Facebook Advice from Nuns

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

As Social Media has become more popular over the past few years, an emerging field of study and consulting has emerged. All of a sudden everyone is a social media maven. The youngest employee (or intern) at law offices, accounting firms, medical practices, restaurants and non-profit organizations suddenly become the in-house social media experts charged with the task of creating Facebook pages and keeping them updated.

In most cases, it’s best to leave the social media marketing to the experts. However, there are times when advice comes from unusual places. Bernhard Warner, writing in AdAge Digital, shows that nuns in Rome may be able to teach us a lot more about social media than we probably thought. Warner, the director at the editorial consultancy Custom Communication, writes:

The power of creativity. I have to admit it’s only recently that I began looking into what religious orders, charities and religious NGOs are doing in the area of social media. What particular impresses me is the genuineness of their approach and the creativity with which they use to lay out tough messages — sacrifice, vocation, mercy, charity — in a medium filled with a lot of distractions for the typical social media user. What do I mean? Look at the tweets of Sister Christine Ereiser, a Benedictine nun from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s active on Twitter and is avid podcaster. By the way, her order, the Benedictine Sisters, is engaging, humorous and even cheeky at times. Go sisters! Finally, I have to point out the pioneering work of Sister Julie from Chicago, a podcaster, blogger and founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry. She provides a fascinating insight into a community of nuns that we don’t often get to see: they are avid content creators, active networkers, and, yes, very geeky!

Warner walks us through the ways in which these nuns can guide us trhough our social media usage with ethics, commitment and values. So, don’t discount advice on social media from unusual places. But that doesn’t mean that you should let the intern or a high school volunteer quarterback your social media campaign- either.

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

FaceGlat Gets Hacked Again

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

FaceGlat, the ultra-Orthodox social networking site, is an attempt to offer Haredi Jews the experience of Facebook without all the immodesty. From the opening page it reminds one of public restrooms with a sign for men to enter through one door and women to enter through their own door. FaceGlat’s name is a mashup of Facebook and glatt, the term for kosher meat considered to be a higher standard of kosher because of the source animal’s smooth lungs. The site lets users do most of the same things they can do on Facebook (post photos, set up groups, create events, and post status updates), but it filters out objectionable language and keeps the sexes totally separate.

Of course it’s not Facebook, with its billion dollar, advertising revenue stream, and 800 million accounts. There are also flaws in its attempt to keep the site totally modest. For one thing, there’s not much to keep a woman from setting up an account in the men’s section or vice versa. In terms of the language controls, users can figure out creative ways to express themselves with abusive language (alternative spellings and a few special characters from the top of the keyboard can be helpful in that regard). Apparently, there’s also no way to keep users from posting the same indiscreet photos that prompted the creation of FaceGlat in the first place. Eric Mack, reviewing the FaceGlat site for CNews, was surprised when he signed on to find a thumbnail of a mostly naked, tattooed young man with a Latino surname on his list of suggested possible friends. So, it looks like FaceGlat isn’t as pure and holy as it set out to be.

Keeping those who don’t abide by the strict modesty rules of FaceGlat off the site is no longer the site administrator’s first priority. Hackers have become more dangerous to FaceGlat than immodest people setting up user accounts. For the second time this week, pro-Palestinian protesters have hacked into the FaceGlat site and changed the homepage to read “Free Palestine” in the colors of Palestine.

FaceGat was able to regain control of its site yesterday, but the hackers have struck again. This time they’ve chosen a romantic Arabic love song with a dance beat to begin playing when the FaceGlat site is accessed. The hackers signed their handiwork as “Hacked By Challenges HackerS” with a message to the administrators of the site: “[ Sorry Admin .. But Your Security Is Down ] [ From Jordan .. Palestine HackerS ].”

The bottom of the hacked website has a message for FaceGlat: “[ This Website Has Been Hacked By Challenges-HackerS| PaLeSTiNe – HaCKeRs | , If I Can Change The Domain i will do my best but i cant , so i will just put this index here , and to tell the owner of this site that am gonna get his pc soon or later , palestine is the best of the best , we will never stop hacking , Until you stop killing our brothers and sisters and mothers in palestine , the day is coming ] . : : Challenges-HackerS : : . | | ~#~ Ml7s Hacker ~#~ DrZero Hacker ~#~ Sn!peR Hacker.”

