Inspired by newly-hired CCAR technology specialist Rabbi Dan Medwin's (HUC-JIR/Los Angeles '10) senior thesis, Visual T'fillah, HUC-JIR/New York students Jen Gubitz (HUC-JIR/New York '12), Gavin Hirsch (HUC-JIR/New York '10), Dave Mintz (HUC-JIR/New York '14) and Mary Thomas (HUC-JIR/New York '11) created a visual siddur for a service at the New York campus Kallah. Hoping to create a space for reflection and mindfulness as students prepare for the grueling high holiday season, the paperless service drew on prayers and themes from the Selichot service, which is traditionally observed on the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah. Images of nature served as the background for Hebrew prayers, poetry, and responsive readings. Students had the opportunity to write their own confessions to be anonymously read aloud. The t'fillah was enriched by a new musical setting of "Sh'ma Koleinu," composed by Mary Thomas. Cantor Benjie-Ellen Schiller, Professor of Cantorial Arts at HUC-JIR/New York's School of Sacred Music, beautifully accompanied the group. Debbie Friedman, Instructor in Music at HUC-JIR/New York's School of Sacred Music, helped in the creative process.
Jen Gubitz writes, "When I traveled through Eastern Europe in college, I saw numerous synagogues that had remnants of prayers written on the walls. To that end, Visual T'fillah reconnects us to our past and to how our ancestors prayed. We really wanted this to be a hands-free, hierarchy-free experience - where the t'fillah leaders were secondary to the texts of the season. To see the screen, the community's eyes and attention was drawn upward and subsequently, so were their voices. And hopefully their prayers, too."