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Seeking a Minyan in Disneyland... with Middle Schoolers

Seeking a Minyan in Disneyland... with Middle Schoolers

Group photo of Rabbi Paul Kipnes speaking to a group of teenagers in front of the Its a Small World ride at Disneyland

Where do I find a minyan (the quorum of 10 Jews required for public prayer) in Disneyland when I need to say Mourner's Kaddish for my father? Outside It’s a Small World, after all! There, my students ensured I had a community for Kaddish.

My wife Michelle and I were chaperoning Congregation Or Ami’s seventh graders on a post-Shul-In trip to Disneyland to celebrate the beginning of the school year and the start of our new teen program. Although I knew it would be challenging to find a minyan for Kaddish, I wanted to be with our pre-teens. I hoped, as the saying goes, that somehow God would somehow provide.

Papa’s Favorite Disney Ride

It’s a Small World was my dad’s favorite ride. As we sat on the boats to cruise into the attraction, I felt the pull of memory. Whenever we traveled to one of the Disney parks – after our wedding, during a family trip to Florida, after our son’s bar mitzvah, my dad – who we all called Papa – would tell us that as long as he had his whole family together for that one ride, we could do whatever else we wanted. And so we always entered Its a Small World together to fulfill Papa’s small request. The huge smile on his face made it so worthwhile.

This visit, I missed Papa intensely as we rode through the brightly colored, musical attraction, but our seventh graders filled the boat with so much singing and laughing that made it uplifting in a way that Papa would have appreciated.

How Do You Count a Minyan with Seventh Graders?

We gathered together for Kaddish after exiting the ride. Although one needs ten Jews past the age of b'nei mitzvah to complete the minyan required, Andrew Fromer (our awesome Youth Engagement Manager) and I counted only six adult chaperones and one student who had recently become a b'nei mitzvah. We were three worshippers short.

Yet our group, made up of a few dozen students in b'nei mitzvah training, decided to get creative. They decided that since many of them were so close to their b'nei mitzvah date, two pre-b'nei mitzvah students should equal one countable minyan participant. So, with their ingenuity, we counted a minyan.

I showed them a picture of my dad and me, explained how he loved It’s a Small World, and said that he would’ve loved the ride we just shared together. I thanked them for the fun today, and for their seriousness as we now shared a sacred moment of memory. I taught them what they might say to a mourner. Then I invited them to join me to say Kaddish for Asher Ben Elchanan v’Esther. Ken Kipnes. My daddy, who we called Papa.

They recited with confidence, caring, and strength. The students fashioned a community for their rabbi, carrying me through a moment of bittersweet memory. Uniquely, our prayer had a songtrack as "It’s a Small World After All"played in the background. Papa felt closer to us in the midst of the cacophony.

Prayer complete, I thanked our students, and dismissed them to continue our fun. A number of sweet ones came up to give me a hug. Then we all took off for Main Street to shop and nosh. Though the world seems so big and often impersonal during this year of mourning, thanks to Congregation Or Ami’s seventh graders, it became a small world… after all.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA. He serves as rabbinic dean at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, and as vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights). He also co-edited a national CCAR Journal issue on New Visions for Jewish Community. Under his leadership, Congregation Or Ami has won national awards for social justice programming, for innovative worship programming, for outreach to interfaith families, and for engaging family education, and for best overall use of technology in a synagogue. Or Ami also wins the hearts of its families for its Henaynu caring community, which reaches out during times of need. He serves on the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education clinical faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His writings can be viewed on his blog, Or Am I? He tweets @RabbiKip.

 

 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes
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