For some, synagogue choreography is as mystifying as opera. To enjoy an opera, though, aficionados know to review the scenes in a libretto before the curtain rises. Yet the typical siddur prayerbook provides no such guidance. "The prayerbook, rather than help them, becomes an obstacle," said Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell of Santa Ana's Temple Beth Sholom.
To address the needs of congregants not fully comfortable with Hebrew liturgy, Donnell, along with a group of lay leaders, spent eight years developing a new siddur. "Tfeelat Shalom," the sum of that effort, will be introduced Dec. 13.
In it, prayers in Hebrew are accompanied side-by-side with a phonetic transliteration. "I made a 180-degree turn," said Donnell, who initially opposed the transliteration's inclusion. For the Hebrew illiterate, he believes the transliteration builds familiarity and eventually a thirst for greater knowledge.
The siddur also provides clear instructions on the service's choreography, such as when to rise on tiptoe or bow. For example, "you're not supposed to bow with the leader, but in response," Donnell said. Footnotes provide historical insights, such as commentary excerpted from "Siddur Rav Amram Gaon," a recognized ninth century rabbinic authority.
English translations are purposely typeset like poetry. The intent is to suggest to the worshiper, like a reader of verse, to supply their own personal interpretation. "We have been trained to look differently at text," said Donnell, whose editing was influenced by Lawrence A. Hoffman, author of "The Art of Public Prayer: Not for Clergy Only," and a professor and dean of liturgy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Currently in use at the synagogue is the Reform movement's "Gates of Repentance," last revised in 1972.