Hillel Encourages Sinners To Tweet About It

Members of the Reform prayer group at Harvard Hillel are experimenting with a new way to prepare for the Jewish Day of Atonement: tweeting their sins.

#AlChetHarvard, introduced earlier this week at the Reform minyan’s Rosh Hashanah services, adds a modern element to traditional Jewish ceremonies.

The project runs through the Days of Repentance and ends before the Yom Kippur services, which begin Tuesday. The Reform minyan, representing one of the three major

Jewish denominations, plans to gather community confessions through Twitter and incorporate them into the confessional Al Chet prayer during Yom Kippur.

“Yom Kippur is more or less your last shot at a clean slate for the New Year,” said Michael J. Gil ’14, co-chair of the Reform Minyan. “So for the last few years we’ve been working to personalize the confessional part of the Yom Kippur services.”

Last year, the minyan encouraged its membership to share sins and mistakes anonymously on notecards. While the exercise increased engagement, Gil said he saw room for improvement.

“Not only was that an absurd waste of paper and resources,” Gil said, “but when you’re just sending a notecard, you’re isolated.”

In conversations after last year’s Yom Kippur services, Gil and co-chair Alexandra J. Booth ’14 agreed that Twitter would serve the minyan’s objectives of opening up discussion and fostering community, Gil said.

“Generally speaking, the Hillel is rather underrepresented on social media right now,” Gil said. “So this is our first step into that vein. But we have our Twitter account, and we’re asking our community, and other similar communities, just to share.”

With Yom Kippur almost a week away, participation in #AlChetHarvard has yet to ramp up. Early Thursday morning, only one sin had been tweeted: “I have failed to appreciate all the blessings in my life. This year I will focus less on life’s flaws and more on the beauty.” But the project has not gone unnoticed by the larger Jewish community.

“We are proud of the students at Harvard who are carrying on the creative legacy of Reform Judaism that always seeks to intersect ancient traditions with modern innovation,” wrote Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, a senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Leveraging social networking and new techniques in order to make Jewish liturgy relevant by meeting people where they are is a great example of a living, dynamic Jewish community," he said in an email.

To participate in the exercise, which runs through the weekend, tweeters can attach the tag #AlChetHarvard to their confession, which they should direct @Harvard_Reform.

Gil, for his part, said he was eager to see the results. “Twitter is accessible to our entire membership,” he said. “Here we see an opportunity for real discussion.”

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