Posts filed under ‘Judaism’

Will Social Media Save the Jews?

Uhm… no. Probably not. So says Jewlicious… I agree!

 

Advertisements

November 28, 2010 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

JUDAISM IN THE YEAR 2040

A fascinating prediction on the future of American Judaism by Robin Margolis, http://www.half-jewish.net/judaism2040.html

May 20, 2010 at 12:05 pm Leave a comment

The Case for Multifaith Education

 The Alban Institute – 2010-01-18 The Case for Multifaith Education.

Interesting piece from Rabbi Justus N. Baird,  director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City

January 18, 2010 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Finally, Shul Web Sites Coming Of Age

A great article by Tamar Snyder in The Jewish Week on the development of synagogue websites.

Gil Mann can’t recall what the old Beth El Synagogue Web site used to look like. “I don’t think it was heavily used,” he says. And it certainly wasn’t pretty.

When Beth El, a 1,200-family synagogue located in St. Louis Park, Minn., began to think strategically about its future two years ago, a fresh Web site was a crucial component of the emerging plan.

“We developed four portfolios for the shul: education, spirituality, community (all the ways we belong to the shul) and acts of kindness (both internal and within our community at large),” says Mann, who serves as vice president for implementation of the strategic plan. Each of the four elements is expressed with its own tab on the synagogue’s new Website, which was launched earlier this year with the help of volunteers and the hiring of a full-time Web guru.

The new site, www.bethelsynagogue.org, features service times, an easy-to-access online donation form, and colorful pictures of members. Since synagogue dues cover only 55 percent of the total operating budget, members are asked to contribute to the “Chai appeal” by clicking on a prominent link on the front of the Web site. The site “reflects well on the culture of the synagogue,” Mann says. “It’s warm and welcoming and alive.”

Synagogue Web sites are — after an agonizingly slow start — coming of age. Rabbis are blogging and posting sermons on YouTube. Members are signing up and paying for classes online. And several synagogues have launched virtual yahrtzeit boards — complete with e-mail reminders.

With the High Holy Days past, many synagogues are contemplating ways to fill their pews on a regular basis. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the key to building a physical sense of community may well lie in enhancing a synagogue’s online community, social media experts say. That’s why, despite the slumped economy, more and more congregations are realizing the importance of investing in fresh, easy-to-navigate synagogue Web sites (preferably equipped with “donate now” buttons).

And as synagogue Web sites become more sophisticated — though they still lag far behind those of churches — volunteer Web masters are being replaced by the services of professional Web design companies.

The burgeoning interest and willingness to invest in synagogue Web sites have given rise to a crop of Web design companies that cater to synagogues.

Talance, a Web development firm in Boston, recently launched a Web design package geared toward synagogues, at what they describe as a budget cost of $1,999. Massachusetts-based TnR Global launched a division of its technology company called ShofarSites (www.shofarsites.com), which produces Web sites exclusively for synagogues and other Jewish nonprofits. And Darim Online, which developed about 100 Web sites for Jewish nonprofits over the last several years, recently sold its Web development company to the newly formed JVillage Network.

“The market [for synagogue Web sites] is growing in breadth and depth,” says Lisa Colton, the founder of Darim (www.darimonline.org), an organization that offers technological and social media training to Jewish nonprofits. The organization is now focusing its efforts on teaching Jewish nonprofits how to utilize social media to enhance their online presence. “We try to stay on the front end of the Jewish community.”

When Colton launched Darim in 2000, synagogue Web sites were “basically atrocious,” she says. “They were poorly designed, had low functionality, and the content was out of date.”

Back then, the competition Darim faced was mostly inaction. Now, the competitor is the professional Web developer down the street. “We reached an important tipping point in the Jewish community,” she says. “People realized that this [having a good Web site] is no longer optional.”

For Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, which hosts nearly 300 events each year, investing in a Web site equipped with the ability for both members and non-members to sign up and pay for events online was deemed essential.

“We’ve gone through a couple of generations of Web sites and e-mail marketing practices,” says Alan Samuels, LSS’s treasurer. Now, approximately 90 percent of event-goers sign up and pay in advance, helping free up cash flow issues for the synagogue and reduce back-office staff hours. “The payback on efficiencies is  very great,” he says.

When the synagogue sends out shiva notices or mazal tov announcements, members can click on a link and make a donation in memory or in honor of a friend or loved one. And the Web site, which was designed by Web Design Insight, automatically deletes past events from the “upcoming events” roster. “Being in real-time and up-to-date is very important,” says Samuels.

For Temple Beth El in Portland, Maine, a new Web site has cut down on mailing costs, says Tom Berman, the synagogue’s Tech Team leader. The site, funded by a grant from the Scott L. Cohen Foundation and built by ShofarSites, features a newsflash on the front page of its Web site, which is constantly updated with last-minute notices, such as cancellations.

Modeling itself on the popular social networking site Facebook, members of Temple Beth El can “friend” other members and e-mail each other anonymously. The tech team is also setting up password-protected areas on the site where committees can share documents and post business-related matters. To encourage more visits, Temple Beth El shortened its domain name from templebethel-maine.org to tbemaine.org (the old domain still points to the new site).

“Folks are starting to realize how easy it is to make online donations in honor or memory of others, obviating the need to write a check or call the Temple office,” says Berman. After events, Berman and his team post pictures or videos on the Temple’s blog, which helps “promote greater community,” he says.

For synagogues on Long Island needing an extra boost of support in creating Web 2.0-enabled Web sites, the UJA-Federation of New York has launched The Social Media Boot Camp. The two-year initiative run by Darim will help synagogues align their congregations with the 21st century digital culture.

The Boot Camp, a project of Synergy: UJA-Federation of New York, arose from discussions among a group of 20 or so rabbis from congregations across Long Island. They reasoned that the demographic shifts and the loss of Jewish experience on the Island are partly impacted by the lackluster utilization of the Internet to promote congregational activities.

“What we find [when we run a one-time social media seminar] is that everyone goes to the workshop, loves it, goes back home and there’s no impact, nothing happens,” says Dru Greenwood, director of Synergy.

That’s why the Social Media Boot Camp will feature a kick-off event next week at the UJA-Federation building in Syosset, Long Island, followed by eight or so Webinars and monthly conference calls. Synagogues that attend the boot camp will need to be represented by a team of staff members and volunteers.

“If this is really to be picked up and make its way into the fundamental culture of how the synagogue works, we need the rabbi to blog and youth directors to twitter and the synagogue to engage in online fundraising,” says Greenwood. “All different arms of the synagogue need to be on board.”

Darim’s next Social Media Boot Camp, funded by a Berrie Innovation Grant, will take place in December for synagogues in northern New Jersey. Applications are being accepted through the end of October.

Despite initiatives like the Social Media Boot Camp, synagogues remain eons behind churches, at least when it comes to technological savvy. “Partly it’s economies of scale,” says Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, director of the Center for Congregations, an institution that assists all congregations in Indiana. “Of the 300,000 congregations in the U.S., synagogues represent such a small percentage.”

“Most synagogue Web sites are glorified brochures,” says Spiegel, who blogs at http://mahamatzav.org. Churches, on the other hand, tend to view their Web sites as tools of outreach. “There’s potential power to communicate with the world, not just membership, using basic social networking tools,” he says. “The synagogue world hasn’t embraced that just yet.”

If anyone’s figured it out, Spiegel says, it’s the Orthodox. “The earliest adaptor of Web technology was Chabad.” That makes sense, since Chabad is so focused on outreach.

Chabad.org currently powers 1,172 Web sites in 52 countries and 21 languages, according to Moshe Rosenberg, manager of affiliate sites at Chabad.org. Chabad’s emissaries around the world have the option of creating Web sites using Chabad.org’s existing templates, and Chabad’s headquarters provide free phone, email, and live chat technological support.

In addition to posting local family programming, classes, and minyan times, each Chabad Web site has the option of featuring regularly updated syndicated content, which includes primers on Jewish lifecycle events and holidays, news from Jewish communities worldwide, weekly Torah portion, and interactive videos and games for kids. “If you can send an e-mail, you can publish a good-looking and useful Web site,” Rosenberg says.