If FaceGlat intends to maintain a modest social networking site for its ultra-Orthodox adherents it will need to invest in some strong website security. While the site was never intended to be political or especially pro-Israel, these pro-Palestinian hackers from Jordan seem adamant to use FaceGlat to post their own status update.

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

Social Media and Religion

I read yesterday’s article in the NY Times about how people are interacting with religion through social networking sites like Facebook and was amazed at the success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page. It is one of the most popular Facebook pages with over 8.5 million fans. I figured there should be a similar Facebook page that offers users a daily dose of Torah wisdom so I created the Torah Daily Facebook page this morning. The page quickly amassed 100 followers and will continue to grow. The Torah Daily Facebook page will offer daily inspiration from Jewish texts provided by anyone with some wisdom to share.

Here is the blog post I published on The NY Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog after reading yesterday’s NY Times article on social media and religion:

With about a billion users between Facebook and Twitter alone, more topics than just Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are being discussed on social media networks today. Religion is certainly one of them.

An article by Jennifer Preston in yesterday’s NY Times (“Jesus Daily on Facebook Nurtures Highly Active Fans”) reports that “while it’s too early to say that social media have transformed the way people practice religion, the number of people discussing faith on Facebook has significantly increased in the last year, according to company officials. Over all, 31 percent of Facebook users in the United States list a religion in their profile, and 24 percent of users outside the United States do, Facebook says. More than 43 million people on Facebook are fans of at least one page categorized as religious.”

The article was prompted by the wild success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page, which was launched by a diet doctor from North Carolina who posts a few motivational quotes from Jesus each day. The Facebook page, created by Dr. Aaron Tabor, has close to 8.5 million fans and, according to AllFacebook.com, in the past three months has had more daily interaction (likes and comments) than the official Justin Bieber page with 3.4 million interactions last week alone.

There are now over 750 million people on Facebook so it shouldn’t be surprising that users are interacting with pages to find an online spiritual community. If you’re already navigating around the Facebook site on a computer, tablet or mobile phone it’s much easier to read a spiritual teaching in your news feed than to actually attend a synagogue or church service.

Rabbi Laura Baum, a social media maven who is part of OurJewishCommunity.org was quoted in the article explaining how social media has changed our lives. She said, “There are those people who prefer to check out our tweets on their phone or listen to our podcast. I don’t think the use of technology needs to be for everybody. But we have found a community online. Many of them have never felt a connection to Judaism before.”

An increasing number of synagogues have found that it is much easier to connect to the membership through a Facebook page than through a traditional website. Like a website, the Facebook page is an efficient way of disseminating information for a congregation, but it adds the social interaction features that promote community and have made Facebook the killer app of social media. Linda Jacobson, the president of start-up congregation B’nai Israel Synagogue in Michigan has used Facebook to connect with members and reach potential members. “Our website is great for publicizing calendar events, displaying photos and telling visitors about our congregation. But Facebook goes well beyond that,” Jacobson explained. “It allows our followers to interact with that information and with each other. There’s an entire ‘backchannel’ that brings people together virtually to share photos from our congregational programming, comment on lifecycle events, create sub-communities based on interest categories and coordinate meals when there’s a death in the congregation.”

Jacobson seems to have put social media to good use because she’s seen her congregation’s membership rolls steadily increase over the past year. Rev. Kenneth Lillard, author of “Social Media and Ministry: Sharing the Gospel in the Digital Age,” was also quoted in the NY Times article and he concurs that social media tools like YouTube, Twitter and Google Plus in addition to Facebook represent “the best chance for religious leaders to expand their congregations since the printing press helped Martin Luther usher in the Protestant Reformation.”

Beyond official synagogue Facebook pages, there are many ways in which users are looking to Facebook for spiritual insight and education. Some popular Facebook pages have been created by rabbis in an effort to share motivational teachings from the Torah. Rabbi David Wolpe, the popular author and spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has a Facebook page that boasts over 19,000 fans. Wolpe utilizes Facebook to offer short sound bites that both motivate and challenge his readers. He makes a point of trying to respond to all questions on the page as well, which is not an easy task for a busy pulpit rabbi and a highly sought-after speaker like Wolpe. One follower asked if the rabbi had any marriage advice to which Wolpe responded simply “Shared values; forgiveness; deep attraction; resilience; luck; faith.”

