News Highlights Creating a Prayer Laboratory: Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer Joins Hebrew College as Rosh Tefillah and Artist-in-Residence

By Wendy Linden
Jessica Kate Meyer

For Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer, joining Hebrew College as Rosh Tefillah and Artist-in-Residence feels like a homecoming. Meyer received semicha at Hebrew College in 2014 and has 10 years of pulpit experience, first at Romemu in New York and then at The Kitchen in San Francisco. She returns to Hebrew College in a new role to grow structured prayer leadership training, often called “davenology,” and to fill the College’s new Musicant Cohen Center for Performing Arts with musical life.

“What a zechut, an honor, to join the Hebrew College faculty, and to work alongside my rabbinical and cantorial teachers! I am immensely grateful for the mentorship I received as a student at Hebrew College, and to have the opportunity to pay it forward is a dream come true,” said Meyer. “I’m excited to collaborate musically, ritually, artistically, with the powerhouse organizations on this shared campus. I can’t wait to see what happens when we get into the Musicant Cohen Center, or into the courtyard, and begin to play together?”

Jessica kate Meyer

Meyer, who performed at this year’s Spring Gala (above with Hebrew College rabbinical students), is a nationally recognized artist who combines stunning musical talent with a deep passion for davening. “As Rosh Tefillah, Jessica will be helping to support both rabbinic and cantorial students in the development of their prayer practice and prayer leadership skills, while also working with Rabbi Sharon Anisfeld, President of Hebrew College, and Rabbi Justin David, incoming Dean, to re-envision our work in prayer leadership, spirituality, and Jewish music at Hebrew College,” said Rabbinical School Dean Rabbi Dan Judson.

According to Meyer, prayer leadership, ‘davenology,’ demands technical, empathic, improvisatory skills, and spiritual sensitivity—and above all, it demands deep listening. “From my Hebrew College teachers, particularly Rabbi Ebn Leader, Cantor Brian Mayer, and Rabbi Nehemia Polen, I gleaned these skills through the reverberations of their prayer leadership, and through studying prayer texts and texts about prayer with them—from Tractate Berachot to Likkutei Moharan, to siddurim of different communities,” she said.

With the addition of this new role of Rosh Tefillah, structured prayer leadership training will become more integral to Hebrew College rabbinic and cantorial education. “It means we can roll up our sleeves and set up a prayer laboratory within our new Mascott Beit Midrash—where we study our traditional blueprints for prayer and then step into our own test kitchen, whether we consider ourselves musical prayer leaders or not,” said Meyer.

The idea of adding the Rosh Tefillah position grew out of the desire to enhance prayer leadership skills in a more formal way, deepening our ordination students skills as davening leaders. Meyer says she finds inspiration for this vision from the work of Hadar’s prayer leadership training, Aleph’s Davening Leader Training Institute (DLTI), and Hebrew College’s COSEL initiative from 2016-2018, where cantorial students received intensive training in davenology as an art form.

Meyer explains, “Psalm 67, the psalm chanted during the Omer in many communities (thanks to its 49 words corresponding to 49 days), begins with: למנצח בנגינות מזמור שיר. To the Menatzeah, with song…Menatzeah is often translated as ‘Conductor,’ as in ‘orchestra conductor.’ In more recent translations, it is read as ‘lead musician,’ the one who is both in the psalm, in the prayer, and leading it. As davening leaders, we are the lead musician, the menatzeah, the engine. With the opportunity to focus on skills building, our clergy students will emerge with their own strong connection to prayer, and the awareness and ability to lead their communities in soulful davening.”

In addition to her role as Rosh Tefillah, Meyer will also serve as Hebrew College’s Artist-in-Residence, collaborating with musical artists and visioning events in our new Musicant Cohen Performing Arts Center. This month, the Center was filled with music and ruach for a concert with Hadar’s Rising Song Institute Founder Joey Weisenberg, sponsored by Hadar, Hebrew College, and our shared campus partners. With Meyer’s homecoming, we look forward to more collaborations in this beautiful space to bring Jewish music and spirituality to the Greater Boston community.

Learn about Hebrew College’s ordination programs.

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