Posted on July 29th, 2011 2 comments
As technology makes its way into every aspect of modern life, each community has to consider how to engage with the multitude of possibilities. This week’s guest bloggers Rabbi Robert B. Barr and Rabbi Laura Baum are pioneers in working with technology on multiple fronts to connect and expand their community. Through their work OurJewishCommunity.org they are creating models that can be used in many settings.
At this time of year it’s not uncommon for boards of congregations to reconsider their policy on High Holiday tickets. For some congregations, ticket sales are a significant revenue stream. For other congregations, tickets encourage unaffiliated individuals to join. Some congregations use tickets to ensure that members have paid their dues in full, while others have dispensed with tickets all together. Tickets at the High Holidays are used by congregations for a variety of reasons. While we each may have our particular bias regarding High Holidays tickets, we probably can agree that there is no one “right way” to handle tickets. Each approach has different outcomes – intended and not.
Given that the notion of video-streaming services is a relatively new phenomenon it is worthwhile to consider it through the lens of ticket sales. There is no one answer to whether a congregation should stream, why they should stream, and who their audience will be. Streaming isn’t “one size fits all.” There are different approaches that congregations can take which would reflect their values and sense of mission.
At OurJewishCommunity.org, we will stream the High Holidays for the fourth year. Since our launch, our online services have been viewed by tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world. When we started streaming, our audio and video quality were not great, but people came online anyway, and they appreciated having the opportunity to “attend” the High Holidays. Some came because they were homebound, others because they could not afford synagogue membership, others because they appreciated our unique liturgy and philosophy, others because they were geographically isolated. The reasons were endless.
One woman and her mother attended online and learned the power of online video streaming – all of a sudden a family separated by miles could attend services together. A woman in DC who had to work watched our streaming services from her office, called her mother in Florida and told her to click on the link, and the two had a very powerful moment listening to the sound of our shofar together.
Over time, we’ve needed to improve our technology and make significant financial and time investments in the technology – as people’s expectations continue to increase and technological change happens in what seems like nanoseconds! We’ve also had to wrestle with meaningfully connecting to both our bricks-and-mortar congregants and those watching online. By deciding to video-stream, there is a responsibility to ensure that the online participant has a quality experience.
OurJewishCommunity.org is an initiative of Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland, OH. Our brick-and-mortar congregation’s vision is to be a spiritual home, a meaningful voice, and a humanistic resource for people worldwide, seeking a contemporary Jewish identity and experience.
With that vision in mind and with funds available after 30 years of fiscal responsibility, our congregation decided to boldly launch an online congregation.
We do not use technology for its own sake. We use technology because it helps us move our congregation’s mission, vision, and values forward. Just as philosophy guides our Jewish practice, our philosophy guides our use of technology.
Each year, a few more congregations decide to video-stream. For some, streaming doesn’t make sense. After all, if you require tickets for the High Holidays why would you offer ticketless High Holidays online? Some congregations still want to be able to stream for their members who may be homebound or travelling during the holidays. Those congregations may offer their streaming on a password-protected basis, essentially requiring a “ticket” to watch. For others like us, we never had tickets at our bricks-and-mortar congregation, so streaming for everyone made sense. Beth Adam was so committed to reaching out that it expanded its rabbinic staff specifically to serve the needs of the online community.
Lots of questions arise in congregation’s board rooms about streaming. Are we encouraging folks not to join? Are we sending a message to our members that they are footing the bill while others get it free? Why would someone show up if they can watch it at home? What does my congregation have to offer online that will be more enticing than showing up? Can we afford the technology? How will having video equipment in our sanctuary interfere with the experience of those physically present? Do we have volunteers and/or employees who can invest the time in this? How can we protect our members who do not want their attendance to be broadcast on the Internet? What are the copyright issues if we stream and archive words and songs that others have written? Will those watching online feel like participants or like voyeurs? What will the quality look and sound like?
Just like discussions about membership, tickets, and liturgy, there is no one answer when it comes to technology. What we have found, though, is that a significant investment of time, energy, and resources is important not only in creating the technology – but also in thinking about how the technology fits with the philosophy, mission, vision, and values of the community.
Posted on January 17th, 2011 No comments
My piece What the Bible Teaches About Modern Media sparked some interest at Hebrew Union College. Joel Duman, Ed.D. Lecturer on Bible, Biblical History and Jewish Educational Technology at HUC Year in Israel Program,is an expert on both the Bible and technology. In addition to the work he does at HUC, he teaches at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem and JTS, New York. Coordinator and writer of Visual Midrash, a website on “Biblical Art.” What follows is his response to my piece.
I’m about to finish the teaching of a course in Biblical History at HUC Jerusalem. One of the issues that has come up is literacy in ancient Israel – we’ve talked about the Lachish letters, where a rural army commander writes in a huff that he is “of course” quite able to read and understand written communiqués; we’ve mentioned an ostracon found several years ago in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere,
apparently from the 10th century BCE (Khirbet Kaifeh) – writing about matters of societal morality; we’ve talked about the writing and rewriting of history in the Bible, etc. Both in this course and in my other bible courses, for Americans and for Israelis, we often come up against the seriousness and depth with which the written text has been treated in the Jewish tradition.
Although the small bytes of information characteristic of the new social media might look similar to the laconic style of the Bible, there’s also something essentially different, in how we deal with these texts. I don’t think anyone would bother to give a long, hard read to the type of communication found on Twitter, etc. – like the piece I am writing now, not a lot of thought is put into this type of writing; the Bible, on the other hand, shows clearly that it’s formulations have been carefully considered, reworked, edited, changed and that each phrase and each word (each letter sometimes) is fraught with meaning.
It occurs to me that what we can learn from the Bible about the new media derives from the difference between the use of writing in these two contexts, rather than in the similarity. I don’t mean this as a rejection of the new media – although not a big fan of much of it, I am an avid e-mailer, although I was never a good letter-writer. But I think such a comparison offers us an opportunity to notice what’s special, different, eccentric (in the literal and figurative meaning of this word) about our culture and to see how our tradition to offer alternatives to general tendencies of our contemporary world
Posted on December 13th, 2010 1 comment
Erev Rav: God, this dessert is awful, there is ABSOLUTELY NOOOOOO food worth eating
Moses ben Amram: Wondering, yet again, why I ever took this job…..
God “the one and only”: You are such a kvetch. Meet up in 30. Bring 70 of your closest with you.
The world of online social networks is complex and persuasive. The fluid nature of the medium makes it both compelling and problematic. Even as governments struggle with how to navigate the open platforms that allow national secrets to be shared world wide, the traditional challenges of adolescence and identity formation are amplified in an era that blurs the boundaries between public and private. Things that might have, only a few years back, remained knowledge between a close group of friends, such as a first kiss now become the news of thousands of ‘friends.’ A misspoken remark or bullying in the playground, now gains permanency creating havoc for the victim and the perpetrator. Young people, parents and educators are increasingly concerned about how to help children navigate the complexities of this new social and media reality.
While it is impossible to inoculate children against all the challenges of modern media consumption, clergy and Jewish educators have an important tool in our box that is often overlooked in the complex discussions about living on-line. The Bible, though clearly very much “old media,” is a great tool for helping young people consider the value and weight of their words.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume and content of what they are exposed to in the media, and still developmentally grappling with the concept of consequences, the permanence of the online world can be hard for young people to grasp. The Bible shows us some of the enduring impact of writing down our every action. What is it that we know about Avraham Avinu at this distance? Yes, we know he was chosen by God but we also know that he passed his wife off to the King of Egypt and that he tied his son up and prepared him for sacrifice. When working with young people I ask them if they think that Abraham would be happy with the record we have of his actions. How would he like to be remembered? How would they like to be known in the world?
While it may seem flip, it is not hard –as I did above -to read much of the narrative element of the Tanakh as a series of facebook or twitter posts. Frequently, the biblical narratives come not in long flowing prose but in short burst – often, dare I say of less than 140 characters a passuk. One of the great joys of the brevity of the biblical narrative is that it leaves much room for commentary. We are left to guess at the motivations at the contexts. And we do.
David ben Jessie: Just saw the most beautiful woman bathing on her roof
Commentator one: Seriously man, you’re married.
David “father of the Messiah” ben Jessie: I’m just looking…
Commentator two: Go for it Dave, after all you’re the King, whatever you do is cool
The short pieces we see in the Bible regarding events, such as David’s sighting of Batsheva, make it possible for us to layer meanings onto the text. While that has provided many generations of learned Jews with much to work with, I’m sure that the “reality” of the original events was lost long ago. Today, such commentaries on the short bursts of information that we put out about our daily lives accrue with lightening speed. We don’t wait generations between Rambam’s and Rashi’s thought but seconds between Susan’s and Deryck’s responses. Reality can get lost quite quickly as can our control over the perception of events.
Gone are the days of the long meaningful missive. Short texts with a series of Roshei Tevot communicate volumes in an economy of space and leave much to the imagination. Going back to biblical commentaries is not going to change the mode of communication but it can be a means by which we help young people unpack their use of modern media.
Posted on October 18th, 2010 No comments
Last week I reviewed a few of my favorite general religion sites. As I promised, I am continuing this week with some general news or information sites that have dedicated religion content. Let me stress, it is not really possible to read everything that is out there, but it is helpful to know where to find the kind of material that you are looking for. Each site has its own specialty. Many of the sites are well known, others not quite as well known. Once again I welcome additional thoughts and ideas.
BBC Religion: This site, a department of BBC worldwide, is a conglomeration of variety of features. In addition to straight news stories culled from the diversity of reportage provided by the network of BBC reporters world wide, there are links to BBC radio and TV shows dedicated to religion and ethics. But the site has a smattering of the cool elements the uniquely religion sites I discussed last week also have. There are explanations about world religions and a world religions calendar that is quite comprehensive.
NPR Religion is similar to the BBC site in that it collects the news of interest from all the variety of National Public Radio shows in one place. There are few additional bells and whistles but if you are an NPR junkie (which I am) this is a good place to find it all together. One cool thing is the ability to make a podcast of all the religion items for your listening pleasure.
Religion News on the Web is a project of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Though the site is not a news generator, it is a selective aggregator of religious news from around the world. Articles are sorted by topic, region, and date, making it possible to track stories or issues in a myriad of different ways and from very different points of view. The connection with the larger Pew Forum means that there a great deal of information that can help contextualize what is going on in a broader context.
Washington Post On Religion: One of the early adapters to the new world of the web where blogging has taken the place of traditional reporting, the Washington Post has built a following by recruiting religious leaders to speak each week to a specific timely question. The quality of the questions and diversity of answers make the site a wonderful resource for thinking about the news issues of the day. Not as well known and not officially a religion site, the sister site, Washington Post On Leadership is another wonderful resource that is worth a look. Like the On Religion format, On Leadership poses a question to a series of leaders and gets a variety of leaders to answer from their point of view. There is some great stuff here.
The Huffington Post is a recent addition to the mix. Bringing together articulate religious leaders and thinkers, the Huffington Post site offers religious opinion pieces from around the world. Contributors are not necessarily religious leaders, or even religious. But the posts are edited and often highly engaging. Of late many of the big viral stories on Jewish religious opinion, started life on the HuffPost as it is known. Many Reform Jewish leaders have been known to use the site as a forum for sharing ideas.
Posted on October 11th, 2010 5 comments
I’m a fan of general religion sites. There is the obvious: any Jewish professional needs to know what is going on in the broader world of religion to be able to adequately address the Jewish community. While I could, and sometimes do turn to other denominationally affiliated sites for this kind of information, getting the range of religious responses to, for example, a supreme court case, is more easily found on a single site which aggregates opinions. Often I’m inspired and engaged for my own work, by stories and opinions on these pages. Additionally, I’ve come to recognize, that these general sites, like the one stop superstore, often bring in people who might not immediately think to stop off at a boutique Jewish site, no matter how friendly, informative or easy to navigate such a site might be. It is good to know what these sites are saying about Judaism and how people are reacting. Finally, many of these sites are not just good but great. Often, they recruit high level contributors who share real wisdom and insight.
There are two main kinds of general religion sites, those that stand alone focusing on religion and belief exclusively and others that are subsets of larger general news/information sites. In putting together my list of recommendations and reviews, I’ve decided to break them down into two separate groups over two weeks, starting with those specifically devoted to discussion of religion.
It is not a comprehensive list nor does it aim to be. This list is completely based on my own opinions. I have not included every general source on religion. I am limiting myself to sites that have named authors for each article or piece or at least most of them. Nor am I a big fan of those sites that declare themselves completely objective, as I am not sure that is a goal that is either attainable or desirable. I much prefer people own their points of view so that I can understand where they are coming from.
I’m sure I’ll leave out some good ones, so send them on and I’ll learn something too.
Beliefnet: One best known religion sites on the web, it is also one of the oldest, founded in 1999 Steven Waldman and Robert Nylen. It gets a tremendous amount of traffic. On the positive side, this site has much to offer with information about spirituality generally as well as particular religions. There are some fun elements like sections on sports and movies, practical advice for daily spiritual living, and general knowledge quizzes and forum. One stand out is the Belief-0-Matic a fun multiple choice game which can help readers find their true spiritual home –though I will note that try as I might I have yet to align with their version of Reform Judaism, this morning I turned out to be a Unitarian. Readers can contribute to the site and there are many well known clergy –including rabbis- who use the site as a forum for sharing ideas. The downside of all the bells and whistles, open as well as solicited content, is that sometime the serious stuff gets lost.
Patheos: This is a relative newcomer to the world of online religion founded in 2008. The site is hipper in format and content than Beliefnet but still building its Jewish content. The information that is there is strong and interesting and growing daily. In addition to thought pieces and blogs, there are cool elements like the comparative religions tool as well essential elements like the resources for teachers. The interactive world religions map provides information of individual countries while the interactive map highlights religious holidays by date and would be useful for planning community events. Patheos earned extra points in my book for having both Reform and Conservative/Orthodox dates for Sukkot!
Religion Dispatches: In contrast to Beliefnet and Patheos, Religion Dispatches does not attempt to speak to the full array of religious opinions or denominations but rather focuses on progressive religious voices. The first topic heading is sexuality and gender mixes news and personal accounts. The writers are of high quality and well known. The topics are engaging and timely. A recent article on dialogue in the Mormon Church about LGBT issues went far beyond the sensationalist headlines.
Kill The Buddah: This religion site stands out among others as being up front about irreverence. By the words of their own manifesto, it is a site for “people both hostile and draw to talk of God.” Founded over a decade ago by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau the site draws writers from a myriad of traditions. There is some wonderful poetry well worth exploring. The powerful thought pieces explore the complexities of religion and religious questions that are often on the fringe of the mainstream debate. It is not a site that will help you better prepare for an interfaith meeting or teaching about Islam but it may inspire your own journey.