Passover Blog: Using Visual T’filah at Your Seder
Mah Nishtana halaila hazeh? What makes this seder different from all others?
For many families and synagogues this year, it will be seeing the haggadah in a new light. This year, the CCAR Press is excited to offer a Visual T’filah companion to Sharing the Journey: The Hagaddah for the Contemporary Family.
Visual T’filah, grounded in historical Jewish practices and built on modern technologies, mingles text and images on the large screen for all to enjoy. The images help give deeper meaning and connection to the ancient words, and the words up on the screen allow us to lift our eyes, our voices, and our hands. Visual T’filah has become a popular way to enhance prayer services, and now it can enhance our Pesach seders, as well.
One of my favorite things on Pesach is to open the (printed) haggadah and see wine stains and crumbs from seders past. It reminds me that in this ever-changing world, some things stay comfortably the same. It’s the same story we retell year after year. The same rituals. And yet, I’m always excited to see what new materials, readings, and activities the seder leader will bring to the table. While the story of redemption and freedom never changes, we are always changing, and finding new ways of reconnecting to the same story is essential to keeping the messages relevant and engaging. The haggadah, after all, at its core, is meant to inspire us to ask questions.
A few years ago, a number of colleagues and friends participated in Tweet the Exodus. Not only was it amazing to see the story told in 140 character segments, but some of the tweets contained links to exciting multi-media resources to tell the story. A particular favorite of mine was a Youtube video of a family caught in their car surrounded by a massive locust swarm. (http://youtu.be/wxHOxCmbs-8). It was terrifying and awe-inspiring, and helped me understand better than anything else what it might have been like to witness this plague. Can you imagine being able to share some of the other plagues this way? Or what about showing a short clip discussing what scientists have said most recently about the splitting of the Red Sea? You could even show a map tracking the 40 year journey of the Israelites stop by stop. Unfortunately, you can’t embed Youtube videos in a printed haggadah. But you can put them up on a screen.
And that’s what I love about using Visual T’filah at a seder: you can add new readings, videos, and more to enhance the experience and enrich the story (without creating a handout and adding yet another item to juggle on the table). You could insert a PollEverywhere (polleverywhere.com) into the Visual T’filah to ask your participants to vote on their favorite plague or even to pick the closing song. You could ask participants to record a short skit ahead of time to be shown during the seder. As long as you have the screen set up, you might even want to Skype in Bubbie who couldn’t join you at the seder this year. In fact, the screen becomes a blank slate for including almost anything you can think of, and the Sharing the Journey Visual T’filah gives you the framework from which to unleash your creativity.
The nice thing about VT is that it doesn’t negate the use of your printed haggadot. No matter your inclination or comfort level, everyone can be included. Many folks are accustomed to using print haggadot and will be resistant to giving them up. And anyway, who can deny the fun of being able to flip ahead to count how many pages are left, or even the benefit of being able to linger on a reading or an idea on your own?
Sharing the Journey VT is designed for both large communal seders, as well as smaller in-home seders. If you don’t have your own large built-in screens and projectors, smaller portable ones or even flat screen TVs will work perfectly. In fact, an iPad and an AppleTV can be the perfect way for the seder leader to lead from her seat.
Sharing the Journey is also available as an ebook for iPads. (ccar.co/journey). One can follow along with the seder, just as in the book, but also find interactive features and embedded audio. (Please note: we discourage displaying the ebook on a large screen. It is not designed for this and will be too difficult for seder participants to read. Conversely, the VT is specifically designed to be projected and read from a distance.)
So while you’d never want to spill wine on your iPad, nor get crumbs up on the screen, we hope Visual T’filah becomes another tradition at your seder table, and a way to help all of us actually return to the table to finish the seder after the meal is served. Chag same’ach!
Rabbi Dan Medwin is the Publishing Technology Manager, CCAR Press.