Congregation unveils one-of-a-kind prayer book

A dream more than two years in the making became a reality for members of Congregation Shir Tikvah on Portland’s Eastside on Friday evening, Sept. 27. The congregation inaugurated a new Shir Tikvah-specific prayer book, or siddur, as part of its annual Simchat Torah celebration and honored congregants who went through a painstaking process leading to the publication of a book that weighs in at a hefty 488 pages, including translation and transliteration of prayers into English.

“This is a peak moment in our 11-year history,” says Rabbi Ariel Stone, Shir Tikvah’s first and only spiritual leader. “It is so very much like our members to customize a siddur to match our approach to Jewish learning and prayer, and especially appropriate that it arrives as we celebrate the Torah and begin reading it anew as we do each year on Simchat Torah. This is a very big deal for us and highly unusual for any shul.”

Shir Tikvah, located at 7550 NE Irving St. in a building it shares with the Bridgeport United Church of Christ, has always charted an independent course since 15 Portland families founded it in 2002. Several years ago after a yearlong consideration of whether to affiliate with a Jewish movement, members of the now nearly 150-family congregation voted overwhelmingly to remain independent. Until now, loose-leaf binders have been used for services.

The Shir Tikvah siddur was developed with a Cleveland based company, Custom Siddur (customsiddur.com), which usually produces ceremonial prayer books to commemorate individual wedding or confirmation ceremonies. It had never undertaken a project like this, working with a congregation to develop and publish a permanent siddur crafted to its needs. “The prayer book is diverse in content, egalitarian, yet true to Jewish tradition with an emphasis on teaching as it goes along – a lot like Shir Tikvah itself really,” says Jennifer Coury, former chair of Shir Tikvah’s tefillah committee. “After helping us borrow and ‘test run’ a few other siddurs, I organized the initial effort to create our own book.” A technical editor, Coury found Custom Siddur to publish the book and helped proofread the siddur before publication. Other Shir Tikvah members who took leadership roles in the project were Kate Farrell, who succeeded Coury as tefillah committee chair, and Miles Hochstein, who worked with Rabbi Stone on the translations.

“The prayer book’s reception was joyous,” says Coury. “I can’t speak highly enough about Kate’s efforts to bring this to fruition and Miles’ and Rabbi’s wonderful sense of the language, balancing literal meaning with poetic spirit.”

Farrell agrees: “Rabbi Ariel and Miles Hochstein created beautiful and at times startling translations of the Hebrew texts.” “The balance of Hebrew, transliteration and translation interact together to create a space in which we pray,” says Farrell, who headed the project over the past two years. “During our committee meetings we had some passionate discussions about the translations that are in this siddur. The passion came because the new translations moved us to reflect on what we believe about God, about prayer, about community. I expect that we will have more of these passionate discussions as we delve deeper into the siddur.”

“The unveiling of the siddur on Simchat Torah was an amazing, joyous celebration,” says Farrell. “I was delighted with seeing the complete book, and the reactions of those around me were exuberant and joyful.”

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