After the usual siddur (prayer book) did not work for Jacob Gross, he along with others designed a new one.
It started with one person: Jacob Gross.
Ten years ago, as he anticipated his bar mitzvah, Jacob looked forward to wearing tefillin every weekday morning; he felt excited to recite his prayers as an adult; he loved taking part in his home synagogue, Bais Chabad Torah Center of West Bloomfield.
But Jacob has special needs. The usual siddur (prayer book) did not work for him: The font was too small, the English translation too fancy, the instructions too confusing. He had outgrown the Art Scroll Children’s Siddur, and no other siddur came next.
So Jacob and his father, Ethan Gross, who works for Globe Midwest Adjusters International, started by his great-grandfather nearly a century ago, set to work constructing a loose-leaf siddur just for him, with pages from various sources. For years, they improved that siddur, adding sections and upgrading instructions. Jacob used that siddur every day.
During the summer, Jacob attended programs run by Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, and sleepaway camps in Pennsylvania. He became close with the then program director of the Yachad program at Camp Morasha, Rabbi Benjy Leibowitz.
Jacob thought that Rabbi Leibowitz could help with the siddur, making it useful to other people as well. According to Ethan, “Jacob, who is good at being persistent, kept at me to call Rabbi Benjy Liebowitz.”
When they did contact, Ethan said Leibowitz responded, “Why didn’t we think of that already?” Leibowitz brought the idea to Rabbi Jeff Lichtman, then director of Yachad, who enlisted Leibowitz for the project, later joined by Michael Adler, then planning recreational activities for Yachad.
Leibowitz and Adler could not finish the task quickly. They both had full time jobs, and Leibowitz was earning a Ph.D. in psychology. Also, Leibowitz said, “This siddur has no models. No similar products serve as precedents.”
According to Leibowitz, “Jacob took an active part in planning this siddur to accord with his specific needs: The font, the instructions, the navigation devices, the color-coordination and the statements of ideas are all designed to make this siddur useful to Jacob and other individuals who share similar struggles.
“The end result, however, should prove useful to many others. Anyone unfamiliar with the basic concepts of Judaism can use this siddur to grasp those concepts. Anyone unfamiliar with the choreography of the synagogue service can use this siddur to have an easier time knowing what to do when,” he added.
According to Ethan, “The Hebrew text is the same as the Hebrew text of other prayer books. The concepts of the prayer book had to come out in English, but in relatively straightforward words.”
The siddur uses different colors to identify prayers said by the prayer leader, distinct colors for Shabbat and holy days, and other colors to connect commentary with the prayers. Icons indicate actions that accompany prayers.
Leibowitz likes that “the siddur uses a graphic marker, a gray line, to indicate the most important passages as indicated by the Mishna Berurah (a book of Jewish law from the early 20th-century).”
Someone who has fallen behind the congregation can know what not to skip.
The Orthodox Union Press and Koren Press combined to publish the Koren Yachad siddur.
Adler feels this siddur “exemplifies the goal of Yachad to make everything inclusive, accessible and meaningful.”
Jacob has been using the new siddur for a few weeks. “There was not one siddur in the whole world that did what I needed before this one,” he said.
“What do I like about this siddur?” He laughs. “Everything! I like the graphics. I like that it is easier to follow the service. I like the symbols that tell you what to do, whether to stand or sit.
“Everybody likes it,” he adds. “Rabbi Silberberg read the prayer for the Israel Defense Forces from the siddur and used the siddur over Shabbos.”