BBYO: Take a Bow – Jewish World: Stand Up and Take Notice

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 09:05 Written by bryfy Tuesday, 23 February 2010 09:05

I should start this blog entry by saying that I’m no expert on prayer. I’ll leave others (including some of the Jewish ritual elitists at Jewschool – you know who you are) to debate the issues of tefillah and pluralist prayer services. What I do know is that something is wrong in the House of Prayer and it needs to be fixed. Many of the hundreds of teenagers I meet really enjoy and gain a lot from prayer services at camp, youth group or on their Israel trips. But they get back to their local synagogues and instead of being the creators, running the spirited services they are accustomed to, they’re often relegated to being shushed by a bunch of Serious Men.

So when something does come around that’s relevant, meaningful, forward thinking, and accessible to the masses, it deserves our attention and admiration.

I don’t think that I’m making any shockwaves by suggesting that BBYO hasn’t always been perceived as an organization where high quality Jewish learning takes place. That said, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

BBYO’s Build a Prayer is as simple as it is is effective. It takes much of what we know about Jewish teens today and translates it into a web-based program that enables anyone to create their own Shabbat prayer service. (Similar sites are also available and/or under construction (e.g. Tagged Tanakh and Open Siddur) but none has captivated me in the same way as this one.) Even if you’re not into prayer, this website can serve as a prototype for other Jewish educational ventures.

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This site embodies:

  • Choice
  • Individualization based on community
  • Modern interpretations of Jewish tradition
  • A generation of teenagers who are simultaneously consumers and producers
  • Richness in content (albeit with additions that need to be added)
  • Sophisticated technology
  • Interactive capability
  • The ability to build relationships and networks
  • Being motivated and driven by teenage voices

Sounds just right for this generation of Jews.

All that said, I can already hear objections to this site:

  • What does it say about Jewish tradition if everyone can create their own prayer?
  • What does it say about Jewish community if we have become so individualized?

My answer: These changes are taking place anyway – why not be part of the revolution in the Jewish world rather than watch it all spin by without you?

Or, have I missed something? Let me know if you think that Build a Prayer isn’t all that I’ve made it out to be, or whether you agree with me in that it symbolizes a new era for the Jewish world.


  1. Shimshon at Brandeis   |  Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for pointing this out. I know that BBYO is doing great stuff in trying to get more kids into service (i am a partner in one of their programs), but hadn’t known about this web tool.

    I don’t know if you realize it, but your title alludes to BBYO’s new attempt to get their teens dedicated to service year round- they call it “Stand Up.”

    and i might point out that you picked the wrong one of the 3 rabbis to link to — any rebbe who can quote “Da Airplane” will do okay with the kids. (well, we might have to update to Muse or Lady GaGa, but the principle still stands)

  2. Iris Koller   |  Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you David – both for the well deserved shout out and for sharing the wonderful resource they have created!

  3. Deborah Harris   |  Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 4:41 pm

    What a wonderful resource. And what a terrific example of a way to get kids to engage with prayer – one of the most difficult areas. David, as you point out – kids today are not just consumers of information, but creators of product as well. This gives them the ability to customize a service, but provides necessary structure. I also love that it’s so dynamic – the community can (and no doubt will) add to the list of available services and background resources. I can only imagine how this would have changed my own experience as a youth group advisor many years ago! Thanks for sharing – I’m going to post about this right now…

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