The Last Year in Jewish Technology

Once again The Jewish Week asked me to try and summarize the last year in technology from a Jewish angle. This was not an easy task since technology is increasingly so much a part of our lives and it affects all areas of our world including religion. I decided to come up with the ten big Jewish/Technology-related stories. What follows is what I submitted to The Jewish Week:

A few years ago when I was asked to start the Jewish Techs blog for The Jewish Week, I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough material to write about. After all, there are a lot of worthwhile news stories about technology and a lot of interesting topics in the Jewish world, but I wasn’t sure there would be enough areas of integration. Boy, was I wrong.

Image Source: RustyBrick

Religion in general and Judaism in particular are very much enmeshed in the field of technology. As our world becomes more dependent on technology, our Jewish lives are adapting as well. Jewish visionaries are at the head of the tech revolution and hi-tech innovation has been a driving force in Israel’s economic growth in the 21st century. The Internet and tech gadgets have revolutionized Jewish learning in ways never imagined before. A set of the Talmud that once occupied an entire shelf now resides on a Smartphone with full search capabilities. The Dead Sea Scrolls were once only available to those able to travel to Jerusalem, but they are now available to the world on the Web. And it is no longer unusual that the homebound are participating in High Holy Day services virtually.

In early January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jewish technology leaders featured prominently. CES is produced by the Consumer Electronics Association led by Gary Shapiro, whose new book Ninja Innovation is sure to become a best seller in the tech world. Through the convention halls of CES were Jewish owners of technology stores and companies, inventors, and industry leaders. Innovators from Israel were seen making deals with investors, a daily minyan was convened, and the Las Vegas Chabad supervised a lunch stand.

In 2012 there were many Jewish-related stories in technology. I put together a list of the top ten stories of the year (in no particular order). To stay informed about the intersection of Jewish life and technology this year, connect with the Jewish Techs blog at http://thejewishweek.com/blogs/jewish-techs.

1. ISRAEL’S GAZA WAR AND SOCIAL MEDIA
For the first time in Israel’s existence the country waged a parallel war on the Internet. During its military situation in Gaza, the IDF focused part of its attention on social networking uploading videos of its operation to YouTube, informing its following on Facebook and posting a barrage of updates to Twitter.

2. SUPER STORM SANDY, SYNAGOGUES AND THE SOCIAL NETWORKS
The East Coast’s found itself challenged by super storm Sandy for several weeks. Synagogues in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut used social media to keep its congregants informed about everything from relief efforts to places to recharge cellphones and alternative locations of Shabbat services. During the week-long power outages, some synagogues had life-cycle events like weddings and bar mitzvahs to contend with.

3. AGUNA CASE HITS FACEBOOK
A drawn out, messy divorce case quickly went from a private matter to a world-wide public debate. Aharon Friedman, a staffer for a Michigan congressman, refused to grant his ex-wife Tamar Epstein a Jewish divorce. Online petitions and then a highly trafficked Facebook page put pressure on Friedman, including a call for him to be summarily fired. It was the first time a Jewish domestic dispute had gone to social networking to be resolved.

4. SOCIAL MEDIA’S INFLUENCE DURING THE ELECTION
Jewish Republican voters have been growing their ranks and looking to the Internet to try to convince their Democratic co-religionists. Never before has social media been so influential in a presidential election. Friends were attacking friends on Facebook for their political views. News articles and YouTube videos were posted on each other’s Facebook walls. Back-and-forth tweets were shot around Cyberspace debating whether President Obama or Governor Romney would be the better choice for Israel.

5. APPLE’S QUESTIONABLE JERUSALEM STATUS
The popular computer and phone company found itself being questioned by pro-Israel supporters for neglecting to associate Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on its faulty map application. When Apple released its new operating system, iOS6, it didn’t show Jerusalem as the capital of Israel although every other country on the map had its capital listed.

6. JEWISH LED GOOGLE AVOIDS CHARGES IT’S A MONOPOLY
Microsoft and a coalition of niche search engines accused Google, founded by Jewish Internet gurus Sergei Brin and Larry Page, of unfair search practices for prominently displaying some results at the top of some inquiries. Google, which began as an Internet search company but has ventured into many other sectors, spent the better part of the year fighting those accusations. The Federal Trade Commission absolved Google of monopoly accusations early in 2013 for prioritizing its own products in search results

7. WAZE APP AND SALE RUMORS
The biggest tech story coming out of Israel this year was about a little GPS app company called Waze. The mobile app, featuring turn-by-turn navigation was developed by the Israeli start-up Waze Mobile and differs from traditional GPS navigation software because its community-driven. The app learns from users’ driving times to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. When Apple’s mapping application had flaws, Apple’s CEO recommended that iPhone users download Waze. After growing to more than 40 million users in 2012 there were rumors that Facebook and then Apple were interested in buying Waze (for some $40 billion), but neither deal panned out.

8. DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND SCHOTTENSTEIN TALMUD GO VIRTUAL
If asked what two collections from the Jewish textual tradition would be most beneficial in a fully searchable, digital format scholars would come to consensus over the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud. The Israel Museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, a partnership with Google, launched in 2012 allows users to examine and explore the most ancient manuscripts from Second Temple times at a level of detail never imagined before. Five Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized so far and they can be searched through queries on Google.com. What had been hidden and lost in a cave for generations are now online for the world to see.

Earlier this year, Artscroll announced the launch of the ArtScroll Digital Library and the first mobile app they will launch will be the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud. The app will offer all of the necessary tools students of the Talmud would want as they study and debate the ancient text. The app was produced by Rusty Brick and features page syncing, place tracking, extra hand, page fusion, hybrid page, floating translation, quick scroll, integrated notes, and page mapping color coding. The Apple version is already available and an Android version is expected to be released this year.

9. RALLY AGAINST INTERNET AT CITI FIELD
In May, more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a sellout rally in Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The attendees came to protest the growth of the Internet, which they believe is a moral detriment to their religious way of life. Rabbis spoke to the crowd about the perils of the Internet and cautioned those who are required to use the Internet for their work to use a filter so as to avoid unseemly content.

10. TEXTING HIGH HOLIDAY SERVICES
Rosh Hashanah 2012 marked the first time that several rabbis around the country encouraged their congregants to take out their SmartPhones and use them. In most congregations, participants were reminded to put their tech gadgets away, but in some synagogues like Rabbi Amy Morrison’s Reform temple in Miami Beach she told the worshippers to “Take those phones out.” This innovation was seen as a way to engage the crowd of digitally connected 20- to 30-year-olds. No doubt tweeting and texting during religious services will only become more prevalent in the years to come, right or wrong.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israel’s Gaza Situation Becomes Cyber War

Social media changes the zeitgeist in ways we couldn’t have imagined. As we saw with the recent presidential election, opinions and attacks now travel at the speed of light. And so it should be no surprise that the ongoing Middle East conflict in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israelis has escalated into a Cyber war.

While the conflict may seem like history repeating itself, social media is actually changing the way the public sees the violence. As several news agencies have reported,Israel is now using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to its advantage in its war with Hamas in Gaza. In the past Israel has had to rely upon mainstream news agencies to report on the back-and-forth actions in Gaza, but now the Israeli military and government can take its message straight to the people using its social networks.

As the LA Times reported today:

While Israel launched its surprise attack Wednesday on Gaza, it declared it to the world on Twitter, arguing its case for the new campaign against Hamas in less than 140 characters.

Minute by minute, the Israel Defense Forces fed followers information and arguments on the strike. At their computers, Internet users could click through aerial photos, check updates on the offensive and watch a YouTube video of the strike killing the Hamas military chief.

At one point, the Israeli military traded Twitter barbs with Hamas. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the @IDFSpokesperson account tweeted Wednesday.

The Hamas military wing tweeted back, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”

Israel Defense Forces Twitter Account

Social media isn’t new to the IDF, but the way it’s now using such sites as Twitter is new and will likely become the way nation-states will operate in military conflicts. It is clear that the chief spokesman of the IDF, Yoav Mordechai, believes that tweeting the operation in Gaza is a good weapon in its hasbara (public relations) struggle. Israel has always been challenged by negative PR in the mainstream media. Mordechai’s office even used Twitter to send a warning to its Hamas enemies, tweeting, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” The IDF’s Twitter feed has been continually updated with news, pictures and videos from the front lines using the Twitter “hashtag” #PillarOfDefense. Perhaps the Cyber war really became a reality when Hamas’ military wing responded with return fire on Twitter, tweeting back, “You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.”

In addition to the IDF’s new found use of Twitter, sites like YouTube (operated by Google) have had to navigate their way through the new murky waters of whether the postings by the IDF of their military operations are deemed “kosher” according to its own terms of service agreement. Originally Google yanked a video posted by the Israeli military Wednesday, which showed the “pinpoint strike” that killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in his car. YouTube originally had a message on the removed video stating, “This clip has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service. Sorry about that.”

However, YouTube apparently changed its corporate mind and allowed the video to be shown. A company spokesperson explained, “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.” Most likely enough anti-Israel YouTube users had flagged the video triggering a review process until someone at YouTube could view the video in question and make the decision. By reinstating the video, YouTube opened up a whole new front in this war.

Israel Defense Forces Facebook Page

In taking the Middle East conflict to the Web, the opportunity for hacking has also been escalated. So it was no surprise early yesterday morning when a hacker group called “Anonymous” announced a mission to crash and deface websites belonging to the IDF, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli websites belonging to security and financial corporations. Using Twitter, the hacking group urged its followers to bring down more than 40 websites belonging to the Israeli government and military.

In a statement, the hackers stated, “We will do everything in our power to hinder the evil forces of the IDF arrayed against you. We will use all our resources to make certain you stay connected to the Internet and remain able to transmit your experiences to the world.” Already the hacker group has claimed to have taken down Israeli’s “top security and surveillance website.” They also released a “care package” with tools for staying online if the Israeli government cuts off Internet access in Gaza. Another hacker group called Telecomix posted a message online with instructions on how to use dial-up Internet to stay connect if the Web is shut down. According to Forbes.com, most of the Anonymous’ target websites were still online.

