5th EAJL T’filla Leaders European Retreat at Charney Manor, Oxford

5th – 8th July 2018

22nd – 25th of Tammuz 5778

The EAJL Retreat is about empowering those who step forward to lead their communities in t´filla (prayer).

For over a decade, EAJL has been teaching shlichei tsibbur (prayer leaders) all over the world. In Europe in particular, EAJL has helped them to develop their knowledge of the nusach hat´filla (musical notation of prayer) through one-to-one tutoring online via Skype or Zoom. Whatever the nusach tradition is in a community, EAJL finds an appropriate tutor to teach and mentor the local shlichei tsibbur. Far example, Chazan (Cantor) Jacky Chernett found a teacher with knowledge of Moroccan nusach to teach students in Nice, France.

But having knowledge of the nusach alone does not make someone a good sh‘liach tsibbur. That is why we created the T´filla Leaders European Retreat. The Retreat teaches how to create a kehilla kedosha (holy community) through t´filla. This is something that cannot be learned from a book, or from the Internet, but only panim el panim (face to face) …

EAJL is open to all denominations. At our retreats, people with different siddurim (prayer books) daven (pray) together and learn from each other. Thus we create bridges between denominations  (Orthodox, Masorti, Reform, Liberal, Jewish Renewal, nondenominational grassroots …).


Each EAJL Retreat has been led by Chazan Jacky Chernett and Chazan Jalda Rebling, ably assisted by a team of volunteers and including a number of guest teachers:

  • 2012/2013: Rabbi Marcia Prager and Chazan Jack Kessler, the founders of the Davvenen Leadership Training Institute (DLTI) and the role model for the EAJL Retreats
  • 2014: Rabbi Dr James Jacob Meisels (Meditation)
  • 2016: Joey Weisenberg (Niggun)
  • 2018: Chazan Jacky Chernett, Chazan Jalda Rebling and the EAJL team (focus on T’filla Labs)


This year we had 21 participants from six different countries (the UK, USA, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Russia). At previous Retreats we have also welcomed students from France, Spain, the Netherlands and Israel .


At every Retreat, we have had the privilege of davening the statutory three times a day as well as reading from the Torah for Shabbat Shacharit (morning service) and Shabbat Mincha (afternoon service). We eat together and bensch (sing Grace After Meals) together. We have a seuda shlishit (third meal on Shabbat) and a Ma´ariv (evening) service before Havdalah. We encourage participants to give a Dvar Torah and lead z’mirot.  What a rich and wonderful blessing, especially for those who live in places with only small communities! Many participants who come from communities who only do Kabbalat (Friday night) Shabbat are able to experience the blessing of a regular weekday t´filla and a whole Shabbaton.


Each participant is invited to prepare something s/he has never davened before. We teachers help them to prepare their part prior to the Retreat. Here are some examples of what students have learned:

  • There are communities that never do Shabbat Mincha, which has its own beautiful nusach. At the Retreat, they have the opportunity to learn how. Each participant is invited to contact beforehand those with whom they will be davening (if, for example, one does P‘sukei d‘Zimra, another one Shacharit) they are invited to work together to create a t´filla that conveys a sense of wholeness.
  • Others learn how to fulfill the duties of the Gabbai or Shamash.
  • We have had participants who leyn (read from the Torah) for the first time, starting with just three p‘sukim (verses).
  • We empower our participants to stretch their skills, no matter what their level of experience or knowledge. Once we had a female participant from an Orthodox community in Germany, who prepared to lead only Ashrei. What a stretch for her!


Each participant has the chance to practise their learning in a T’filla Lab, a unique experiential setting where students learn by doing, receiving supportive feedback and encouragement from the teachers and other participants. This unique exercise has been brought to us by Chazan Jack Kessler and Rabbi Marcia Prager who, together with Rabbi Shawn Zevit, created this in an intensive programme in the USA. The learning and the labs happen from a place of Chesed (lovingkindness). From the start of each Retreat, we create a loving and empowering atmosphere. We give the participants a safe space to move on in their learning. Even very experienced Cantors and Rabbis have the chance to learn how to improve their skills.


Thus, in the space of four days, we are able to create a kehilla kedosha that is a role model for our participants to take back to their communities. Lashon hara (derogatory comments about another) has no place. Only once have we had an incident: it was made clear immediately that in this community everybody is respected as s/he is and no one has the right to judge. A beginner is treated on an equal footing to a very experienced davener. We learn and empower each other, wherever in the learning process we are. Our lives as Jews are ones of lifelong learning.


Because the participants of the 2016 Retreat asked for more T´filla Labs, we offered six T´filla Lab sessions this year. Most of the participants received help in how to lead services. Those who led shorter prayers such as Havdalah or Kiddush had private tutoring during the free time. We davened all the t´fillot: Shacharit, Mincha, Ma´ariv.


We Chazanim and the EAJL team are also training the trainers. To date two students have fulfilled the very high standards of t´filla knowledge required and have attained a diploma as Ba´al T´filla. This year Chazan Rebecca Blumenfeld joined our teaching team, giving her the opportunity to add to her own already fine teaching skills. We have two current diploma students and another one on the way! Chazan Rebecca Blumenfeld and these student are the future generation of EAJL teachers.


We also run seminars in different countries.


During alternate summers, EAJL runs nusach courses at the Conservative Yeshiva (CY) in Jerusalem. Led by Chazan Jacky Chernett (2010, 2015) and Chazan Jalda Rebling (2010, 2015, 2017), these courses focus on how to daven and the careful use of traditional nusach hat´filla at the CY. B´ezrat HaShem (with God’s help), we will teach another nusach course at the CY in Summer 2019.


The EAJL T´filla Leaders European Retreat is a very special programme, offering much more than could ever be provided in any seminar. We are fully inclusive and we build bridges between generations and denominations. Participants often continue to be in touch with each other after the Retreat, empowering each other during the year. Creating a kehilla kedosha, particularly in these times of global uncertainty, brings people together and gives them Emunah (faith) in their daily lives as Jews in this world.  That is our purpose.


‛Even the darkness is not too dark to Thee; but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee’ (Psalm 139:12).


Chazan Jalda Rebling, Chazan Jaclyn Chernett

5 August 2018, 24 Av 5778