SAN FRANCISCO ““ When Israel’s new Masorti prayer book hit No. 4 on the country’s best-seller list for non-fiction last January, no one was more surprised than members of the country’s still-tiny Conservative movement.
The prayer book, “Va’ani Tfillati: An Israeli Siddur,” enjoyed an aggressive ad campaign from co-publisher Yediot Achronot, which also puts out Israel’s largest-circulation newspaper.
“The ads said, basically, if your grandfather is from Lithuania and your grandmother is from Morocco, this is the siddur for you,” said Miriam Hershlag, a member of Havurat Tel Aviv, a lay-led Conservative congregation in Tel Aviv that purchased the new siddur last March after its publication in December.
“The ads did not mention its feminist, alternative nature,” she noted wryly.
The siddur includes several newly written blessings, including one for making aliyah, or immigrating to Israel, and one for enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces. It includes a healing prayer for a woman who obtains a previously refused get, or religious writ of divorce, and another for adopting a child — with separate versions for a couple and a single mother.
It also includes a blessing for a new convert. That is “extremely significant” in Israel, where non-Orthodox conversions are not recognized, said Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, former vice president of the Israeli Rabbinical Assembly and member of the siddur project committee.
The siddur is an update of a version published in 1998, which users often described as too bulky and not relevant to contemporary Israeli life.
“We want people to see the sanctuary as a place where we do not deny what goes on in society,” said Elad-Appelbaum.
Like Lev Shalem, the North American Conservative movement’s just-released High Holidays prayer book, Va’ani Tfillati aspires to be both accessible and spiritually inspiring. The siddur committee, which worked on the book for five years, included plenty of modern Israeli poetry, which Elad-Appelbaum says people “don’t realize is full of liturgical feeling.”
The Israeli committee worked closely with the rabbis and cantors who produced Lev Shalem to ensure that they were all on the same page.
But the Israelis have a different audience: the country’s largely secular majority, who are not conversant with synagogue worship. Many of those purchasing the prayer book are not members of Masorti congregations, Elad-Appelbaum said, but people buying it for gifts or because they are curious about the spiritual potential of Jewish rituals they know little about.
“We had to include explanations of how to pray,” she said. “Many Israelis have no idea how to do it. It’s not their fault. They feel alienated from the tefillah,” or prayer. “They were never trained in it. It’s as if they are guests in their own home.”