New York – NCSY, the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union, announced at Yarchei Kallah (NCSY’s winter retreat for public school students) that the NCSY Bencher app has hit both the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores. This intuitive new app offers users a digital prayerbook with the Grace After Meals, zemirot for Shabbat and festivals and popular songs.
The app is a virtual version of the household staple in the Jewish community, with over 2.5 million copies printed, and its numerous translations including German, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish; the app is intended for weekday use as a bencher, and as an educational tool to teach users melodies and pronunciation of traditional songs, thanks to the app’s database of audio recordings. “Of course, we hope nobody uses this app on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but we’re confident that anyone on their way toward greater religious observance will use the tool the way it is meant to be, and in the right times,” said Keevy Fried, Associate International Director of NCSY.
First pitched as an idea by Samuel Waller, a financial advisor in Manhattan, the app allows for those unfamiliar with the liturgy to study the songs and text, and feel at home within Jewish observance. While the bencher is common at Shabbat tables and at Jewish simchas around the world, for those who grow up without much in the way of Jewish tradition, its prayers, songs and their meanings remain out of easy reach.
“When I began eating in people’s homes on Shabbos, as I was becoming observant, I saw the bencher almost everywhere,” said Waller. “Since I’m not musically inclined, it was hard for me to pick up on all the different songs and tunes that people sang. I tried to find an online source where I could learn all of them, but there were none.”
David Olivestone, former director of communications for the Orthodox Union and the editor of the original NCSY bencher, says turning the bencher into an app is a smart move. “As a printed book, it’s gone through more than two and a half million copies. Just think how many more people will be able to access it as an app. As observant Jews, we still need printed books on Shabbos and the holidays, but I’m all in favor of utilizing whatever technology there is to make it easier for everyone to daven, bench and learn.”
The recordings are performed by Aryeh Kuntsler, a professional musician in the Jewish community; the app features over 125 recordings, including classics like “Shalom Aleichem” and “Eishet Chayil”, as well as lesser-known songs like “Hinei Yomim Boim” and “Va’ihi Yishurun Melech”.
Fried, who was involved in the production of the app, says that this new product is perfectly in line with the NCSY modus operandi. “We went to synagogues first, then to social outlets like coffee shops, and then to public schools -- wherever the teens are, we’re there too,” he said. “In today’s world, teens are online, so consistent with our strategy, we’re continuing to find and enhance the platform to meet them there, to relate to them, and ultimately, to inspire them.”
Download the NCSY Bencher for yourself today and see what it’s all about: