It all started about a month ago when someone in my Facebook group “S&P Music and Liturgy” asked on the wall if there were any developers around who’d be interesting in producing a Birkat Hamazon App. Although my job title at IBM is “Information Developer”, I do not myself write code, although I work daily with developers who do. My areas of expertise are writing, editing and design.
Since my father’s passing last December I’ve been taking on projects in his memory, and this seemed ideal: something I could complete in a fairly short time which would fill a need and make a difference.
I approached a developer and we agreed on the scope of the project. The Society of Heshaim agreed to cover the developer’s fee. And the S&P Birkon App project was born!
There were a surprising number of editorial decisions to be made about the actual text, and it obviously had to be proofread meticulously. Clear and brief rubrics were required. And before each item I added an “About” section with what I hope are useful comments about the content. All the “nice-to-have-but-not-essential” info is tucked away in those orange tabs, which open up to reveal their contents with a light tap on the screen.
One interesting and unanticipated decision that had to be made almost immediately was whether to include the additions for Shabbat and Festivals. Obviously the app itself is not designed for use on these days. I was initially in favour of “completeness”. “Hang on,” I argued, “supposing someone wanted to take screen shots of the app., print them out, and use them on Shabbat – that would be perfectly kosher wouldn’t it?! So why shouldn’t they have the complete text at their fingertips?”
In the end I was outvoted on this, and we decided to omit the additions for days when a phone should not be used. It does make the app less cluttered, which is part of its appeal.
For the page header I incorporated the top of the Bevis Marks ark, from an illustration I prepared some years back for a commemorative china plate.
An unexpectedly “fun” part of the project (actually the whole thing was fun but this was specially so) was designing the desktop icon. It had to be something that would be recognisable at a fairly low resolution. After some deliberation and a few iterations, I drew a light-hearted – but I hope respectful – interpretation of the congregational “arms”.
“So much for the design,” I hear you say, “but what’s actually in it?”
Glad you asked.
1) Well obviously Grace after meals. The S&P version of course. You can learn more about the peculiarities of the S&P version in a short article I wrote on the subject here.
2) Less obviously, I included a short form of Grace after meals for use when the longer version cannot be said, for whatever reason (I’m not asking; you’re old enough to decide for yourself). Not the more commonly known short version, but one I discovered years ago in “Meah Berachot”, a prayer book from seventeenth century Amsterdam. The special thing about it – apart from the fact that it’s VERY short – is that it RHYMES! And for probably the first time ever, it is laid out in the app. following the rhymes, which makes it VERY easy to read and remember. You can learn more about it here.
3) The S&P after-blessing for wine and pastries is somewhat different to the versions of other communities. (Don’t tell anyone, but it’s shorter.) So I included that.
4) The traveller’s prayer – a.k.a “Tefillat Haderech” – is just the sort of thing you need on your phone. So there’s that.
5) Sheva Berachot for celebration meals during the week following a wedding. Obviouslty we need them. Especially since the S&P version of the seventh blessing is so different from the versions found in most prayerbooks. In fact – since it’s soooo different – and since we know that not everyone is as tolerant of difference as an S&P is – I added the more common version of the seventh blessing too – hidden away in one of those nice little orange tabs. So when faced with one of those people who absolutely won’t have things any way other than his own you can simply smile, tap on the orange tab, and move on with your life.
6) And Bendigamos. Of course Bendigamos. Absolutely Bendigamos. The club song that no bona fide S&P event is complete without! In fact I included TWO versions of the thing, and if you want to know why, either download the app and read the Bendigamos “About” tab, or see what I wrote – and listen to it – here.
To go to the S&P Birkon page in Google Play, from where you can install it onto your phone, click the image below.
I hope you like it and find it useful! We are already planning the update, which will say Birkat Hamazon for you, and sing Bendigamos in a selection of different voices. More about that in due course…