God and Twitter: Helping Clergy Do What They Do BetterPosted on June 21st, 2011 4 comments
A few weeks ago, Rabbi Marci Bellows (@moosh2) got into a bit of trouble with the members of her youth group. Her sin? Not sending out a Shabbat Shalom tweet on a particularly Friday night. She was a little surprised by the outcry of disappointment. In the many months of sending out these Friday messages she had never heard back from any of her youth group followers. She was not in the least bit sure they were paying attention to her many Twitter missives. But clearly they were.
Twitter is a social media that allows users to broadcast short messages no longer than 140 characters and followers to track these short bits of news and commentary. In October 2009, I (@rabbiruth) made some predictions on the ways Twitter might be used in a congregational setting. At the time there were a handful of rabbis, cantors and educators to be found using Twitter. While the specifics of that post have not materialized, Twitter has become a valuable tool with particular benefits in Jewish professional life. Today, there are many HUC-JIR alumni on Twitter, not to mention, accounts for HUC-JIR (@hucjir & @hucinci). Talking to some of those that tweet, it is clear that Twitter is playing a powerful role in the ways Jewish professionals do their jobs and live their lives.
Avid Twitter users are often, like Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr (@FrumeSarah) who blogs and uses Facebook, or Rabbi Mark Hurvitz of Davka.org (@rebmark) who has a professional focus technology, are heavy users of social media more generally. But experimentation and exploration is part of Twitter. At Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Cantor Yonah Kliger (@CantorYonah) is a clergy leader when it comes to social media. He is still figuring out how best to use Twitter, as he explains, “I don’t think five years ago I understood power of Facebook or the potential. So when Twitter got into our consciousness I got this feeling I would get it, I wanted to get in earlier in the game, so now I have a presence and I’m taking a wait and see approach.”
Even as he experiments with Twitter, Kliger has a clear strategy of mixing short personal and professional missives. Sharing about his kids and the upcoming adult b’nai mitzvah is part of his larger strategy for reaching out to families with young children. Rabbi Elizabeth Wood, (@lizwood1982) of Reform Temple of Forest Hills, New York, employs a similar approach. As she explains, “I tweet both personal and professional things from my account and I do so consciously and conscientiously. I want my congregants to know I’m a person with a life… Similarly, I post about our congregational activities because who I am is tied to my professional life as well.”
One of the strong benefits Twitter allows Jewish professionals is the ability to broadcast their message far beyond their immediate community. As Wood explains, “we are quickly learning that people may not walk into our doors on a whim, but they will look us up online and when they can follow our activities on Twitter, they get a great sense of who we are. People have told us they’ve come in to our events because of Tweets they saw.” For Rabbi Laura Baum (@JewsOnline) of Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati, a bricks and mortar congregation that sponsors the online OurJewishCommunity.org, Twitter is an essential element of building the virtual Jewish community. The first year, they tweeted updates from the Seder as each of the rituals took place in real time. “We heard from all sorts of people that this was the only Seder they had,” says Baum. Now tweeting the Seder is a regular practice as is tweeting Shabbat services and the High Holy Days. When Bellows writes an article she is able to use Twitter’s system of tags to alert groups, like those working for marriage equality or women’s rights, that she has posted a piece on the topic. This reaching out has helped her build a following that extends far beyond the traditional synagogue crowd and is global in reach.
Twitter also creates real communities of support and connection for Jewish professional. Hurvitz points to the ability of Twitter, which unlike Facebook does not expect one to know someone before connecting, to allow him to “meet” “people from various Jewish “flavors” and in parts of the world that I had not encountered before.” Though not everyone chats with others on Twitter, those that do speak of strong ties that develop. Einstein Schorr does not necessarily expect those who don’t tweet to fully believe the depth of connection she has felt from a virtual community but for her the coming together has been significant, “At times of profound sadness, I have felt a kinship with a global community that was completely unexpected.”
Twitters limitation, that you can only use 140 characters, which as Wood explains, means that “it’s hard to always get your point across in a way that you know can be either meaningful, or even useful.” But as Kliger points out, “the structure of the 140 characters is an interesting limitation on how we convey our thoughts with hands or paper we would have had difficulty limiting. It makes you mindful of how you communicate your thoughts and ideas.”
Twitter is enhancing the work that many Jewish professionals do. Still sitting on the fence about whether to get involved? Hurvitz says, “Just do it!” Though Einstein Schorr warns, “It’s addictive.”
Next week: Twitter and God Part II: Opening Up New Possibilities, a discussion of how Twitter is creating new modes of Jewish engagement.
If you are looking for information on how to get started on Twitter, you can follow the step by step instructions written by Twitter or a great informative post on the topic, or follow this link for a short video.
For those already on Facebook and looking to consolidate a variety of social networks in one place consider a service like hootsuite.com or tweetdeck.com.
4 responses to “God and Twitter: Helping Clergy Do What They Do Better”
Kol HaKavod! What a great collection of thoughts! This helped to enhance my own understanding of the uses of Twitter, and I am looking forward to Pt II!!
rabbiruth June 21st, 2011 at 14:57
Thanks Marci! Thanks for your help and sharing!
Thanks for highlighting some great tweeters here — I’m now following a few new folks. I do think Twitter has a powerful role to play in making clergy real, human and accessible in new ways. Not everyone would reach out to a rabbi, make an appointment, drive across town and sit down for an hour in the rabbi’s office to connect personally. But the distance from the pew to the bima once or twice a week is too much and not personal enough. Twitter can allow clergy to be more accessible to more people without eating up a ton of time. It’s all about relationships.
and some synagogues:
At Darim we’ve been helping clergy adopt a more social approach to doing Torah learning and writing sermons, using social tools like Twitter. You can learn more about the Social Sermon on our blog: http://jewpoint0.org/2009/11/the-social-sermon-an-innovative-approach-to-community-building-engagement-and-torah-study/ (See comments for links to other articles on the concept)
I look forward to hearing more examples of how clergy are using Twitter to build relationships, community, teach and learn.
rabbiruth June 21st, 2011 at 15:48
Thanks Lisa for the lists. I did not want to overload people with too much info so left off before we got to the full potential of lists and following. Glad you filled in. Next week I’ll be looking at some of the ways people are creating new approaches to Jewish learning. Lots to cover. Very exciting.
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