One thing that social networking sites like Facebook have demonstrated is that one need not be an official religious leader, like a priest or rabbi, to dispense wisdom to help guide people in their daily lives. Many individuals and businesses offer a daily prayer or spiritual teaching to inspire their followers on their Facebook pages. Some Facebook users may post an inspirational teaching as a status update. There are businesses that post weekly motivational quotes on their Facebook page as a way to engage their following.

As social media increasingly become part of our daily lives, people will find new ways to interact with religion and spirituality. For some, it may be interacting with like-minded people on a synagogue Facebook page. For others it may be learning a different Talmud text each day through a Twitter feed. In the Digital Age, a minority of virtual religionists will emerge. These will be individuals who do not affiliate with a bricks and mortar religious institution like a synagogue, but are nevertheless engaged in many aspects of a faith community through social networking. Increasingly, people will say they are religious or spiritual or inspired by religious texts, but only because they have chosen to plug in and engage with social media.

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

The High School Reunion in the Age of Facebook

In addition to writing the “Jewish Techs” blog for The NY Jewish Week, I am now writing a monthly technology column for the Detroit Jewish News titled “Jews in the Digital Age”. My first column (published this week) looked at how Facebook has affected the high school reunion. Have you noticed a difference (positive or negative) in high school reunions in the past few years as Facebook has grown in popularity?

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News:

The High School Reunion in the Age of Facebook
By Rabbi Jason Miller

We love to play Jewish geography, know who married whom, and keep up with the latest gossip (uh, I mean news) about our high school classmates. In the pre-Web 2.0 era that meant attending a high school reunion each decade to get reacquainted with everyone’s lives. Today, with just about every human being using Facebook, times have changed. What has Facebook done to the high school reunion?

Sharon Landau Levine, 57, of Oak Park attended her 40th high school reunion earlier this summer. The 1971 graduate of Oak Park High School made certain to attend her 10th, 20th and 30th reunions as well, but this summer’s reunion was different.

“I think Facebook enhanced this reunion a million times and a lot of my classmates would say the same thing,” she explained. “The planning of the reunion was much easier with Facebook and so was staying connected after the event. The planning committee launched a Facebook page to publicize the reunion and later added a second Facebook page that has become an ongoing discussion group.” In fact, after Levine’s reunion, posts began appearing on the Facebook page announcing regular get-togethers for classmates to catch up in person and for out-of-towners to join in using Skype – the video conferencing application.

Jason Klein, 38, of Bloomfield Hills used his Facebook clout to publicize his recent 20th reunion and encourage classmates to register for the event. The 1991 West Bloomfield High School graduate didn’t help in planning his 10th reunion, but when it came time for the 20th reunion Klein stepped forward.

“In today’s world with Facebook, how hard can it be?” Klein figured. “So we made the decision to solely market our reunion through Facebook. We had to hire a company for our 10th reunion, but the world was so different then. This time around, we said Facebook must be a more efficient way to do this. We’ll save money on postage and we won’t have to pay an external company.”

Through his company, Medtipster.com in Troy, Klein solicited the help of his web developer to create a website that promoted the reunion and accepted paid registrations. Klein posted weekly updates on his personal Facebook profile and on the reunion’s Facebook page listing the names of classmates who had registered and encouraging other classmates to follow suit.

While Klein attributes the good attendance at the reunion to his Facebook publicity campaign, he also sees the downside of Facebook’s effect on the high school reunion. “I believe Facebook has killed the reunion. I’ve only been on Facebook for a few years, but I already knew a lot about my classmates before the reunion. It took away the surprise factor.”

Ken Bertin, 65, of West Bloomfield is no stranger to planning reunions. He’s planned six of them so far and sometimes for two classes at once. While he is quick to acknowledge that his cohort is not the most active demographic on Facebook, he concedes that the social networking site has been helpful in locating “lost” classmates. The Mumford High School alum recently planned a Hampton Junior High reunion too. “Facebook has given me contact with people so I get their email address and I can then contact them without paying for postage,” he said.

Bertin estimates that his “35-year-old daughter has 80% of her classmates on Facebook, whereas my class has 25-30%” However, recent studies have shown that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is the over 60-years-old crowd. One major change Bertin has noticed is that now his classmates are expecting him to post photos from the reunion immediately after the event. “Many people who won’t be able to make the Hampton reunion contacted me asking if I would post photos from the event on Facebook,” he explained.

Some people have even felt coerced to join Facebook because there was no other form of communication leading up to their reunion. That was the case for John Kuderik, a CPA in Royal Oak, who was told that if he didn’t join Facebook he wouldn’t know anything about the plans for his reunion. He’s now connected to the classmates he hadn’t seen or heard from in over two decades, and he’s kept updated on their daily activities. But he’s not convinced that’s such a great thing.

Brad Feldman, of Farmington Hills, who recently attended his 20th Groves High School reunion, said that Facebook was a much discussed theme at the event. References to photos and other postings became topics of conversation at the reunion, and classmates posted photos from the reunion in the days following. He believes that Facebook activity might have kept some of his classmates, especially the out-of-towners, from attending since they felt they were already sufficiently updated on their classmates’ lives.

Facebook has had both positive and negative effects on the high school reunion. Some younger people believe that some of the excitement and nostalgia is gone from reunions because of all the reconnecting through social networking sites. Overall, however, Facebook has been helpful to reunion planners as a resource for promoting the event and locating classmates.

While Facebook is the killer app of our generation, no social networking website can replace the human interaction of a reunion. The face-to-face reconnections are the best form of social networking that exists.

Rabbi Jason Miller (@rabbijason) is a tech expert who writes about how information technology and social media are transforming the Jewish community. He writes the “Jewish Techs” blog for The NY Jewish Week and is president of Access Computer Technology (www.accesscomptech.com), based in West Bloomfield.

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

Facebook Group or Private Social Network for Synagogues?

In my last year of rabbinical school, I had an interesting conversation with a rabbi of a large congregation. He told me that he had put his foot down and refused to let his congregation create a synagogue-wide email LISTSERV. His rationale? This forum would be used by the membership to complain about the synagogue… and the rabbi.

I gently suggested to my future colleague that if his members were going to use an email discussion group to complain about the congregation, they were likely already doing this in real-time at kiddush (the reception following services). He laughed and acknowledged I was correct. I’m sure that in the ensuing years he acquiesed and allowed for an email LISTSERV.

Developed in 1986 by Eric Thomas, LISTSERV was the first email list software application. The simple LISTSERV, an automated mailing list manager, allowed for likeminded individuals in a group to disseminate email messages to one another. The features of such a platform were minimal. The threads were difficult to follow. In digest format, there were several discussions arriving in the inbox all at once with no logical grouping order. Today, the email LISTSERV has long since run its course. Even the next generation of these discussion groups (Yahoo! Groups, Deja News which became Google Groups, the London-based GroupSpaces, etc.) are limited in features.

Today, Facebook has made these discussion groups unecessary. The Facebook Group application allows for the dissemination of rich content in a secure, private network. I have helped many synagogues transition from the old LISTSERV and email-based group platforms to the Facebook Groups application. As I tell rabbis and synagogue executives all the time: There are over 750 million Facebook users worldwide so there’s a good chance that your congregants are already signed on.

Facebook Groups allow for smaller cohorts within a congregation to have a forum to share ideas, documents, links to articles, photos, videos, and promote events. It is private and secure with at least one administrator monitoring the group.

Recently, when encouraging synagogues to start using the Facebook Groups application, I’ve been met with some resistence. Facebook isn’t secure, they argue. They’ve heard that there is really no privacy with Facebook. They argue that a Private Social Network must be the way to go. I disagree and here’s why.

Private Social Networks are certainly great apps and they have features galore. At first glance, applications like SocialGO and Yammer seem like the perfect solution for a company or organization that wants to have a social network that is open to only their employees or members. For many companies, these private social networks might make the most sense because once the employees are logged into Facebook, there will likely be many hours of unproductivity.

Synagogues and temples are different however. In that respect, I say use the network where the members are already participating. And that is obviously Facebook.

The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly recently announced a deal through a partnership with SocialGo that allows member rabbis to contract with the private social network company to create a web-based social network for their congregation. These private social networks have all the features and functionality as Facebook Groups, but cost a discounted $500 and then $25 per month. Facebook is free and everyone already has an account (or knows how to get one simply enough). Having people log in to another platform is tedious when they are already using Facebook on a daily basis and can simply use the Groups application to interface with the congregation’s forums.

In terms of privacy, these Facebook Groups are just as private as LISTSERV groups were and continue to be. One must request to be a member of the group or be invited to participate in the discussions and view the content. Breaches of privacy can happen the same way there can be a breach of privacy from a face-to-face conversation. A group is only as private as its members allow it to be. The bottom line is that congregations shouldn’t complicate matters by creating their own private social network. It’s unnecessary. Save your money because Facebook Groups will work just fine.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs Blog at The NY Jewish Week

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

Esther’s in Vegas – Tweeting Jewish Conferences

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

That’s right, Esther’s in Vegas. No, not THAT Esther? We’ll shift our focus to Queen Esther in less than two weeks. For now, the focus is on another Esther.

Connected Jewish leaders know that Esther Kustanowitz, the writer and social media consultant, is in Las Vegas because her Twitter and Facebook feeds pinpoint her location there. She’s at Tribefest, the Jewish Federations of North America’s “meet up” on the Vegas Strip for young Jews to “connect, explore & celebrate the richness of Jewish music, food, arts & culture.” But don’t worry, you don’t have to actually be in Vegas to participate in TribeFest. In fact, you don’t have to ever leave the comfort of your own home anymore to get to Jewish conventions, conferences, retreats, or organized excuses to gamble, party and network in Sin City.

With the popularity of social networking, you can feel like you’re actually at the Jewish conference without having to book a flight, get a hotel room, and register for the “HELLO My Name Is” nametag in plastic on a lanyard. In fact, it’s not only the speakers and breakout sessions that can be followed on Twitter with a special hashtag (#), but also the pre-glows, private parties, networking lunches, and meetings over scotch at the hotel bar.

And if you were wondering if any participants had a difficult time traveling to the conference, you can follow that on Twitter too. EstherK (her Twitter handle) starred in a Twitter remake of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” when she tried to get across the pond to Limmud late last year. She updated her 3,000-plus Twitter followers with every frustrating travel delay she endured. And when she actually got to #limmud at the University of Warick in the UK, she let us know who else was there, which sessions she was attending, and what she was doing later that night.

Twitter hashtags have kept the non-attendees feeling connected at just about every recent Jewish conference and convention, from the Reform Biennial to AIPAC and J-Street to the current JCPA Plenum. Last year’s General Assembly in New Orleans might have set the record for the most tweets at a Jewish conference with thousands of Twitterers left wondering what the #NOLAGA hashtag was all about and why it was trending.
In New Orleans at the GA, JFNA hired Kustanowitz to produce an innovation and social media enthusiasts’ event – NOLAISM (NOLA Innovation and Social Media) Schmooze-Up, where live tweeting happened simultaneously to the actual in-person schmoozing. She didn’t attend the 2009 GA in person, but wrote about attending the conference “virtually” thanks to Twitter in a blog post titled “The GA As Seen Through Twitter.”

William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and the Director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America, is the reigning Twitter king of the organized Jewish community. With his list of 6,000 followers and growing, Daroff has amassed his own network on Twitter. His travel and speaking schedule is public information because he not only shares it with the people of Cyberspace but also frequently posts photos via Twitpic of his whereabouts. It’s not unusual to read Daroff’s tweets that he posted while moderating a panel discussion in front of a thousand people. One need not be at the hotel bar with Daroff at a conference to be able to network with him over a cocktail — just read his tweets to be part of the conversation.

At the 2010 GA, Kustanowitz used the #NOLAGA Twitter feed to monitor sessions that conflicted with the ones she was attending and “to assess in real-time how the sessions I was in were resonating with the other Twitterers, and to eavesdrop on what people were talking about.” She added that the “amazing part was seeing that there was a host of Twitter users who viewed themselves as on-the-scene reporters, sending instant reports not just of the larger events (for instance, Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking) but of the crowd’s responses, the behavior of members of the Israeli press, any dissent or enthusiasm that they, as members of the audience, could see more effectively than those on the stage and at the podium.”

The Twitterers who are live and in-person at the actual event can even meet their “virtual” friends for the first time. Conference attendees will use Twitter updates to let other participants know where they are in the hotel or convention center for a real-life meet up.

I’m following much of the TribeFest action right now and will likely do the same when I sit out the Rabbinical Assembly convention (curiously also taking place in Vegas) later this month. While I’ll miss reconnecting with friends and colleagues in real-life, I can follow the convention on the monitor in the comfort of my office without having to get on a plane and say goodnight to my kids over a phone. If I want to ask one of the speakers a question, I can just tweet it and let a participant ask it live.

Twitter is certainly affecting the way we participate in conferences and I’m sure that attendance at large-scale conventions has decreased over the past year. So, rather than getting in on the early bird registration for that next convention, save the money and the hassle of travel and just find out what the hashtag will be. Sometimes it’s easier to be a follower than an attendee.

