Tag: Social Media

Weaving Social Media into the High Holy Day Services

When the Jewish High Holy Days arrive, is it necessarily more appropriate to log out of our social media apps, or can social media enhance the spiritual experience of these traditional days? Must Twitter, Facebook and texting just pull us back into our own private (even narcissistic) world or can they provide individual connections to a communal religious experience?

Recently, the New York Times reported For Young Jews, a Services says ‘Please Do Text‘ on one synagogue’s experimentation in a service for Jews in their 20’s and 30’s. Congregation Or Ami, always open to innovation, similarly experimented with Facebook, Twitter and texting during this year’s Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur morning services.

What is the Shofar Sounding Saying to You?
As profiled in JTA’s In some shuls, congregants encouraged to keep phones on during services, Or Ami took a leap of faith to engage the faithful:

Rabbi Paul Kipnes [planned] to encourage congregants with smartphones to use Facebook to reflect on the shofar after it is blown for the second time during the service. “Maimonides says, ‘Awake sleepers.’ Most of us hear the shofar and continue sleeping through it,” Kipnes said. “It’s [not] a show, not an alarm clock. I’m saying OK, everybody, sit up, wake up, reflect.”

Given that so much of the High Holidays liturgy is in the collective — “We have sinned” — Kipnes says it is appropriate for congregants to share their thoughts collectively during the service.

“Prayer,” he said, “is not supposed to be a spectator sport.”

On Rosh Hashana morning, dozens of texts, Facebook messages and tweets responded to the question, What is the shofar sounding saying to you? Worshippers responded:

  • It reminds me that I have a chance to redeem my past actions to work toward a brighter year.
  • The shofar sounds like an ancient song coming to us from thousands of years ago.
  • We need to wake up and see what is happening in the world we live in. We are at a tipping point and at stake is the existence of both the State of Israel and the life we cherish.

For the first time in a long time, people did not clap after the sounding of the shofar. Does this mean the invitation to respond by social media turned them inward? It was unclear. While such innovation can be meaningful, such breaks with tradition can also alienate others. We did hear how social media engaged some participants more deeply in the experience. One Or Ami congregant texted after the service, “Thanks so much for today. The texting during the service was engaging.”

There is Holiness When…
On Yom Kippur morning, we twice invited the congregation to interact through social media, promising that their thoughts would become part of the sermons. As LA Weekly reported in Texting During Yom Kippur Services? How One L.A. Rabbi IsBringing Social Media to His Synagogue,

…giving congregants tacit permission to mentally check out of
services was not Kipnes’ intention in bringing social media to the bimah (the
stage); in fact, it was quite the opposite. “Look, worship is supposed to
be an interactive experience, but in many places it stopped being that,”
he explains in an interview.

Before a particularly inspiring prayer-song on kedusha (holiness), we invited worshippers to complete the sentence “There is holiness when…” The responses, shared as part of a drash on holiness, included:

  • When I am with family and friends, people I truly love.
  • When we are humble.
  • When you realize you have wronged another and you then correct that wrong with a right. That is truly holy. 
  • When you wake up every morning and walk out of bed and get ready for the day ahead.
  • When we all come together to pray to the One who gave us the power to pray. 
  • When all hatred fades, when all differences dissolve, when all judgment dissipates, and when we can all look at each other as one under God. 

To Me, the Brit (covenant) with God Means…
Lisa Colton, Founder and President of Darim Online, has been agitating for rabbis to experiment with the Social Sermon, wherein rabbis announce topics ahead of services and invite social media conversation during the week. The sermon that is preached (or the Torah discussion that ensues) on Shabbat, incorporates the discussion that has preceded it. The Covenant Foundation similarly has blogged about grassroots-driven preaching, in Twitter + Community + Jewish Education = Social Sermon.

Marrying the social sermon with our willingness to push the boundaries of traditional prayer, we wove  a d’var Torah in realtime as the congregation responded to the statement “To me, the brit (covenant) with God means…” Since Or Ami like many Reform synagogues reads Nitzavim (Deut. 29-30) on Yom Kippur morning, the slew of social media messages allowed a wide ranging exploration about our connection today to the brit between God and the Jewish people. As worshippers explained, “To me, our Brit with God means…”

  • To stay with it NO MATTER WHAT. To never give up on the truth of our souls. 
  • Dedication to an unbreakable chain.
  • To do the right thing when no one is looking, and to pass down our value system to the next generation.
  • That God does God’s part and we must do ours. 
  • Our covenant is continued, when our Torah breastplate, rescued from the ashes of Kristallnacht, still adorns our scrolls and dances through Jews 74 years later.
  • That we can even question our brit with God.
Is Social Media Integration into Worship the Wave of the Future or Just Techno-Heresy? 
Initial comments following services about these social media experiments during the High Holy Days were overwhelmingly positive (but not unanimously so). Still, we heard that some participants preferred to leave their electronic umbilical cords turned off. So whether Jewish worship is flexible enough to integrate Social Media in an ongoing, meaningful way has yet to be seen. Or as LA Weekly’s Amanda Lewis wrote: 

On a holiday meant to generate inward reflection, does it
make sense to ask congregants to take out their phones but avoid the plethora
of temptations, distractions and push notifications?”

What do you think? Wave of the future or Techno-Heresy?

Rudeness All Around: Loud Public Cellphone Talking, Texting During Services

There is a thread on our Rabbinic listserve addressing the increasingly challenging problem of how to deal with noisy teenage guests at Bar/Bat Mitzvah services.  It has morphed into questions about how to deal with the incessant texting that these kids now engage in during the service.  (Interesting question is whether having them text – thus remaining more quiet – is an acceptable solution to the noise during services.)

A recent New York Times article, As the Rudes Get Ruder, the Scolds Get Scoldier, laments an equally challenging problem – the loud cellphone talker in the restaurant, coffee shop (or in NYC, on the subway).  A relative of the rude person who parks in the handicapped spot (but is fully physically abled), Loud Talker seems oblivious to his rudeness.  So how do we respond?

I recall an incident a few years back, Just Two Weeks after Yom Kippur and Already I’m Sinning. There in the street stood a woman, leaning toward the window of a big SUV, having a conversation. After observing a few cars swerve around her, I came to believe that she was endangering herself and others by standing in the road. I opened my window and called out, “Could you move to the other side of the car? By standing there you are making it unsafe for our kids.” She and the woman in the driver’s seat of the SUV looked strangely at me and said, “What?” I repeated my concern, “Standing in the street, you are making it unsafe for our kids and yourself. The cars are swerving…” She looked at me again, pondered what I said, and called out, “Shut Up!” 

Flabbergasted then, I’m still flabbergasted.

How do we respond?  Torah (Leviticus 19:17-18) teaches “You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Say something, because rudeness can be cured.

But say it with sweetness as we learn from 12th century Maimonides, One who rebukes another, whether for [personal] offenses or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly and point out that he is only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good… (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De’ot 6:7).

How would you respond to Loud Public Cellphone Talker?  To Teen Torah Service Texter?  To Handicapped Parking Space Stealer?  I’m dying to know…

Expanding the Use of Social Media: URJ's Eric Yoffie Sermonizes on Technology (and food)

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, gave his Shabbat morning sermon at the URJ’s 70th Biennial Convention in Toronto. Read the full text.  Just after he delivered it in Toronto, I read the text of his sermon in West Hills, CA (isn’t technology wonderful?).  Thoughtful, eloquent as always, Rabbi Yoffie launched two Biennial initiatives:

  •  Just Table, Green Table: Rabbi Yoffie calls for a commitment to ethical eating, asking synagogue leaders to “carefully, thoughtfully, Jewishly” formulate new eating guidelines for their communities.
  • Embracing Technology: Reform Judaism’s opportunity to engage with communities and help congregations relate to members in the online space has reached a tipping point. At the Biennial in Toronto, Rabbi Yoffie urged the Reform Movement to create congregational blogs and experiment with a range of creative technological approaches to strengthen community ties and help build community.

Each of these initiatives offer food for thought (pun intended). I am particularly taken with his interest in expanding the use of technology within the synagogue world. We are finding, at Congregation Or Ami, that – through eNewsletters, this blog, our Facebook page, Twitter (newly using it), photo page and videos – we are reaching more people than would ever walk through the doors (except, perhaps, on the High Holy Days).

Recently a social media sub-committee met to prioritize our use of social media. We set out these goals:

  • To build community and deepen connections among Or Ami members and “friends”
  • To further the Or Ami’s Vision and Values, especially regarding: Henaynu, Life-long Learning, Accessibility of Clergy, Social Justice and Openness
  • To shine the light of Or Ami into the surrounding community, including publicizing our events
  • To create a conversation about the joys of being Jewish

Further, we decided to focus in these areas:

  • Deepen the use of our Facebook page to meet our goals
  • Expand the use of E-vites to publicize programs
  • Develop more online videos and to collect them in one place
  • Enhance the synergy between our blog, Facebook, and website

My colleagues often ask me how I have time to do all of this social media and technology. I answer, simply, that our congregants are communicating this way, so shouldn’t we be utilizing their modes of communication to spread Torah, communal caring and deep Jewish spirituality? That’s what motivates me. How about you?

New Media: Taking our Temple to the Next Level

If Or Ami is so involved in blogging, eNewsletters, twitter, and Facebook, why am I sitting with our president Susan Gould and Board Member Kim Gubner (and 75 other rabbis and Jewish community leaders) in a Board of Rabbis and STAR sponsored seminar on Communicating and building relationships in an age of New Media?

We are here to hear and learn and figure out how to deepen the conversation within our community.
It is fascinating how many synagogues are experimenting with various social media and new media. I am fascinated by how so many are struggling to figure out how to get it started.
Workshops on working with the Main Stream Media mix with presentations on Social Media (facebook, del.i.cious, LinkedIn, Twitter). Conversations on how one-sided presentations (main stream media) is taking the back seat to the back-and-forth sharing and engaging of social media. A debate broke out as to whether what online communities are “real” communities or “virtual” communities.
I tend to believe that these communities are real. I do as much (more?) counseling that happens by email and facebook, as I do face to face. More people connect with our messages shared by eNewsletter, blog, facebook, than through a Shabbat evening sermon (and I would argue, a higher percentage of listeners/readers than most rabbis – even those in the bigger synagogues – do on a typical Shabbat eve/day at services). People connect, share, build relationships, inspire, motivate… and we synagogues do too.
I am proud that our Congregation Or Ami vigorously uses multiple types of social media and new media to create conversations between rabbi and congregants, and more importantly, between congregants themselves. I am excited to figure out how to deepen the connections…
The seminar is energizing for some of us; overwhelming for others. Some are frightened by the options for connecting, and the fear of the amount of work to do to make it work. Others, myself included, are energized by the new opportunities to bring people into the conversation… about Judaism, Torah, spirituality, God…
Enough. I’m multitasking during this fabulous presentation. I must get back to the seminar (and to multitask on another task as well).