A glimpse of the Color The Omer Trello board: the digital "room where it happens."
I can't remember how we initially framed my role. Cat-herder, maybe. I'm the lead architect for Bayit Publishing, so our book projects (and liturgy projects and to some extent blog projects) are in my purview. Last summer, a new idea from Shari Berkowitz reached our doorstep: a contemplative coloring book for the 49 days of the Omer, with illustrations that each user can transform with color, and kavanot / intentions /reflections and questions on each page. The Bayit board approved the Build Plan, and we set the book in motion by creating a Trello board where collaborators could keep track of tasks and chat via digital post-it notes. That was June, and at first, I didn't think I'd be very involved until it was time to bring the book to print.
When Shari brought the concept to Bayit, our #VisualTorah sketchnoter Steve Silbert immediately volunteered to do the illustrations. Right away, they invited me as editor / publisher to partner with them on brainstorming and revising. What an unexpected delight. Over time we refined each page. We brainstormed visual elements and ideas for drawings, far more than the 49 pages that made it into the book. We took turns drafting text for each page, and then editing each others' work (usually a paragraph would get winnowed down to "slim text" which would then get revised a third time once we reached the page layout stage). Steve drew things, and sometimes drew them again and again, revising for visual impact or riffing off of our ideas.
By the end of the process, Trello had become my daily companion. I kept it open in a tab all the time. (We use it for all Bayit builds, but the Color the Omer board became my default, for a while.) Any time a little red dot appeared on the tab, I knew that Shari or Steve had left a comment, and I'd click through to join the conversation and help however I could. Once all the pages were drafted, Shari put them in order. Then we handed the manuscript over to R. David Markus, who combed through it for misplaced nekudot (vowel markings) and Hebrew typos and asked great questions about text and formatting choices. Draft, refine, draft again. At last, after nine months of collaboration -- just in time for Pesach! -- the book was ready to be born.
I love the idea of an Omer coloring book: as an Omer practice, an artistic practice, a mindfulness practice. I love the illustrations that Steve drew, and the ideas that Shari brought to the table, and how R. David helped us see beyond our blind spots. And maybe most of all, I love being part of a thoughtful, creative, collaborative build team. We learned to hold our own ideas loosely, to embrace each others' creativity, and to improvise and riff and revise together. All of us deeply respect each other and each others' work, so all of our comments were offered not in a spirit of tearing-down but in a spirit of building-up. We cheered and supported each other as we worked together to build this tool for spiritual life that we wanted to offer to the world.
As this book enters print, I feel like a proud midwife. I love getting to be a thought partner, a helper in the background: the cat-herder, the holder of the container. This has always been part of our mission at Bayit: we collaborate broadly as we build and test and refine tools for a Jewish future always under construction. And we love lifting up meaningful work so that it can shine.