Another new front of the Middle East war in Gaza has been the public discourse on social networking sites. As soon as the conflict escalated advocates on both sides of the conflict began using Facebook to show their support. Pro-Israel supporters began simply updating their Facebook status with the Hebrew words עם ישראל חי (Am Yisra’el Chai) meaning “The nation of Israel lives.” Other Facebook and Twitter users reposted news reports of the direct hit on the Gaza leader and reminded their followers that the news coverage of the conflict has not accurate covered the escalation as thousands of missiles had already been fired into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday, in a show of support many users on Facebook began posting photos of IDF soldiers from visits to the Jewish homeland.

On Twitter, #Gaza and #Jerusalem have been trending off and on over the past few days and many heated back-and-forth conversations have taken place on the site. The IDF’s Flickr site has also seen a huge uptick in traffic with many users reposting photos from that stream to their own Pinterest boards. Additionally, the IDF’s Facebook page has noticed a sharp increase in fans approaching a quarter million. The IDF page’s recent status was “Shabbat Shalom from the IDF. We won’t be able to rest until we bring quiet to Israel.”

The long-simmering conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will be the first test of the social media zeitgeist. Newspapers and television news outlets are still relevant, but this will go down as the first war that was also played out in real time on the Web. In the social media era, anyone and everyone can become a reporter. And the millions of vehement opinions will likely only raise the heat of this escalating conflict.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at the Jewish Week

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Revolutionizes the Birthday Greeting

Hallmark Cards, Inc. estimates that greeting card sales have plummeted from 6 billion to 5 billion annually over the past decade. Earlier this month, the nation’s top greeting card maker announced it will close a plant that made one-third of its greeting cards and terminate over 300 jobs.

This news should come as no surprise for Facebook users who use the social networking site to wish friends “Happy Birthday” or leave a comment of condolence after the death of a loved one. Facebook now boasts 1 billion users world-wide, and for many of those users the custom of offering birthday greetings has changed.

Humans have been wishing each other birthday greetings for millennia. Even in the Torah there is mention of a birthday celebration (Pharaoh), but over the years, the way in which we mark each other’s birthday milestones has changed. Never has this change been as drastic as in recent years as Facebook usage has increased exponentially. While individuals still send paper birthday cards to close friends and relatives on their birthday, many transitioned to online greeting cards as the Web developed. (Hallmark’s main rival company, American Greetings, is adding jobs now because of its move to online birthday cards.) Picking up the phone to call our best friends and relatives on their birthday is still practiced, but it is also now acceptable to send an email or text message of birthday greetings as well.

Where Facebook has become the “killer app” and disruptor in the culture of sending birthday greetings is in its birthday feature on the sidebar. Each day beginning at midnight Facebook updates the birthday events box on each user’s sidebar alerting the user to birthdays being celebrated on that day. Prior to this feature individuals had to rely on their own information in an address book or birthdays manually inputted into a calendar. These daily reminders are appreciated by active Facebook users as forgetting birthdays is now mostly a thing of the past.

At first Facebook simply listed the friends celebrating birthdays on that day in the sidebar box, but within the past couple years the company realized how prevalent the custom of posting birthday greetings on friends’ Facebook Walls had become and instituted a simpler way of posting. Now users are given a text box next to each birthday celebrant’s name to easily leave a birthday greeting or wish. Past and future birthdays are also listed on the Facebook user’s calendar. Earlier this month, Facebook began showing friends’ birthdays at the top of its mobile site with a gift icon next to the birthday celebrant’s name. Clicking through this icon allows the user to send a birthday gift with Facebook taking a cut of the profit.

With Facebook’s assistance people are now wishing “Happy Birthday” to people whose birthdays they historically wouldn’t have acknowledged (long lost elementary school classmates and former colleagues), but some say it hasn’t changed the way they still mark the milestones of close friends. “Facebook doesn’t change the way I handle birthdays I always acknowledged in the past, but I still like to send paper birthday cards to my close family and a few friends. But I do offer birthday greetings to many of my Facebook friends — it takes but a moment, and I think they enjoy it,” said Bobbie Lewis of Oak Park.

Jacob Zuppke of Bloomfield Hills also uses Facebook to wish his large cohort of Facebook connections a birthday wishes. “Facebook reminds me every day someone is getting older. There are very few birthdays I store in my calendar, but with Facebook, I never miss a birthday.” Zuppke acknowledges that the standard Facebook birthday greeting can be impersonal. “I use Facebook as a calendar for birthdays. If I see it is someone close to me, I will call them or find a way to visit them. I don’t use Facebook to actually communicate with anyone close to me for a special day.”

Joey Niskar, an attorney who lives in West Bloomfield, has made the offering of birthday wishes via Facebook part of his daily regimen. “Every day, I check the automatic birthday notifications provided by Facebook and send a nice happy birthday wish to each Facebook friend celebrating a birthday on that particular day. For the other Facebook friends who may be old friends, a happy birthday wish via Facebook is very meaningful.”

RESPONDING TO BIRTHDAYS

What is the protocol in responding to the barrage of birthday wishes Facebook users now receive annually? Lewis explained, “For those who send Facebook birthday greetings to me, I usually offer a generic response to all unless the birthday message is something more interesting and personal than “Happy Birthday.’ I know some people dislike this aspect of Facebook, but I don’t mind it.” For Zuppke, with over 3,000 Facebook connections including many he doesn’t know or speak with on a regular basis, responding with one mass message at the end of the day thanking the group as a whole is sufficient.

When it is Sherry Kanter’s birthday she simply acknowledges friends’ greetings with the ‘Like’ button. “I try to respond personally to as many as I can. It is a great way to keep in touch with people,” the Huntington Woods resident said.

“I think most people have come to realize that a group thank you at the end of the day or the next morning is quite appropriate,” reasoned Dave Henig of Sylvan Lake. “With the volume of wishes that I assume most people get, it becomes impractical to respond individually.”

OTHER GREETINGS ON FACEBOOK

Birthday wishes may be the most common form of greeting on Facebook, but the site is used to offer other forms of milestone greetings as well. From engagements and weddings to new babies and wedding anniversaries, millions of Facebook users share their news with their networks on the site and receive comments in response. “If someone mentions on Facebook they’re celebrating something important I don’t hesitate to offer a ‘mazel tov’ comment. Condolences following a death are a little trickier,” Lewis says. “For people with whom I communicate mostly by Facebook, it seems appropriate, but I always write a personal message too. And if they don’t want to receive condolences via Facebook, they shouldn’t be announcing their loss on Facebook. For close friends and acquaintances, I still send paper cards or make a tribute gift in their loved one’s memory.”

With Facebook, birthday celebrants who once received only a handful of phone calls on their birthday now get hundreds of wishes annually. That can be a nice gift. As Niskar observed, “By notifying me of birthdays and allowing me to wish each person a ‘Happy Birthday,’ Facebook has enabled me to nourish my connection to old friends at least once per year. It makes the other person feel good, which in turn makes me happy.”

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Mark Zuckerberg Eats Kosher in Rome

I’m all for letting Mark Zuckerberg and his new wife Priscilla Chan honeymoon in peace, but I couldn’t resist blogging about two noteworthy events that occurred during the newlyweds’ Italian vacation.

First, the Facebook Founder and CEO took his bride to a *kosher restaurant in the Jewish area in Rome. The couple dined at Nonna Betta where they spent 32 euros on lunch. There’s no word on why Zuckerberg decided to visit the Jewish section of Rome or why he and Priscilla chose a kosher restaurant for lunch.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan at a kosher restaurant in Rome.

At Nonna Betta, Zuckerberg and Chan ate traditional Roman Jewish delicacies including deep-fried artichokes, fried pumpkin flowers and ravioli stuffed with sea bass and artichokes. To drink they each had a glass of water and shared a pot of hot tea.

In addition to Zuck’s decision to eat kosher (“When in Rome!”) the second notable aspect of the couple’s Roman visit was the young billionaire’s failure to tip at the restaurant. Waiters at Nonna Betta reported that Zuckerberg acknowledged he was Mark Zuckerberg and then neglected to leave a gratuity. That’s an odd omission from someone who’s portfolio increases by approximately a billion dollars every time the Facebook stock goes up two points (since its IPO the stock has actually decreased by about 25%).

The restaurant receipt from Mark Zuckerberg’s lunch at a kosher restaurant in Rome.

It’s possible that Zuckerberg thinks that it’s unnecessary to tip in Rome since he reportedly didn’t leave a tip the night before at a dinner at Pierluigi (not kosher), a historic trattoria in the heart of Rome. In all fairness to Zuckerberg, it doesn’t look like there was any place to add a tip on the receipt (above).

Perhaps Zuckerberg and Chan will continue to seek out kosher fare when they return to Palo Alto. On behalf of the waitstaff I just hope he learns to tip!

*UPDATE: Nonna Betta restaurant in Rome is no longer certified kosher. Tourists should consult a local rabbi regarding the kosher status of this restaurant.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Mark Zuckerberg Gets Interfaith Married to Priscilla Chan

In the run up to the big Facebook initial public offering this past week, the media went Facebook crazy and tried to get interviews from everyone who has ever been connected to Mark Zuckerberg. Of course that included the rabbi of his childhood congregation.

In an article on The Scarsdale Daily website, Rabbi David Holtz of Temple Beth Abraham was quoted about his memories of Mark Zuckerberg attending his Reform temple in Tarrytown, New York. Rabbi Holtz reminisced about Zuckerberg’s family and recalled the Facebook founder’s “Star Wars” themed bar mitzvah fifteen years ago. Rabbi Holtz also mentioned a congregational trip to Israel that the Zuckerberg family took when Mark Zuckerberg was fifteen-years-old. Rabbi Holtz called Zuckerberg a thoughtful and insightful teen. I don’t know if Zuckerberg plans to donate any of his fortune to the synagogue of his youth, but hopefully, at the very least, he’ll be willing to help the congregation improve its website.

As if this week wasn’t already exciting enough for Zuckerberg with his billion dollar company going public, he also made a very important change to his Facebook profile’s status tonight when he updated it to “Married”. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Timeline now features the headline “Married Priscilla Chan” (with over 1 million likes). With that update, Zuckerberg is added to the list of famous Jews who have married outside of the faith.

Apparently the timing of the wedding had no connection to Facebook’s IPO. Rather, the couple was waiting for Priscilla Chan to graduate from medical school at the University of California San Francisco. Zuckerberg’s bride graduated on Monday from UCSF Medical School, which was coincidentally Zuckerberg’s 28th birthday.

Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan were married earlier today in a small ceremony in the backyard of his Palo Alto home. There is no word yet on who officiated the ceremony. However, I know the family has a nice relationship with Rabbi Laura Baum of Congregation Beth Adam and OurJewishCommunity.org (she’s also my colleague through the CLAL Rabbi’s Without Borders fellowship). Rabbi Baum officiated at the bris of Mark Zuckerberg’s nephew Asher a year ago. It is possible that Rabbi Baum officiated at the wedding through her connection with Zuckerberg’s sister and brother-in-law Randi Zuckerberg and Brent Tworetzky.

As an adult Mark Zuckerberg has claimed he is an atheist, so it is also possible that his wedding ceremony was not officiated by a rabbi, but was a completely secular ceremony conducted by a justice of the peace, or even a friend who became licensed in California for the occasion.

According to the AP, the wedding guests all thought they were coming to celebrate Priscilla Chan’s graduation from medical school, but were told after they arrived that the event was in fact a wedding. From the wedding photo released by Facebook, it does not appear that Mark Zuckerberg was wearing a yarmulke as he did at his sister Randi’s wedding to Tworetzky on a beach a few years ago.

I’m sure that more information will be released about Zuckerberg’s wedding this coming week. Of course, the big question for the Jewish community will be whether Zuckerberg and Chan plan to raise their future children in the Jewish faith. In other words, will a future Zuckerberg heir also have a “Star Wars” themed bar mitzvah?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Detroit Jewish Nonprofit Competes in Facebook Contest to Win $250,000

Thousands in Metro Detroit’s Jewish community have been flocking to Home Depot’s Facebook page in recent weeks. No, they are not all interested in becoming fans of the national retail giant. They are simply trying to help a local social service agency win $250,000 from the Home Depot Foundation.

Jewish Family Service in Michigan was one of 12 nonprofits around the country to win a monthly prize of $25,000 cash and another $5,000 in Home Depot gift cards from the Home Depot Foundation this past January. That win put them in the competition for the Aprons in Action contest that will give away a total of a half-million dollars in March. JFS plans to use the cash prize for its Project Build! program, which provides JFS clients with safe and barrier-free homes through pro bono repairs and renovations provided by local builders, remodelers and suppliers.

While many nonprofits in the Jewish community are still trying to find their way in the new world of social media, online contests like the Home Depot Foundation’s Aprons in Action have pushed nonprofit organizations to create a social media strategy to get out the vote on Facebook, the social networking site that boasts more than 850 million users.

Retail giants like Target and Home Depot, as well as large corporations like Toyota and Ford Motor Company, have drawn millions of Facebook users to their corporate and foundation “Fan Pages” through their online contests.

These crowd-raising initiatives have required nonprofits to familiarize themselves with such 21st-century terms as “social clout,” “social analytics,” “network amplification,” “true reach” and “social media influence.” Additionally, these nonprofits that compete in the contests have to quickly bolster their own online social identity to broadcast their participation in the contest. Many of these nonprofits are trying to raise their online presence on a shoestring budget, if they have allocated any marketing funds to social media at all.

In most cases, competing in such online contests is a gamble for the nonprofits because they don’t know what their return on investment will be, and they are allocating a lot of resources, including staff time, to the cause. JFS has recruited Jewish professionals and lay leaders in the community to reach out to their own networks to encourage daily voting on the Home Depot Foundation Facebook page during March. Local members of the Jewish community were asked to include reminders on their social networking sites and in email signatures. Some also participate in “post-a-thons,” where volunteers gather at a site and recruit voters via laptop postings. Additionally, JFS offered a daily email reminder service to increase its odds of securing the most votes.

“The Home Depot contest, as well as our success last summer at winning Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition, has made us aware that everything we do needs to have a social media layer,” explained Perry Ohren, CEO of JFS. “This has profound meaning in terms of our timing and our message. Timing has to be instantaneous and our message has to be short and engaging.”

One organization that has found much success in using its social reach to garner the votes needed to win online contests is Chabad Lubavitch. The international organization headquartered in Brooklyn exploits social networking not only to broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, have used Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in national contests for six- figure grants by Chase Community Giving and Target Stores.

In a Facebook contest sponsored by Kohl’s Cares, 12 Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with 11 of those schools being Chabad-affiliated. Friendship Circle of Michigan, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote.

Through these online contests, major corporations are able to donate funds to social service organizations, but it’s not completely altruistic. After all, the corporations are attracting a lot of attention to their brand. In the case of Home Depot, they are able to get thousands of people to visit their Facebook page each day for a month and look at their corporate logo, even if it is subliminal advertising. That is valuable advertising for the company and the half-million dollar investment is a small fraction of the retail giant’s more than $1 billion advertising budget.

Foundations for these large companies, like the Home Depot Foundation, have to make large charitable gifts each year so they figure they should at least help promote their corporate brand in the process.

Regardless of the motivation behind these online contests, it is certain that they have been the driving force in getting nonprofits to focus more on social media strategies. Hopefully, when there’s no large cash prize at the end of the rainbow, nonprofits will continue to utilize social media to promote theircause, raise awareness about their mission and solicit donations.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News and posted on the eJewishPhilanthropy.com blog

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israeli President Shimon Peres Wants Friends

At no point in history was the Hebrew word for “friend” more popular than after President Bill Clinton uttered those two famous words as he eulogized his assassinated friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem in 1995. “Shalom Chaver” quickly became a famous slogan and bumper sticker quote.

Now, one man who was Yitzhak Rabin’s friend, colleague and peace partner is campaigning for chaverim, friends. Not real friends, but Facebook fans. On the same day he delivered a very well-received speech to close to 13,000 pro-Israel supporters at AIPAC Policy Conference on Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres launched his new Facebook page.

President Peres has had a very good week. After AIPAC honored the 88-year-old leader on Sunday for his storied career in Israeli politics and for his lasting commitment to peace, he met privately with President Obama. During his AIPAC appearance Peres found a very supportive audience who saluted him with many standing ovations. All this week Shimon Peres has been on a tour of the Bay Area where he’s meeting with hi-tech leaders of Silicon Valley.

His California itinerary includes meetings with leading venture capitalists, as well as with Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. During his meeting with the Facebook founder, President Peres launched his official personal page on the Facebook site. While Peres might not be the first 88-year-old with a Facebook account, he is the first one whose chief agenda is to use his Facebook page to create a dialogue with Arabs who live in countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg interviewed the Israeli President about his Facebook ambitions and he explained,  “The matter of peace is no longer the business of governments but the business of people. Today the people are governing the governments. And when they begin to talk to each other, they are surprised: We should be friends.”

So, how he is Shimon Peres seeking to make friends on the social networking site? Rather than giving away a free iPad as many businesses do when they launch a new Facebook page, Peres released a new YouTube music video (see below) asking everyone to be his friend on Facebook in the name of peace. The video was launched last Sunday as Peres was speaking at AIPAC. I’m certain this video will go viral because, well, the sight of an 88-year-old rock star who happens to be the president of the Jewish state is “must see TV.” Peres, with his iconic deep Israeli accent, has become a beloved father figure to the Israeli people. It is remarkable to see him so eager to exploit social media in the name of forging a lasting peace in the Middle East. I wish him well… and I hope that he gets a lot of friends to join him on Facebook.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Non-Profits and Social Media – Do They Get It?

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

As a rabbi who is a social mediaologist, I find myself consulting a lot of synagogues and Jewish nonprofits on their social media strategy. The leaders of these institutions all recognize that they require a social media strategy, but the plan for how it will be implemented varies greatly.

Many synagogues in 2012 have yet to budget for social media marketing so they look for the quickest and cheapest solution. In most cases this comprises of identifying a volunteer lay person or existing staff member who is willing and able to set up the congregation’s social media presence across the major networks. In some instances this is a teen who claims to be a Facebook wiz and over-promises and under-delivers. With many volunteers, congregations often get what they pay for.

Synagogues and Jewish nonprofits are jumping on the social media bandwagon, but are they taking the initiative seriously enough?

Jewish organizations seem to be a little further ahead than synagogues in the social media department. Third party retailers like Target and Home Depot have forced nonprofit institutions to get on the social media bandwagon quickly because of their online contests in which the retailer partners with nonprofits for fundraising prizes. These crowd-raising initiatives have required nonprofits to bolster their social identity online to compete in the contests.

While businesses in the for-profit world have allocated serious funds to their online marketing initiative, the nonprofit world is still light-years behind. That should be no surprise because nonprofits often take a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to change.

Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin recently wrote on the eJewishPhilanthropy blog about an unofficial survey they conducted to investigate how Jewish nonprofits are “utilizing social media and how it enables them to meet the demands that they and their leaders are facing.” From the outset, they assert that the picture is not entirely positive and quote a synagogue software system developer lamenting that “most of the Jewish world seems frozen in the 20th century when it comes to being technologically advanced.”