The flailing economy hasn’t gotten in the way of this shift toward professional Web sites for Jewish synagogues, says Colton. “I was pleasantly surprised. The economy has not negatively impacted the number of dollars Jewish organizations are willing to invest in upgrading their online presence. To me, that signifies a recognition in the community that this is no longer optional.”

Yet as synagogue membership continues to be seen as optional (and is increasingly becoming an option Jews simply aren’t choosing), the question is whether a dynamic Web site is enough.

Social media technology can “serve as a tether to help reel in” unaffiliated Jews and those who no longer see membership at a synagogue as a necessity, says Rabbi Charles Klein, president of The New York Board of Rabbis and spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Centre on Long Island. “Is the technology going to turn the tide? I’m not certain,” he says. “But will it help? Definitely.”

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

October 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

We Remember

For me, the most moving and meaningful part of the Yom Kippur liturgy is the martyology service – when we remember those from our community who died al Kiddish Hashem, for the sanctification of God’s name. There are so many.

A Chronicle (of modern history):

  • 70 CE… the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple, killing thousands and sending the Jewish community into permanent exile
  • 1096, 1146, 1189… the Crusades dessimate Jewish communities of Europe
  • 1290… Jews are expelled from England
  • 1306… Jews are expelled from France
  • 1480… Jews are expelled from Spain
  • 1597… Jews are expelled from Italy
  • 1648… Chmielniski’s hordes massacre thousands of Polish Jews
  • 1882… government instigated pogroms take place throughout Russia
  • 1945… one-third of our people – six million Jews and five million other human beings – are slaughtered by the Nazis

Eternal God, as we recall all our departed and the blessings they bequeathed to us, we pray their souls be united with ours in the bond of life. May our faith, like theirs, be strong, our devotion to Torah unfaltering, our love for Zion constant, and our concern for Israel and humanity unceasing. For as we identify ourselves with the life, hopes and traditions of an eternal people, we ourselves take 0n an aspect of eternity. May we so live that when our years draw to a close, we too shall be remembered for good and for blessing. Amen.

from The Book of Remembrance, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

September 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Sanctuary

This essay was written for the 2009 Spirit & Place Festival, The original is at  http://www.spiritandplace.org/spwebResources/pdf/Essay%20Spiegel.pdf

When considering this essay, I figured a rabbi should have religious places that hold special if not sacred value, so I thought of the synagogue of my childhood where I learned (or at least they tried to teach me) the rich traditions of Judaism. I thought of the shul where I davened (prayed) with my grandfather. I thought of the synagogues I have been privileged to serve. I thought of the myriad places in Israel that have historical and religious significance to Jews. And I thought of the synagogue where my children became bar and bat mitzvah.

And while all these places brought fond memories, none felt inspiring. I panicked. How could I write an essay on inspiring places when, while important and meaningful, none jumped out as truly inspiring? Then I realized all had a common trait that was inspiring—people. It wasn’t the synagogue of my childhood that was inspiring; it was Mr. Shapiro who taught me that learning Torah could move me to be a better person. It wasn’t davening in my grandfather’s shul that was inspiring; it was seeing my grandfather’s non-judgmental piety, in the face of so much personal tragedy, that inspired me. It wasn’t leading a congregation that inspired me; it was the privilege of being with people as they experienced the ups and downs of their lives that inspired me. It isn’t the synagogue where my children became full members of the Jewish community that is inspiring, it is their acceptance of their place in the community and the love of friends and family that inspired me.

Jewish tradition holds that there are only two things holy in a synagogue—the Torah and the people. The building, while important, is just a building. Crossing the threshold into the synagogue does not take one from the world of the profane into the world of the sacred any more than crossing the threshold of an office building. What’s really important are the people whom we seek to inspire and who, in turn, will inspire us.

When the second Temple was destroyed in 79 ACE, the community faced a conundrum. How could they maintain a sense of Judaism without this thing, this structure, as the central focus of their faith? In their inimitable wisdom, the rabbis transferred the power of the Beit Hamikdash, house of sanctuary or holiness, to the home—the Mikdash Me’at or little temple. Parents became the new priests and children their charges. While synagogues became and remain important, they are so primarily because they offer a place to congregate, to be together as a community.

In his book Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Places, Lutheran theologian Jon Pahl writes that new institutions have usurped churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques as our revered spaces. For me as a Jew, it’s not that these places compete with synagogues for our souls; it’s that we have forgotten how to be in community. Instead of seeking inspiration from one another, we search for it in experiences. Life has taught me that the experience of inspiration is not found merely in congregating with others, but in forming relationships. Martin Buber was clear that it is when we acknowledge the humanity of others in our relationships that we experience God. Judaism says that it is loyalty to the teachings of the Torah that is the measure of the faith of the Jew, and not loyalty to an institution.

Jewish spirituality centers on being inspired by others. Which is better: the focus on finding the spiritual in the synagogue or in life’s journey? I am not convinced that either is better, but that personal spiritual growth requires both. It is our tradition to explore the Divine in places other than the synagogue, especially in the home. The concept of Mikdash Me’at, the sanctuary of home, is a cornerstone of Jewish spiritual practice. However, it is also our tradition that prayer in a group is more powerful than alone. It is not happenstance that a quorum, minyan, is required to recite certain prayers, particularly those that are most personal. It is not that God hears better in groups, it is that we hear better in groups! Our connection to God is through our connection to each other. Therefore, the synagogue provides the space where the sacred can congregate, where people can come together with Torah and live the experience of Judaism. After all, what are we worshiping? It’s not the building, the chairs, the walls, or the aron ha’kodesh; we are worshiping our aliveness and our connection with the Divine.

Buber also said, “Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other.” That inspires me!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

August 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Robo-Goys, Kosher Phones and Other Jewish Technological Innovations

by Patrick Aleph, July 2, 2009, http://www.jewcy.com/post/robogoys_kosher_phones_and_other_jewish_technological_innovations

People don’t like to think very far into the future. I understand that: I can barely think about next week, let alone a decade from now.

But if the Tribe is going to survive, we need to learn to adapt. Judaism came from a pre-modern era. Now, more than ever, we need to find creative ways to use technology to bring the Tribe into the 21st Century…kicking and screaming if we have to.

So here are five technological innovations, which I feel will greatly improve Jewish life and further the Jewish People.

Twitter Minyans: I brought this up in my last article on Judaism and Marketing. It makes no sense to me that technology and prayer have not been fused together. Most of the prayers are short enough that they will work in Twitter, and we can shorten the other ones to fit in the 150 character box.

Digital Shabbos Candles: There’s nothing that requires a Shabbos candle be a physical candle (haters beware, I did look in Code of Jewish Law for this), so we can assume that a candle screen saver would work just as well for Friday night. If you want something a little more low-tech, a simple flashlight would work just as well. But remember that if you do that, you have to let the battery run out, as switching the light off is “work.”

Robot Shabbos Goys: Need a Shabbos goy but don’t want to bother the nice Christian family next door? In the future, we’ll have robots to do that for us. Even today, modern conveniences like the Roomba by iRobot take away any pressure to work on Shabbat.

Kosher iPhone: The future is here and it’s called the iPhone. iBlessing and ParveOMeter are two amazing iPhone/iTouch apps to appease the yiddishkeit desire to introduce efficiency into the Jewish lifestyle. Future apps that I would like to see include the Modeh Ani alarm clock and a call-your-mother app that sends pre-recorded voicemails to your mom, letting her know you haven’t dropped out of med school (yet)!

Insta-Conversion: Utilizing the power of the Internet, we can completely re-think how new Jews are brought into the Tribe. The general requirements are a pre-interview, some kind of Judaism 101 class, Bet Din, bris, mikvah and a public ceremony. If we break this down, we find that most of this can be done quickly and efficiently, utilizing e-technology. Pre-conversion interviews between rabbi and convert can easily be done via IM or Skype. Classes can be modeled after distance learning with e-books to read and online exams. The Bet Din can be turned into a teleconference, or again, another Skype adventure. The bris (for men) and mikvah would need to be in person, but as far as I’m concerned a public ceremony could be a mass update on your Facebook/Myspace/Twitter. We could also use webcams to broadcast this event.

Stay tuned; I am sure I’ll come up with more.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

July 2, 2009 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts Newer Posts


Feeds

Archives