A Prayer Book of Our Own

A photo of a student holding the recently published Wellesley Passover prayer book

Photo by Lisa Abitbol

Photo by Lisa Abitbol

A few years ago, College Chaplain and Rabbi Dena Bodian sat down with a group of students to choose a new High Holiday prayer book, a machzor, for Wellesley. But of all the options the group reviewed, none felt quite right.

“Some books had really great prayers in Hebrew with English translation, and then they didn’t transliterate it,” says Marin Moore ’22. “They didn’t put the Hebrew words in English syllables, so that you had to speak Hebrew to follow along. Or some books had really great transliteration, and the translations were non-existent or really not great.”

The group wanted the selected book to be as accessible as possible for everyone, regardless of their background. Bodian also recognized the way that many Jews, especially women and queer people, have historically struggled to see themselves in the liturgy.

So, the group decided to make Wellesley’s own prayer book.

Bodian tapped into the Wellesley network for contributions from alumnae rabbis, cantors, and academics, and Moore became the student editor of the book, beginning work on it in the spring of 2020.

“I would be up at, like, 3 a.m. sometimes, futzing with characters because I couldn’t sleep,” says Moore. Seeing the book move from her laptop screen to a final product looking like any other prayer book she’s used was immensely rewarding. Publication was made possible by funding from Dena Boronkay Rashes ’96.

Among other Wellesley-specific adaptations, Bodian and Moore employed gender-neutral language for God in the text, as well as a non-gendered option for those being called to the Torah. Since the High Holidays take place at the beginning of the academic year, Bodian and Moore hope that the Wellesley prayer book can serve as a positive introduction to Jewish life at the College for new students.

With the machzor realized, Bodian and Moore have started working on a Wellesley weekly prayer book. They encourage alumnae who are interested in contributing to reach out to them.

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