroom usage during tefillah. As of early November, the policy in all minyanim at the Heschel High School is that students may only leave the room if the situation is urgent. Before this new policy was implemented, there was no clear policy to address the issue. Rabbi Dahlia Kronish, facilitator of the Egalitarian minyan and the Director of Jewish and Student Life, described this policy as “committing to elevating the bar for when students can leave, and making clear that students should not leave unless it is urgent.” Kronish also made clear that each minyan has interpreted this rule slightly differently, but has generally supported the idea that students should leave tefillah only if needed.
According to tefillah facilitators, they instituted this stricter policy as a result of students using their power to leave as a way to socialize, rather than use the bathroom. Rabbi Natan Kapustin, the facilitator of the Orthodox minyan, 12th Grade Dean, Dean of Students, and a member of the Limudei Qodesh faculty, explained that students leaving his minyan has an impact — specifically in terms of distraction. Kapustin explained, “In my minyan, there is no doubt that it [leaving the room] is disruptive. Eighty people are in the room, and if even only a handful of people leave every day, you have somebody leaving every few minutes.” Kapustin also explained that in his minyan, many of the people who leave frequently are in the “wrong minyan,” meaning that because they feel the need to leave the room so frequently during tefillah, they have made a poor choice in choosing a minyan that bests fits their needs.
Aliza Sebert, facilitator of the Ninth Grade Exploration minyan and Jewish and Student Life Educator, explained that although the consistency of students leaving during tefillah is not particularly an issue in her minyan, she agrees that it is important to maximize the number of people in tefillah, for a few reasons. Sebert stated, “It’s important both for the individual communities of each minyan, and for the individual members of the minyan.” To further her point, Sebert highlighted the importance of community in a tefillah environment. Sebert believes that the presence of all students in the tefillah allows students to feel comfortable in a space where that may be a challenge, specifically in terms of “sharing of themselves or feeling comfortable praying.”
After the first few days of the enactment of this policy, the number of people leaving in most minyanim reduced significantly. Kronish stated that this fact was apparent to administrators who walk the halls during tefillah hours. However, after the disruptions of Thanksgiving and Color War, students have forgotten the expectations assigned to them in terms of leaving during tefillah. Kapustin expressed this need for reminders to highlight the necessity of unity and community in tefillah, as well as the importance of focus. “As of right now, some people still have this in mind and are leaving less, but in my minyan it needs some reminding and enforcing” Kapustin reflected. Kronish also noted due to the weather changes, it has become quite a challenge for students to remain in tefillah, as they are in need of tissues to tend to runny noses. Tefillah facilitators of course are understanding of this, and some have tried their best to include tissues in their minyanim in the hopes of decreasing the need to leave tefillah.
Freshman Noah Lykhovetsky, a member of Rabbi Benji’s Ninth Grade Creative Expression minyan, expressed his approval of the “leaving the room” policy. Lykhovetsky explained, “I think that this policy is legitimate because this is the only required prayer we have all day. First of all you are coming from home, so you can use the bathroom there, and [tefillah is] only around thirty minutes.” According to Freshman Neri Frank, a member of the Orthodox minyan, who disagrees with the policy, “if you are allowed to leave class even if there is not an emergency or urgency, then you should be allowed to leave tefillah” for the same reasons.
For the most part, tefillah facilitators are placing trust in the students to use their judgement as to whether or not they need to leave the room. However, this new policy has set higher standards for students, in the hopes of maintaining focus and community in the minyanim of the Heschel High School.