Shlichei Tzibur Training Program

This program is made possible by the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, Central Synagogue, Park Avenue Synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Sholom, and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine.

Empowering Prayer Leaders, with Cantor Sheila Nesis

January-June 2024

The Center for Small Town Jewish Life’s Shlichei Tzibur Training Program is designed to educate and empower lay congregants to lead Shabbat services, Havdalah ceremonies, and shiva minyans in their home communities. Now in its third year, the program will engage lay leaders from communities in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Classes will take place from January to June 2024. Cohorts will be arranged by prayer book use. One cohort will work with the Mishkan T’filah and Kol Haneshama prayer books; the other will work with Lev Shalem and Eit Ratzon prayer books.

The training program is designed to:

  • Explore our understanding of liturgy
  • Renew and refine our perspectives on our prayers and what it means to lead them
  • Share prayer insights, practices, and melodies

What specific areas and practical skills will be covered?

The program is comprised of three main pillars:

Prayer and Worship Structure:

  • Understanding the origins and the role of the Shaliach Tzibur (emissary of the congregation).

  • Understanding the structure and basic rubric of Friday evening and Shabbat Shacharit services (warm-up section, creation, revelation, redemption, closing prayers and songs) and the types of prayers (praise, petition, thanksgiving). 

  • Learning practical skills to lead services.

  • Understand the ceremony of Havdalah and how to lead it.

  • Understand the basic elements of death and mourning in Jewish tradition, and how to lead a shiva minyan.

  • Provide sample service outlines and teach how to create a service outline

  • Provide sample Kavanot (intentions) for various prayers and teach tools for how to offer kavanot throughout the service.

Song and Davening:

  • Learn Shabbat nusach 

  • Learn various melodies and settings for prayers and psalms

  • Learn various niggunim for worship, shiva visits, song circles, Havdalah

  • Learn basic techniques to engage others in communal singing


  • Engage in conversations around questions like “What does it mean to pray?”, “Why do we pray?”

  • Study traditional and creative liturgy

  • Explore personal prayer practices

How the program works:

  • Students meet online for instruction every two to three weeks, for 1 and ½ hours, over the course of 6 months.

  • Two in-person classes will be held in various locations: Massachusetts, Southern Maine, Central Maine, and Vermont. These sessions will focus on certain practical skills, choreography, etc. The in-person sessions also provided opportunities for individuals to practice leading prayers, psalms and songs of their choice.

  • NEW!: Weekly individual or small group tutoring will be provided for participants to work on practical skills based on their needs (Hebrew, davening, melodies and songs). Participants in the program will be paired with tutors once accepted into the program, and will arrange tutoring times directly with their assigned tutor.

A pluralistic program: 

The program is designed with small progressive communities in mind. While the program focuses on a basic and common rubric, it also hopes to address some of the most significant differences between Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal and non-denominational practices. To best support this aspect, cohorts will be divided into prayer book tracks. There will be a Mishkan T’filah-Kol Haneshama track, and a Lev Shalem-Eit Ratzon track. 

The role of the home communities: 

The support of the participant’s home community is vital for the participant to be able to get the most out of the program. The home communities serve as a laboratory for cohort members to be able to practice skills and tools (at various levels) within the culture and customs of their own communities. We work closely with the participant’s congregational rabbis to ensure both participants and the home communities are getting the most out of the course.

How to apply: 

We can’t wait to learn about you!

Click here for the program’s requirements and to apply.

Important Dates:

  • *November 27, 2023: Online Open House and Sample Class
  • *Application deadline: December 8, 2023
  • *December 18, 2023: Acceptance letters go out
  • *January 21, 2024: Classes begin

For information regarding the curriculum and schedule, please contact Program Director and Senior Faculty, Cantor Sheila Nesis: [email protected].

For information regarding the application process, please contact Program Coordinator Liz Soloway Snider: [email protected]

About the Instructor

Cantor Sheila Nesis has served congregations in Denver, Phoenix, and New York City and is currently Cantor in Residence at Etz Chaim Synagogue in Portland, Maine. She is the creator and educator of the Shlichei Tzibur Training program at the Center for Small Town Jewish Life. She participated in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program in 2023. Her writings appear in various Jewish publications, including The Times of Israel, Kveller, The Forward, and Ritualwell. Originally from Argentina, she lives in Cumberland Foreside, Maine, with her husband and two children.

Class Readings & Resources Winter-Spring 2024

Music and Davening Resources
Class #1: Sunday, Jan. 21, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, Jan. 23, 7-8:30 p.m.

Welcome and introduction. The role of the Shaliach Tzibur in Jewish tradition: its history, and its present role. Keva and Kavanah in Jewish prayer.

Class #2 Sunday, Feb. 4, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, Feb. 6, 7-8:30 p.m.

Understanding Kabbalat Shabbat and prayer structure: Kabbalat Shabbat, arvit/ma'ariv rubric, creation, revelation, redemption. chatimot.
Class #3 Sunday, Feb. 11, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, Feb. 13, 7-8:30 p.m.

Kabbalat Shabbat, continued. Practicing melodies and davening. Best practices and tools for leading with confidence.
Class #4 In-person sessions

Specific location and time TBD. Participants from both cohorts are welcome to attend the location and date that is more convenient to them.
March 2: Massachusetts March 3: Central Maine March 9: Southern Maine March 10: Vermont
Class #5 Sunday, March 17, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, March 19, 7-8:30 p.m.

Understanding Shabbat Shacharit: The study of its structure: morning blessings, p'sukei d'zimra (Verses of Song), Shema and its blessings and related passages, Amidah (standing prayer), Torah reading, closing prayers.
Class #6 Sunday, April 7, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, April 9, 7-8:30 p.m.

Shabbat Shacharit. Continued. Practicing melodies and davening. Creative kavannot.
Class #7 Sunday, April 21, 9-10:30 a.m.
Note: both cohorts will meet together on Sunday this week due to Passover.

Havdalah ceremony: what it is and how to lead it. Melodies and niggunim for Havdalah.

Class #8 Sunday, May 5, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, May 7, 7-8:30 p.m.

Visiting the Mourners’ Home: How to prepare for your visit. How to lead a brief arvit and the special prayers to be recited at a house of mourning.
Class #9 Sunday, May 19, 9-10:30 a.m. or Tuesday, May 21, 7-8:30 p.m.

Introduction to Jewish spiritual practice: Prayer as a Spiritual Practice and how to start a personal mindfulness practice.
Class #10: In Person Sessions

Specific locations and times TBD.
Participants from both cohorts are welcome to attend the location and date that is more convenient to them.
June 1: Massachusetts June 2: Central Maine June 8: Southern Maine June 9: Vermont
June 21-23: Maine Conference for Jewish Life, Thomas College, Waterville, Maine

Attendance required. A number of cohort members will be selected to participate in co-leading the Friday evening service during the Conference.