No More Scissors and Paste: Bringing the Shabbat Service Online

By Matthew Grossman, BBYOs Executive Director

Last week BBYO announced the launch of what I believe is an exciting, inventive tool available to engage teens in a meaningful Shabbat experience: Build a Prayer. As a free, online tool the site is designed to connect youth with prayer and Shabbat like never before by allowing them to build and customize their own service.

At BBYO, I constantly see teens, advisors and staff members using unique spaces and creativity to offer relevant, powerful Shabbat services, a unique challenge since most teens have only experience services within their synagogue. This challenge is only made more difficult by the fact that most teens arent comfortable in a traditional siddur they dont know where services start and end, what to include, or what is safe to leave out.

To meet that need (and often times to save money), these worship services are typically guided by a teen-designed collection of songs, poetry and prayers that is compiled through an effort of photocopying, cutting and pasting together old song sheets and prayer book passages. As an organization, we saw the need to provide Jewish teens with an accessible place to explore prayer and its meanings doing it online also happens to save some glue.

What makes this site so exciting is that it brings thousands-of-years-old prayers into a modern day realm that teens relate to. It is streamlined and easy to use. In a few clicks of a button, teens have a complete service in front of them in which they feel some much needed connections. While not every teen feels comfortable finding their way in a traditional siddur, Build a Prayer allows teens to put together a basic Shabbat service in a space they can easily navigate.

The site is designed for teens, educators, camp counselors, youth group advisors, JCC professionals, chavurah leaders basically, anyone who is interested in putting together a Shabbat service in a formal or informal setting. The site allows Hebrew, English and/or transliterated text to be compiled with ones own pictures, prayers or poetry toward the creation of a custom Prayer Service which can be printed and used anywhere.

With help from and a series of videos, users can learn more about the traditions and tunes behind specific prayers. Additionally, a content library holds creative elements from individual prayer services as they are created. Because this is an online resource, people can collaborate on the development of each service and comment on them once they are placed in the Build a Prayer library.

While recent studies show that participation in traditional religious experiences decline during the teen years, the desire to connect spiritually on ones own terms remains strong. Build a Prayer is another resource we are offering the Jewish community as a way to better connect with Jewish teens. Organizations looking to reach the teen audience should look at this as a tool to literally bring prayer to life.

Matt Grossman is the Executive Director of BBYO. He began his career at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Matt is also a member of the Darim Online board of directors. Matt currently lives in Washington, DC where he works at BBYO’s international headquarters.

Providing Service and Value Online

I’ve got two great sources of wisdom sitting on my desk right now. First, a handout from Ron Wolfson from a conference a year or two ago, and a new blog post by Chris Brogan. Both are about providing service for members and customers, and both draw from examples of companies that have built their brand around SERVICE. In this day and age when time and attention are the limiting factors for engagement and participation, providing high quality, convenient and efficient service is paramount.

At this time of year when we’re walking into synagogues along with thousands of others, we pay attention to signage, accessibility of prayer books, ease of movement. We take advantage of the face to face experience by having ushers who welcome and guide us to open seats. But the rest of year is no different.

As the Synagogue 3000 handout reminds us, great experiences build great brands. A few examples:

  • Nordstrom – Everyone deserves personal attention (personal note, having grown up in Seattle — they also take anything back, no questions asked. My family ALWAYS shopped there, and still does)
  • Borders Books – Find the book
  • Home Dept – There’s no such thing as a silly question

Chris Brogan applies this same concept to online service:

  • Zappos had to convince thousands and thousands of customers that ordering shoes on the web was easy, and that their customer service policies were top shelf. They made a near-billion dollar correct bet on how they competed.
  • Craigslist revenues for 2009 were estimated to top $100 million dollars, and Craig Newmark built the company around the premise that excellent customer service and community involvement were the key.

The bottom line: to compete, BE HELPFUL. This doesn’t mean market your events in 10 different places, it means add value to people’s lives before you ask them to buy, attend or commit. Can you help someone have a faster or easier or more convenient experience? Can you help them solve a problem they didn’t know they had? Can you empower someone to do more or better for themselves and others?