Wednesday's Rosh Hashanah services at the Jewish Museum of Florida had most of the traditional trimmings, from songs to prayers. Then things turned not so traditional when Rabbi Amy Morrison gave the crowd of more than 100 a 21st-century command at the Jewish New Year service in Miami Beac.
"I want you to take out your phones," she said.
Congregants were not allowed to send just any texts. Instead, they were asked to send text messages of their inner thoughts and transgressions from the past year.
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Every Rosh Hashanah, Jewish tradition asks its faithful to reflect on those transgressions as they enter the new year. From the congregants' small screens, the texts traveled to a large one for all to see. That made newcomer David Matz seemed apprehensive at first.
"I think I will be texting a bit," Matz said. "I'll see how it goes, how the service progresses."
The idea comes from the not-for-profit organization called The Tribe, which works to build a Jewish community for people in their 20s and 30s.
“They are young, transient and are looking to connect, and that’s tough to do when you walk into a room full of strangers,” said Rebecca Dinar, director of The Tribe. “Texting allows this group to communicate anonymously.”
Morrison believes the secret is that today it's easier for many people to let their fingers do the talking.
"Having anonymous texting really gives you the freedom of being honest and open to yourself and others around you," she said.
Last year was the first time people who attended the Rosh Hashanah service at the museum were asked to text message their innermost thoughts and desires. This year pop music was added to the program as well, with the Black Eyed Peas played alongside traditional Jewish songs sung by Cantor Marcos Ashkenazi.
There were also the sounds of rain falling, “to help them connect with this idea of renewal,” Dinar said.
Helena Cohen came to last year's service, and felt so connected spiritually and technically, she brought her friends this year.
"I actually think that's more liberating, it gives people the ability to communicate what they might really be feeling," Cohen said.
To plan, The Tribe convened a group young people and talk to them about what they wanted to get out of the holidays. So, the idea was born to have people text their thoughts when the rabbi asks a question like: “What things do you want to let go of,” Dinar said.
People in the audience will contribute to the moment, and share, and once that happens people seek out more, Dinar said.
“I think that for all Jews there’s this need or desire to connect regardless of your level of religiosity,” Dinar said. “They feel at the end of the evening that they have really connected with hundreds of people.”
Besides Wednesday night's service, another one is planned for Friday, Sept. 13, the night before Yom Kippur.