There are few publications, particularly in the Jewish world, that can claim to have sold over a million-and-a-half copies as The NCSY Bencher has done. The Bencher, which has guided joyous singing at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and many Shabbatonim for nearly 25 years, is now being revised. The goal of the revision is to add new songs and new versions of old songs to the widely distributed compilation. NCSY Alumni, the organization of thousands of NCSY graduates, is sponsoring the revisions and welcoming the input of anyone who has internet access and an interest in a wide variety of Jewish melodies.
This revision process coincides with the launch of the NCSY Alumni website, ncsyalum.org. “Since NCSY started 52 years ago, we believe that more than 300,000 people have gone to NCSY Shabbatonim, Israel trips, after-school programs or just hung out at an NCSY event. That’s a lot of alumni,” declared Rabbi Steve Burg, the National Director of NCSY. “The new site aims to reconnect old NCSY friends and introduce them to the current generation of NCSYers.”
The famed NCSY Bencher, edited and translated by David Olivestone, the Director of Communications and Marketing at the OU, was first produced in 1982. It built on its predecessors by offering modern translations as well as transliterations of Hebrew songs and mealtime prayers, opening them to a broader group of people. Previously revised in 1993, the Bencher is now in its 31st printing.
The Bencher includes the candle lighting blessings for the Sabbath, Festivals, and the High Holidays. Sabbath prayers include: Shalom Alaychem; Ayshet Chayil; the blessings over the children; and the Kiddush for Friday evening and Shabbat morning, in addition to Kiddush for the Festivals and Rosh HaShana. Also included in the Sabbath prayers are Zemirot for Friday evening, Shabbat morning, and the third meal of Shabbat; the Bircat HaMazon–the blessing after meals; blessings for other occasions; and 78 popular songs, all in a 120-page, pocket-sized volume.
The songs include old favorites like David Melech Yisrael, and Am Yisrael Chai as well as songs are taken from prayers, such as Sh’ma Yisrael and Ki Mitziyon. It is this section that the NCSY Alumni are being called on to revise.
By going to the website and following the link to Rock the Bencher, NCSY alumni can click on a song and hear a 30-second clip. Those who like the song can vote for its inclusion into the revised Bencher. Those who really, really, really like the song and want to hear it on the treadmill, in the subway, or at home, can purchase it right there online.
According to alumnus Avi Lowell, the easy voting process is likely to invoke fond memories. “All you have to do is listen to your favorite songs that you sing at the Shabbat table, on the way to work, or when you think no one is looking, to bring you back to the excitement of NCSY.”
Two new versions of the Bencher will appear in 2007, and both will include the updated selection of songs. The first will be a 25th Anniversary edition, retaining the current Ashkenazi pronunciation in the transliterations, while the second will feature transliterations in the Israeli pronunciation.
To vote, listen, purchase, or simply find out more visit www.ncsyalum.org/node/14 or email NCSY Alumni Director Rabbi Dave Felsenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org