New Hashkama Minyan offers prayers at sunrise — and free time after 1st period

EARLY: Its not quite light out as sophomore Joseph Schnitzer leads Shacharit at the Hashkama Minyan, which starts at 7:25 a.m. in the Beit Midrash.

BP photo by Goldie Fields

EARLY: It’s not quite light out as sophomore Joseph Schnitzer leads Shacharit at the Hashkama Minyan, which starts at 7:25 a.m. in the Beit Midrash.

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By Eric Bazak, Staff Writer
    It’s 7:25 am. The classes are empty and the halls are quiet. But the Beit Midrash is filled with people and prayer as a result of the recently established “Hashkama” minyan.
     Created just before Sukkot break, this “early” minyan-named for the Hebrew word meaning rise-is a voluntary, alternate davening option for students willing to come early and pray before the official start of school, thereby becoming exempt from going to davening after first period.
     The creation of the minyan is largely credited to sophomore Noah Rothman, who is in charge of  distributing Torah readings and ensuring that there are always 10 boys present to form a complete minyan.
     “I had always got to school pretty early,” Noah said in an interview. “One day Rabbi Segal noticed and asked me if I would be interested in starting a Hashkama minyan. I saw that people were interested, and it took off from there.”
     I feel like it is a beautiful, self-driven thing that came from the students,” said Principal Reb Noam Weissman. “I don’t know of another minyan where students are taking initiative and ownership and have been very successful like this one. This is a minyan where kids don’t talk, they are davening for the sake of davening.”
     Although this minyan includes more prayers than the main morning minyan — including a full p’sukei dizimrah — the davening time lasts just 20 to 25 minutes, almost 10 minutes less than both the main Ashkenazic and Sephardic morning minyans.
     The quick timing is largely due to the lack of disruptions. According to Mr. Weissman, the shorter timing is a good sign.
     “There are even Gemaras that talk about the length of davening and how long they should be, ” Mr. Weissman said. “The one perspective that stands out to me is the value of being present while you are davening. Since this minyan is davening for sake of davening, it does not have to be a long time.”
     After Hashkama Minyan, at 8 a.m. students go to first period, and after first period when the rest of the school goes to davening, Hashkama students have free time.
     Since it is voluntary, membership varies.  Most who attend are freshmen and sophomore boys, but  the girls’ section has around  four junior girls who consistently show up, making up most of the women section.
     Overall, 15 to 20 students habitually participate. There are no seniors.
     Junior Sigal Spitzer, who was initially the only girl in the group, said that Hashkama has given her a chance to relax.
     “At first I thought it was weird being the only girl, but I think that it is important to have female representation in the Hashkama minyan,” Sigal said. “In addition, I get many personal benefits because I can now have a relaxing break after first period.”
MALES: Junior Sigal Spitzer, left, is usually the only girl at the Hashakama minyan. She enjoys having free time after first period, when the rest of the school is davening at either the Ashkenazic, Sephardic, or Senior Girls minyan.
     Hashkama saw its largest attendance on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, when 32 students arrived at 7:10 a.m after learning that Reb Noam and Rabbi Segal were sponsoring about a special breakfast consisting of pastries and orange juice.
     During their break after first period, the students are given the choice to do homework, talk to any teachers available, or just relax and hang around the student lounge. On one occasion, the whole AP US history class showed up to Hashkama minyan in order to take their test early.
     Once, the minyan was almost cancelled.  On Monday, Oct 14th, after a poor davening where many people were disrupting the prayer, Rabbi Segal placed the minyan on a two-day probation, and also warned about the possible elimination of the minyan if future behavior resembled what occurred on that day.
     Some people were surprised by the probation, including sophomore Yonah Feld, who did not think that the behavior was bad enough to be put on probation.
     “There really weren’t that many people talking and I’m surprised that they even thought of canceling it,” Yonah Feld. “I also love this minyan since it’s much more efficient, and it’s nice to get that extra time to catch up on work.”
     After the probation was lifted, the minyan returned to running as usual, and Hashkama survived its first major challenge.
     Freshman Isaac Goor said that he prefers davening in the morning over davening after first period.
     “It seems to be more important to pray right when you wake up, the first thing you are doing the entire day — it makes it seem more important,” Isaac said. “It is much better than davening at 9 a.m. with the main school minyan since you are distracted.