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

Bubbie and Zaydie Enter the Social Media Cloud

Here’s my recent post for the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week


When I first logged on to Facebook in 2004 none of my real life friends had accounts yet. At that stage in the social networking site’s development, a Facebook account was only for university students (or at least anyone with a university email account). I was working at a campus Hillel and my .edu email address gave me access to Facebook so I could interface with the Jewish students on campus.

At that time it was mostly undergrads who were poking each other, updating their status, and uploading photos to Facebook. As the years went by, Facebook welcomed young adults and then high school students. The non-student users seemed to get older and older until one Baby Boomer must have finally unlocked the Facebook door and told a few friends about it. Before you knew it — urgh! — Mom and Dad were uploading profile pics and stalking the neighbors’ pages.

You can’t blame Mark Zuckerberg for transitioning the site from Ivy Leaguer college kids to anyone in the free world with a pulse. After all, you can’t get to 550 million users without welcoming the Gen X’ers, emptynesters, and Medicare recipients, right?

So, it was only a matter of time until the generation that actually remembers Prohibition started getting Facebook accounts. Over the past few years I’ve gotten used to the “friend” requests from my parents’ cadre of friends. But when I was “friended” by my wife’s 90-year-old grandmother’s friend last week, I did a double-take. This 80-year-old woman didn’t just set up a Facebook page; she’s a power user. She’s uploaded dozens of photo albums (something my parents’ friends haven’t figured out yet), joined groups, and commented on everything. She’s even got a blog and a website (“The Bubbinator.com” — I’m not kidding!) with embedded YouTube videos of her telling Jewish jokes.

Based on the latest stats, I shouldn’t be surprised about this. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project “Generations 2010” study, the fastest growth in social networking usage “has come from internet users 74 and older: social network site usage for this oldest cohort has quadrupled since 2008, from 4% to 16%.” These great-grandparents, many of whom spent the majority of their lives without a home computer, are now using the Internet to seek health information, reconnect with friends and family, and purchase products. Facebook has even had to adjust to this new demographic storming the site. “Widowed” was certainly not a relationship option when Facebook first launched; and “It’s Complicated” just doesn’t fully describe when your husband of 55 years has passed away.

It could be that Granny realized the best way to stay connected to her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren was to meet them where they are — in Cyberspace. So don’t be surprised if your News Feed lets you know that Zaydie likes Big Band Music or your Bubbie just blogged her favorite quiche recipe. The senior citizens have entered the cloud!

Reposted to eJewishPhilanthropy.com

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

Let’s Ham It Up On Hanukkah (Again!)

Here’s my recent post on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)

Just like the return of the clothing fashion styles of yesteryear, many things on the Web tend to make a comeback too. It seems like every few years the same hoaxes, urban legends, videos, jokes and funny photos get recycled around Cyberspace.

I noticed that this is the case with a photo of ham — yes, ham! Through Facebook, hundreds of users are recirculating the photo of the boneless spiral ham on sale at a store with the sign “Delicious for Chanukah.”

It appears however, that someone decided to write their own midrash about the photo by including the caption: “Dear Walmart, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. Love, The Jews.” Based on the name on most of the reposted photos on Facebook, it appears that Kathy Ohsman Hoffman of Scottsdale, Arizona is the one who penned the Walmart statement.

The photo is actually from 2007 and it had nothing to do with Walmart. It was taken at Balducci’s, a specialty food store in New York City (of all places… shouldn’t they know better?). I blogged about this FAIL marketing idea at Balducci’s back in December 2007 and even included some faux holiday sale signs from other stores in my post. A quick search for “Hanukkah Ham” on snopes.com will also let you know that this poor choice in advertising occurred not at Walmart, but at Balducci’s.

In my Facebook news feed I noticed that Shir Yakov Feinstein Feit, the musical director at NYC’s Romemu, posted the Walmart/Ham accusation to which Jay Michaelson responded with a link to an article on the satire site The Onion from 1997 explaining that the 6,000 year old Jewish ban on ham has been lifted by the Jewish elders.

One of my Facebook friends added this comment to the Hanukkah Ham posting: “Nothing like a good sprial sliced smoked ham to go with latkes and applesauce….and a good glass of whole white milk. Yum”.

I suppose that just like the old holiday fruitcake, we can expect that the Hanukkah Ham photo will get passed around yet again during future Hanukkahs.

