High-Tech & High-Touch Visual T’filah at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy
A camp that blends Reform Jewish values with science and technology is practically a dream-come-true for me. It only makes sense that as the Digital Media Manager of the CCAR, I should spend a week there on faculty. I can confidently say that both the camp and I grew from the experience. I had conversations about apps & ebooks, Minecraft & Star Wars, and even gave a drash on how God is like wifi. But perhaps the most exciting part of my visit was spending time working with campers and staff to create the Visual T’filah for Shabbat services.
At the end of services, the camp director, Greg Kellner, climbed the steps to the bimah to address the community. I could see that he had been moved to tears. When he asked all of the campers who played a role in creating the Visual T’filah to rise, we were all taken aback when roughly half the camp stood. “I can’t believe so many of you helped create this Visual T’filah,” he exclaimed. “And I can’t believe how beautiful it is!” Whether they explored camp taking pictures in the “Spiritual Photography” chug (elective) or we recorded a video of them explaining their own Jewish evolution, these campers were meaningfully engaged in crafting the payer service for all of camp. And they were proud!
While Visual T’filah has already become a regular part of the Sci-Tech camp experience, I was fortunate to be able to bring my decade of experience creating Visual T’filah to raise the production and design to new levels. The hardworking camp educator, HUC-JIR rabbinic student Rachel Heaps, has done amazing work so far. However, the finite amount of time she is able to dedicate to creating the Visual T’filah each week, given her other responsibilities around camp, meant that her scope was limited. Now with the introduction of the CCAR Visual T’filah Template (which includes the text of Mishkan T’filah prepared and formatted for the big screen) as well as a few other stylistic and design upgrades, her task will be much easier each week.
I was also blessed to be able to utilize some of the special camp resources to explore some new techniques. Campers were filmed in front of one of the camp’s green screens, allowing the campers to appear to be standing in front of the beautiful images taken by the campers in “Spiritual Photography.” Campers faded in and out in succession to tell how their relationship to Judaism has been enhanced by rabbis, by camp, and by other people and events. Then as the last camper in each video group faded out, the prayers themselves appeared floating over the images selected to convey the meaning and spirit of the prayers. The result was a seamless prayer experience, greater than the sum of its parts.
It is my great pleasure to experience and demonstrate how the use of Visual T’filah can increase engagement and participation, and play an important role in crafting a meaningful prayer experience. To be able to offer my time and expertise to enhance a community’s prayer life is really a gift. I look forward to seeing how the continued use of Visual T’filah at Sci-Tech engages and inspires the campers, and how Visual T’filah can continue to transform prayer in other communities as well.
Rabbi Dan Medwin is the Digital Media Manager at the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Check out his blog from last year’s camp as well.