Kinot (mournful poems focusing on the destruction of the Holy Temple or other tragedies; they originated ca. in the 6th-8th century, but many more have been composed since then) pose a special problem for Conservative and Conservadox synagogues and minyanim on Tisha B'Av. There is a tradition to say Kinot both at night and in the morning (although more in the morning since most congregations read Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, at night). The problem is that, even for those who have had 13years of Jewish day school, plus some camp or other supplementary education, Kinot are REALLY HARD to understand. They are often written in medieval Hebrew, and the genre encourages allusions to biblical and other texts which many people have not read.
In Orthodox shuls, as I have seen once or twice personally and as I understand from anecdotes, the congregation "reads" the Kinot silently, which means that some people get what they're talking about and most people don't. That doesn't mean that no one cares if people understand; it's just that the middle of Shacharit (morning prayers) isn't considered the best time to explain. Some shuls have shiurim (study sessions, often led by the rabbi or perhaps a well-educated layperson) after services, and the Orthodox Union has a video shiur on its website every year. On Tisha B'Av 5767 (aka last year), I was at my parents' house on Tisha B'Av and didn't have a morning shul option, so I watched OU Executive Director Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb's Kinot shiur. I was very impressed by its simultaneous sophistication and accessibility.
Conservative and Conservadox shuls or minyanim have more flexibility in terms of integrating Kinot into the service. I go to two different minyanim (don't ask) on Tisha B'Av, and both have the custom of "introducing" Kinot. That means that one person in the minyan, usually someone in a leadership position, gives a summary of the main themes of the Kinah before the congregation reads it, either out loud or silently, in Hebrew or English.
I heard some really well-thought-out introductions this year, but I think that the system needs tweaking. First of all, because people have to volunteer in advance to introduce Kinot, the same few people usually do most of them. I give kudos to those folks. I was asked to introduce a Kinah this year and said "no." But I fear that this phenomemon tends further to integrate those few people and to leave the rest of the congregation outside the circle of knowledge. Second, after the Kinot are introduced, it's time to "read" them. That means in most cases that, led by the writer of the introduction, those who can read the Kinah, either silently or out loud, often in Hebrew and often very quickly. I have had approximatley a bazillion years of Day School education, and I minored in Jewish Studies in college, and I couldn't get more than a sense of the text before we moved on. This is particularly ironic, I think, because, as I have observed it, Shacharit on Tisha B'Av is mostly about killing time. Unlike on Yom Kippur, when there are many, many, many prayers to get through before people need to take a nap, on Tisha B'Av, some congregations have the custom to stay in shul until chatzot (halfway through the daylight hours, this year around 12:45 p.m.), and there just aren't that many obligatory prayers to say. So the Kinot part of the service could (easily, in my opinion, although I realize some people have their favorites) devote much more time to individual Kinot, which just means fewer being read overall. There's plenty of time between Shacharit and Mincha (afternoon prayers) for indivual study by those die-hard Kinot devotees.
So, here are a few humble suggestions for integrating Kinot into Conservative and Conservadox minyanim in as relevant a way as I can think think of (Note: I said minyanim instead of shuls, bcause lay-led minyanim often have more flexibility than shuls led by rabbis. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That's a topic for another post):
1. (see above) Decrease the number of total Kinot to be covered, thus allowing more time for each individual Kinah.
2. Supplement introductions of Kinot with more inclusive discussions. Divide minyan-goers up into groups, probably with a leader of the introduction-giving type. Give each group a Kinah to study, in Hebrew or English, for about 10 minutes. (Both Conservative and Orthodox Tisha B'Av prayerbooks provide decent introductions and English translations). Encourage each group member to say something about the Kinah text. When discussion time is over, give each group (or the whole congregation together) enough time (could be up to 4-5 minutes) to read the text silently in English or Hebrew. There's no rush, here, people! I tend to think that silent reading is more meaningful than reading aloud, but there's room for disagreement on that.
3. If you're feeling really ambitious, have one person from each group "report back" to the larger minyan on something the group found paticularly interesting about the Kinah.
4. Let's be honest about what most people find relevant: That means more Holocaust Kinot and fewer Crusades Kinot. IMHO, it is not necessary to go in chronological order.
I know that this sounds a little hokey, especially for those of you who know me personally. "Oh, sure," I can hear you saying, "but if I had suggested that, Katrina would have made vomiting noises." Perhaps. But these and similar group efforts are the only ways I can think of to include more than 5-8 people (and the minyan that I went to for Shacharit had at least 30 for Kinot) in the Kinah part of the service. The discussion-group method won't necessarily make less work for the leader types; it might make more, since Kinot have to be selected in advance, people have to be divided into groups and kept moving along, etc. But the result, I think, would be more participation and less boredom or mental opting-out overall.
So, what do you guys think? What other ideas do you have?