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

Aaron Sorkin is Not Mark Zuckerberg’s Rabbi

In Entertainment Weekly‘s review of “The Social Network,” there is a wonderful quote from the film’s writer Aaron Sorkin (of “The West Wing” fame). In defending his decision to make the movie, which is critical of Facebook’s founder, Sorkin explains that he is not Mark Zuckerberg’s rabbi.

Here’s the entire quote:

The famously fast-talking Sorkin turns almost somber as he discusses the harm his movie could do to the 26-year-old tech tycoon’s reputation. “I’ll be honest with you, there were times when I had misgivings, when I felt like, he’s just too young, and a movie fires such a loud cannon shot, that maybe I shouldn’t do this,” says Sorkin. Then, sounding surer, he adds, “It’s not my job to help his image. I’m not his press rep or his rabbi. But in the end, I didn’t feel like I was damaging him. I felt like I was painting a painting of him, as opposed to taking a picture of him.”

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

Synagogues and New Technology

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog (The NY Jewish Week)

Yoram Samets, of Jvillage Network in Burlington, Vermont, wrote an interesting essay for the eJewishPhilanthropy blog titled “Purposeful and Passionate: Synagogues in the Age of Facebook.”

Ultimately, I think he was being too delicate with synagogues by letting them know that it’s okay to move slowly in adapting to new technology. He writes that “synagogues lagging behind cultural change is nothing new. In fact, there are those who would say synagogues should operate from a thoughtful, process-driven perspective and adopt change slowly. In essence, I would agree with that. The challenge is all in the balance.”

I agree that synagogues need to maintain balance and be sure of themselves as they transition to new technology (social media, Web 2.0, online learning, etc.), but I’m for pushing them to move quicker. They’re very good at “slow.” The successful results will come when the synagogues pick up the pace.

Whenever I talk to synagogue leaders and rabbis about the adoption of new technologies, I encourage them to “just do it,” rather than waiting to go through the normal (read: slow) process within the institution. By the time a committee is formulated and it meets six times to decide if the synagogue should have a blog, the youth group should have an official Facebook presence, and the rabbi should be tweeting, we’ll already be on to the next “Big Thing.” Four years ago, I led a Webinar for Darim Online to teach rabbis how to start blogging. Some of them said they would need to get permission from the board first. Rather than going through the red tape, I encouraged these rabbis to just start a blog and post some of their thoughts regarding the weekly Torah portion. Some of those rabbis have thanked me in the ensuing years for pushing them to open their “Torah” up to a borderless audience on the Web. They soon realized that in the 21st century, their wisdom shouldn’t only be disseminated to their synagogue membership and no further.

There are so many opportunities for synagogues to capture through social media. If rabbis wait for young people to come in the front door, they’ll be waiting a long time. Networking is outreach and outreach is networking. I’ve been asked to officiate at the wedding of a young couple while chatting on Facebook late at night with the groom, a former high school student of mine. Synagogues should be jumping at the opportunities for innovative approaches to community building, scholarship, and engagement. I think Phillip Brodsky’s novel idea of a Social Sermon through the use of social media is a great concept that synagogues should adopt. Synagogues need to be pushed, not coddled, into the Age of Facebook.

Back to the Samets article. He writes, “Synagogues have the same opportunity of using technology to build a bridge between the synagogue experience and today’s culture. Technology needs to be an outward-looking tool for greater connectedness for the community. While there are a number of creative synagogues doing remarkable outreach and engaging more members, too few synagogues have been able to emulate their example and create an operational model that will lead them and their communities to a stronger future… Technology is only a tool. And when used to its maximum benefit, it is a tool that enhances our purpose, our mission, and our movement.”

In these fast-moving technology-driven times, Samets comes up with four P’s that synagogues must look to in order to reclaim our Jewish movement in today’s American culture: “Purpose, Passion, People, Projects – the rest is all detail… And through the process you will find out the power of the potential of connectedness in the community, in the synagogue and online.”

Lisa Colton, of Darim, blogging at her organization’s JewPoint0, writes about the Jewish New Media Fund. Essentially, three of the nation’s largest Jewish foundations – the Righteous Persons Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation – announced recently that their newly created endeavor, the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, will help energize the community to focus on the need for new media innovations, and to help bring them to life. I hope synagogues take note (and full advantage) of this great opportunity.

Technology isn’t going to slow down for anyone… not even synagogues!

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