Projected Prayers Grow in Popularity as Part of Jewish 'Visual Tefillah' Services

Reform Worship Gets a Boost on the Big Screen

Projected: Popular with Evangelicals, visual tefillah is a new trend among Jews.
Steve Medwin
Projected: Popular with Evangelicals, visual tefillah is a new trend among Jews.

By Rukhl Schaechter

Published March 30, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Several years ago, Rabbi Lance Sussman, spiritual leader of the Reform synagogue Keneseth Israel, in Elkins Park, Pa., received the grim news that he was going blind. After surgery, eye patches and other treatments, his sight miraculously improved. The experience left him with a profound appreciation for the visual in life.

“We live in an age of images,” Sussman said. “It got me to thinking: If synagogues were to accompany prayers with imagery on a screen, couldn’t it make for a more meaningful worship service?”

Today, visual tefillah is so popular at K.I. that the sanctuary was recently refurbished to include permanent, high-capacity double screens by the bimah. The prayers are projected in the original Hebrew as well as in transliteration, accompanied by colorful illustrations. For example, the congregants see a Marc Chagall image of Moses imbedded in the prayer Mi Kamocha.

The screen also includes page numbers for those congregants who prefer the prayer book. “That saves us about 10 minutes of constantly telling people what page we’re on,” Sussman said.

“I think visual tefillah picks up where stained windows left off,” he added. “It’s basically a hiddur mitzvah,” a way of beautifying the commandment. “The Talmud says: ‘If you’re going to build a sukkah, make it beautiful, since art is a praise of creation.’”

Rabbi Dan Medwin, publishing technology manager of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, is well aware of the possibilities of visual tefillah, and even wrote his rabbi’s thesis about it in 2010. He has created hundreds of visual prayers, which he showcases at various conferences of the Reform movement, notably to religious school principals, summer camp directors, youth leaders and day school rabbis.

“When I go to regional conventions, people tell me things like, ‘We’ve been experimenting with visual services, but we can’t do it well,’ or, ‘We just don’t have the time to put it together,’” Medwin remarked. Now, congregations can order visual services from the CCAR. They come in two versions: “locked,” in which the prayers can’t be altered, or “unlocked,” which allows them to adjust them as they see fit. The unlocked versions cost more.

Congregation Shomrei Torah, a Reform synagogue in Santa Rosa, Calif., is a synagogue that uses CCAR’s visual tefillot, and the congregation’s rabbi, Stephanie Kramer, says that it’s been highly successful. “

Pedagogically, it’s a great learning tool for children learning Hebrew and trying to follow a prayer service,” she said. The board approved spending money to wire permanent projectors onto the ceiling so that the images are projected onto either side of the ark during services, but are not visible when the projectors are turned off. Kramer leads the services wirelessly using her iPad and Apple TV.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.