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Monday, January 21, 2019

Many of us have no doubt experienced the feeling of confusion and resulting frustration when entering a shul whose seder and nusach ha’tefillah, order and version of the prayers, differs from our own. Scrambling for the place, we often feel at a loss and even embarrassed. Imagine this feeling being a daily and/or weekly experience with no available solution.

The family of a 20-year-old Yachad member from Detroit, sensitive to this situation, contacted Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities, with an offer to underwrite the production of a specialized siddur. Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, International Director, presented Michael Adler, Program Director of Rayim Yachad, with the idea, and as the coordinator of programming for the members of Yachad aged 26 and above, Michael immediately realized the positive ramifications of such a project for his population. Adler organizes regular shabbatonim and trips for his Yachad participants and often sees their frustration with the regular siddur available to them. “They often experience difficulty in following the sequence of the davening, finding the place, knowing the proper movements to accompany the various tefillot and many other subtle challenges.”

Adler is a YU graduate, originally from Passaic and currently residing with his family in Kew Gardens Hills. He joined forces with his colleague Rabbi Benjy Leibowitz, originally from Teaneck and currently from Highland Park, to collaborate on the project utilizing Leibowitz’s extensive background with Yachad through his work in Yachad’s summer programs. Both Adler and Leibowitz have worked with individuals with special needs in schools and informal settings which provides them with keen insights into the struggles these individuals are faced with when it comes to using the siddurim currently on the market.

Yachad turned to the experts in the fields of Jewish publication, OU Press in the USA and Koren Publications in Israel, to produce the specialized siddur. In consultation with a panel of rabbanim, the project was launched. To date, the entire Mincha and Maariv have been completed. Weekday Shacharit is almost completed and the Shabbat sections are underway. Through constant communication, updates, testing of ideas, here and in Israel, the momentum is constant and great strides are being made.

What are the considerations in creating a siddur for use in a special population? The starting point and underlying concept is that all of the traditional tefillot are included in the siddur and the look of this siddur is comparable to all others available in a shul or school Beit Knesset. The key difference lies in the translation of the words. In contrast to the traditional word-for-word translation, the new siddur will offer shorter, more concise and more conceptual translations. General concepts will accompany each tefillah, making it more understandable and meaningful to the davener. The tefillot will be accompanied by color-coded instructions for the appropriate movements to make at each section of the tefillah, such as sitting, standing, bowing, covering one’s eyes, stepping forward or back, etc. The goal is to streamline the interpretations, make the physical format more user-friendly, all while totally resembling a mainstream siddur. It will hopefully afford a meaningful davening experience to any and all users, both those with special needs and the mainstream population.

The projected timeline for the completion of the siddur is mid-2017, and sponsorship opportunities are still available. Hopefully all the daily, Shabbat and holiday sections will be included. Dissemination of the new siddur will be through the various yearlong and summer Yachad programs, special needs schools and programs, and directly through the publishers.

By Pearl Markovitz

In keeping with our community’s ever- increasing sensitivity to the needs of those who may be slightly different from the mainstream, we are eagerly looking forward to the publication of this new siddur and the support it will offer to its users.