Computer pro creates custom screensaver for his S.F. chavurah

Some people give plaques, new gymnasiums, or even crocheted pillows to their chavurot (friendship or prayer groups). Owen Brown, a computer professional, gave San Francisco's Or Shalom Jewish Community its own custom-designed screensaver.

A screensaver is the graphic design that appears on the screen when the computer is idle. The version created by Brown features a rotating, 3-D Star of David that bounces around and makes a harp sound whenever it hits a corner of the screen.

"We wanted to supply a message that would be more attractive to the congregation and respectful of Judaism — something a little more meaningful than the all-too-familiar flying toasters and aquarium fish," said Brown, a 40-year-old San Francisco resident who devised the software as a fund-raising tool for the congregation.

Brown is also vice president and creative president of Sabroco Interactive Multimedia Design and Development Services in San Francisco, which has developed screensavers and other commercial software for such companies as Time Warner, Charles Schwab, the Stanford Medical School Blood Center and Kohl Children's Museum.

Screensavers are often used for promotional purposes by corporations or non-profit organizations, said Brown. They can display the name of the company that donated the screensaver, or the name of the organization using it.

Or Shalom's screensaver can be programmed to show the congregation's name; it also can be connected to a computer's internal clock to remind people of the High Holy Days.

"It's wonderful to bring Judaism to the things of everyday life," Or Shalom's Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh said. "Along with the Simpsons and other screensavers, it's good there's a Jewish one."

Brown originally suggested the idea to Baugh over a cup of coffee. "I was immediately taken with the thought," the rabbi said. "Almost all of our members have computers, and what I liked most about this was that the screensaver could not only provide them with a beautiful image, like the Star of David that Sabroco designed for us, but inspirational text as well."

At Baugh's suggestion, Brown programmed the congregation's screensaver to display four lines of text from Psalm 118: 24. Set against a vivid blue background, the passage reads: "This is the day/the creator has made./Let us be glad/and rejoice."

While Baugh is pleased with the screensaver, she isn't yet sure how Or Shalom will use the project to raise money for the congregation. Although the screensaver was originally donated to be sold at the chavurah's auction in May, Baugh is considering making copies and selling them to members of the congregation.

In the meantime, Baugh said, Sabroco will sell the screensaver to any Jewish organizations that intend to use it for fund-raising purposes. The price will be a fraction of the $5,000 to $10,000 that Sabroco usually charges for the right to copy and market such products.

"We've only got a hundred families, so it's not like we'll reach the whole Jewish community," Baugh said, explaining the decision to market the screensaver to a larger audience.

As for the Or Shalom offices themselves, the IBM screensaver is incompatible with the chavurah's Macintosh equipment.