The ancient art of Torah and Haftarah reading has collided with the computer age, with the recent introduction of WebParasha, an innovative new web application now on the market. Through this interactive service, synagogue staffs can toss out those endless scheduling, aliyot and reminder lists. In addition, congregants now have the opportunity to self-assign portions and learn them with online assistance.
The brainchild of Cantor Gastón Bogomolni of Temple Aliyah in Needham, Mass., WebParasha was conceived in 2007, after a congregant at his former congregation, Beth El Synagogue in Omaha, Nebraska, asked if there was any way she could sign up online for a Torah portion.
“After that comment, I just started to dream,” the cantor said. “I wanted to create a site that would simplify the process of asking congregants about their availability to read, assigning portions, finding and reminding readers of those assignments, and making it easier for synagogue staffers to tally readers’ participation for possible award purposes.”
“WebParasha is for anyone who is tired of keeping track of Torah readings on paper or on spread sheets, tired of sending letters – which means paying postage -- or making phone calls to readers.”
The site is versatile and convenient, allowing synagogues to assign gabbayim, plus offering a message board where synagogue administrators or clergy can post information about upcoming special Shabbatot Torah readings, as well as synagogue and community events. The application is also a handy organizational tool for those congregations which simultaneously offer traditional and alternative Shabbat services.
Clergy and shul staffers are not the only folks who will benefit from using WebParasha: it also offers a smorgasbord of services for congregants. Readers may track the list of aliyot they have selected; they may listen to MP3s posted by the cantor, view PDFs of parshiyot, view exact book and chapter and amount of verses of each portion, in addition of haftarot, and they have access to links for tutorials about tropes and blessings.
“WebParasha is very user-friendly,” Cantor Bogomolni remarked. “Anyone, regardless of their computer skills, can use it.”
After fine-tuning the system’s concept, the cantor needed to find an inventive web designer to make it a reality, “someone who would understand what my vision was.”
That person turned out to be web designer Nestor Herszbaum, a fellow native Argentinean who was also living in Omaha. “He was a perfect match,” Cantor Bogomolni remarked.
The two men work well together, meshing into an ever-evolving creative dynamic. “Gastón comes up with new ideas that can help hazzanim and rabbis, and I try to come up with design solutions for those ideas,” said Herszbaum, a web designer of 15 years who says he likes to work mainly within his areas of interest: music, the arts, education and Jewish affairs.
“Gastón has a clear understanding of the synagogue’s needs and how to fulfill those needs,” he said. “We work together to constantly improve the program and add more features to it.” New features currently being developed for the upcoming WebParasha 1.2 include all chagim (holidays), v. 1.3 will include Monday and Thursday Torah readings, Public Fast days and Rosh Hodesh.
“I’m very pleased with the functionality of WebParasha, and we constantly receive positive feedback from its users,” Herszbaum commented, adding that, “We have many plans to keep expanding it, to encompass pretty much any activity related to the synagogue religious services where both the users and the staff of the synagogue (rabbis, hazzanim and administrators) could interact. That’s why we created a web application that can be used anywhere at any time from any computer, PDA or iPhone in the world.”
Since Beth El piloted WebParasha two years ago, several more congregations in the U.S. have jumped on the bandwagon, among them the mega-synagogue Sinai Temple in LA; and negotiations are underway with synagogues in Great Britain, Israel, Mexico and Argentina, Cantor Bogomolni noted. He encouraged anyone interested in this exciting, new service to visit www.webparasha.com. For subscription costs or additional information, the cantor may be contacted at, 402.578.9228, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org