Our recent survey demonstrated a significant lack of human or dollar resources invested by Jewish groups into Facebook and Twitter. Very few synagogues even seem to have any presence on Facebook or Twitter, although they all have websites, many of which are reasonably interactive. Robyn Cimbol, director of development at New York City’s Temple Emanu-El, noted that her congregation was probably the first Jewish congregation to have a website but today they have no specific plans to foster Facebook or Twitter activities, citing other pressing priorities and no apparent demands from their 2,800 member households. “We have limited staff resources and capabilities for this,” she noted, “but we are gearing up ultimately to recognize social media as one communications opportunity,” she told us. She did emphasize that “a number of staff members do use Face Book [sic]… to communicate with specific constituents but it is not used Temple-wide.”

Facebook reports that 89% of 1.3 million U.S. nonprofit organizations boast a social networking presence, offering opportunities potentially for fundraising. However, fundraising on Facebook is still a “minority effort,” despite recent gains.

The authors of the study recognize that the Jewish nonprofits that have succeeded the most in social media marketing have been those that have participated in social fundraisers with third parties, such as mega-retailers or major foundations. Many organizations that find themselves competing in these online social fundraisers have allocated staff time or in some cases hired dedicated part-time staff to manage these initiatives (if they win there is a good return on investment).

The Jewish Education Project and JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute (in partnership with UJA Federation of New York) have launched the Jewish Futures Competition, which will dole out $1,800 prizes for Jewish nonprofits to advance their social media identities. As more synagogues and Jewish nonprofits become more focused on bolstering their social media exposure (moving from building their fan base on a Facebook page to increasing their brand amplification through likes, comments and shares), they will integrate their email marketing (Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc.) and online fundraising (Razoo, CauseCast, DonorPages, etc.) into their social networking.

Evans and Lapin’s study demonstrates that nonprofits do understand the value in using social networks for fundraising. “According to this year’s Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, four out of five nonprofit organizations find social networks a ‘valuable’ fundraising option.” However, these same nonprofits aren’t able to quantify why that is. It is important to remember that social media is still in its infancy. As it grows (and its exponential growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon), more synagogues and nonprofits will get on board by allocating the necessary resources to its success.

As they say, the “proof is in the pudding” and the ROI will be noticeable for the synagogues and Jewish nonprofits who dedicate the necessary time and resources to building their brand/mission exposure through social media. Change is never easy and the nonprofit world is more risk averse when it comes to technological innovation. At least the conversations about social media integration are taking place in the Jewish nonprofit world, and the studies are showing that a realization exists that this is a necessary form of communication, marketing and fundraising in the 21st century.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Branding Israel Through Technology

This is my recent “Jews in the Digital Age” column for the Detroit Jewish News:

Sally Whittle is a blogger in Lancashire, England. Her blog “Who’s the Mummy?” is one of approximately 4 million “mommy blogs” on the Web. Like many other young mothers she journals about her life as a mother and provides advice for other mothers around the world. With over 30,000 visitors a month, Whittle is used to receiving comments on her blog but she was surprised when she was offered a free trip to Israel with a handful of other popular mommy bloggers.

The group of mommy bloggers visited Israel this past July as part of VibeIsrael, a program of the apolitical non-profit Kinetis. The social startup seeks to generate domestic and global awareness of Israel as the capital of creative energy. Its founder and executive director Joanna Landau was recently in Metro Detroit to share her vision of how to brand Israel for the 21st century and how to market that brand as widely as possible.

Landau, a lawyer and start-up entrepreneur made aliyah with her family when she was five-years-old. Raised in a well-to-do philanthropic and Zionist home, she actively sought out a way to transition from her for-profit work into a non-profit passion. Her interest was piqued in 2004 when Israel’s Foreign Ministry launched the Brand Israel Project, which aimed to improve the country’s image abroad by downplaying religion and avoiding any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians. Landau incorporated Kinetis in November 2009 seeding it with some of her own money and got to work on her re-branding Israel project.

While in Metro Detroit, Landau was eager to learn how the state’s “Pure Michigan” campaign was working to improve its image. She quickly noticed the similarities between Metro Detroit’s desire to retain talent by keeping its young people local after college and Israel’s desire to have its children choose to remain in Israel following army service. “Brazil is known for ‘fun’ and Paris is about ‘romance’ and America is connected to ‘freedom.’ When people around the world hear ‘Israel,’ they automatically think about politics and the conflict with the Palestinians,” Landau explains. Israel is all about ‘Creative Energy.’ This is what differentiates Israel as a country and Israelis as a nation. It represents the essence of Israel’s offering and encompasses the nation’s relative advantages in the fields of art and culture, technology and science, lifestyle, heritage and the environment.

Landau argues there is a misguided belief among Israelis that if they can only convince the rest of the world of the legitimacy of its political policies, then the tide will turn and there will be increased travel, investment and love of the Jewish State. “People are not interested in Israel beyond the conflict because we haven’t given them a reason to be interested. Whenever Israel gets a chance to say something, all we ever talk about is this conflict.”

When asked if Landau’s Kinetis is a new type of Israeli hasbara (public relations) organization, she laughs. “Hasbara is what you do when you feel you need to explain yourself? Only when you have done something wrong or if you’re unclear,” Landau clarifies. “In Israel we have been so consumed by crisis-management and self-defense that we have been unable to think of a long-term strategy.”

Landau wants a paradigm shift that will change the conversation. She believes that Creative Energy is in the DNA of Israelis. She wants to highlight her country’s high global appeal through a hi-tech, arts and culture, lifestyle, and extreme sports. “The Jewish religion is a very creative religion. Curiosity is encouraged and conventions are challenged,” she says. . “What we want to do is celebrate the things that Israel has to offer that are interesting on a global level,” she says. “Branding is about giving people something to relate to and connect to on an emotional level.”

It is Israel’s imperative to tell her own story and under Landau’s direction Kinetis has taken full advantage of modern technology to control the message. Its Facebook page features a video of Warren Buffet praising Israel as a place in the Middle East that might not have much oil, but it has an abundance in brains, energy, integrity and imagination. At the top of the Facebook page, there is a message that anyone can submit “an inspiring image or video that encapsulates “Creative Energy” about Israel and it will be posted on the page.

In addition to the cutting edge and attractive Facebook page, Kinetis boasts an impressive website available in both Hebrew and English that outlines its many programs all with the goal of place branding Israel in the most positive ways. Drawing upon the success of the book “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Kinetis offers an academic program for Israeli students and international students from around the globe. These students in the Start-Up Nation Awareness Program (SNAP) will investigate the sources of Israel’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit across numerous spheres. Ultimately, their connection to Israel will help develop Israel as a model to be taught in leading universities worldwide.

The VibeIsrael program provides an all-expenses-paid personalized experience of Israel like the one set up for the mommy bloggers. These groups of opinion leaders include bird watchers, digital photographers, women entrepreneurs, extreme sports enthusiasts, archeologists, members of the fashion industry, technologists, and gourmet chefs. Participants are offered a glimpse into real Israeli life by connecting them with their Israeli counterparts. Rather than spend a week touring all of the typical tourist locations, VibeIsrael participants travel the country with locals who show them places relevant to their interests. These thought leaders then return home where they publish a critical mass of posts, blogs and articles in the printed media and on the Internet which convey an authentic, unadulterated “buzz” about what Israel truly offers.

Israel is a thriving nation made up of citizens who are proud of its accomplishments and offerings. Landau is working to highlight Israel’s best assets to the rest of the world. Through place branding and exploiting new media, every day she is raising the awareness of Israel as the creative energy capital of the world. With the help of technology and drawing on the clout of those with loud voices in the digital age, Kinetis is quickly positioning Israel as a center of excellence in the fields of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

After returning from her visit to Israel with VibeIsrael, Whittle blogged “What I saw in Israel was an irrepressible sense of possibility. And going forward that means I will always approach any political story about Israel with that memory in mind – the memory of the people we met, the experiences we had, and the fun we shared.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Twittering of Gilad Shalit

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

Ynet News is reporting that the Israeli prime minister’s emissary to the negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas to return the captive Gilad Shalit said “it’s not over yet. The deal reached is pretty complicated, but the most difficult part is behind us.” The former Mossad agent turned Gilad Shalit negotiator, David Meidan, added that he plans to travel to Egypt soon, together with the negotiation team, to plan Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel.

While the deal to free Shalit was orchestrated by high-level Israeli politicians, negotiators like Meidan, and world leaders, there was also an impressive social media campaign spanning the past few years to spread word of Shalit’s captivity through the micro-blogging site Twitter. The hashtag #FreeGilad has long been used on Twitter following any statement or link relating to the cause of freeing Gilad Shalit. As Adam Dickter blogged about yesterday, Gilad Shalit was trending on Twitter moments after news about the deal began to spread.

Dickter wrote at NewsFactorNews: “News of Shalit’s release and the controversial agreement spread quickly around the world, creating a stream of tweets. The hashtag #GiladShalit moved along computer screens almost as quickly today as #SteveJobs did last week, following the death of the Apple co-founder and former CEO. A few days before that, #iPhone5 topped Twitter, when Apple released a new phone that turned out to be the iPhone 4S, not an iPhone 5, as expected.”

In the NewsFactorNews post, Dickter quoted me about the early use of Twitter to promote the Free Gilad Movement:

Rabbi Jason Miller, who writes extensively about the intersection of Jewish themes and technology, said he learned about the deal Tuesday from a New York Times Breaking News alert, and quickly Tweeted it to his 2,357 followers. It was, in a way, coming full circle, as social media have been used extensively to raise awareness of Shalit’s plight. “The hashtag #FreeGilad is one that I have been using for at least three years now,” said Miller. “In fact, it was one of the first hashtags I ever used on Twitter. I’ve also been asked by leaders of the ‘Free Gilad’ movement if I would tweet certain statements at certain times of the year, on the anniversary of his captivity.” “It’s not just news for Israelis or Jewish people, but an international story.”

Dickter also noted that Facebook also offered an opportunity for people around the world to share their thoughts. The Free Gilad Shalit group, which has 107,112 members.

No doubt that the moment Gilad Shalit is back home safe and sound, he’ll be trending in the Twittersphere once again.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller