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Shabbat Unplugged

This morning at the JCC, I was checking my email on my phone when an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked what I do with that “thing” on Shabbos. I explained that while I am quite connected to my cell phone during the work week, I have no problem putting it aside for the 25 hours of Shabbat. He told me that he found that impressive and then told me what he remembered about his parents’ Shabbat observance when he was a child.

As connected as I am to technology, I find it healthy and refreshing to put it aside for one day a week. And that is precisely what Reboot, a nonprofit think tank, is encouraging Jewish people to do this weekend. In yesterday’s New York Times, Austin Considine explained:

The Fourth Commandment doesn’t specifically mention TweetDeck or Facebook. Observing the Sabbath 3,000 years ago was more about rest and going easy on one’s family — servants and oxen included.  But if Moses were redelivering his theophany today — the assembled crowd furiously tweeting his every sound bite — one imagines the frustrated prophet’s taking a moment to clarify what God meant, exactly, by a “day of rest.”  For starters, how about putting down the iPhone? 

Beginning at sundown on Friday, March 19 will be the first annual National Day of Unplugging. The organizers of this day will draw attention to Reboot’s “Sabbath Manifesto”, which seeks to fight back against the tidal wave of technology taking over society and our lives. They encourage people to put down the cell phone, stop the status updates on Facebook, shut down Twitter, sign out of e-mail and relax, as part of our National Day of Unplugging.

As a way to get people across the nation to reclaim time and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves for 24 hours, they have even created cell phone sleeping bags.

Following the launch of the iPad, Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons wrote: “Our love affair with technology is also about a quest for control. We’re living in an age of change and upheaval. There’s an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. But technology gives us the illusion of control, a sense of order. Pick up a smart phone and you have a reliable, dependable device that does whatever you tell it to do. You certainly can’t say that about your colleagues or families.”

I certainly agree with the concept behind this day of unplugging. On an average day, I’m Tweeting, updating Facebook, sending and receiving hundreds of emails, checking voice mail messages and returning calls, and taking photographs. Yet, from Friday evening through Saturday night, I am unplugged from battery powered communication and find myself spending much more time with my wife and children. It is also my sacred time to read books (as opposed to the other six days of the week when I’m reading articles, Tweets, and status updates on the computer).

I’m curious to know how many people who are not regularly Sabbath observant will unplug this Shabbat. Hopefully, those who do will share their experiences on the Sabbath Manifesto Website. I just hope they wait until it’s dark Saturday night to post!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Judaism and Technology Social Media Technology

The Facebook 1000

Today I added my 1,000th friend on my Facebook account. That’s 999 more friends than I have in real life.

As everyone knows, Facebook is addictive and a waste of valuable time. I considered closing my account now that I have 1,000 connections, but reconsidered when I remembered that I’m in the middle of four Scrabble games and that I just never know when I’ll want to discover which movies my long lost friend from 2nd grade likes.

But Facebook is a good resource and it allows us to stay in contact with many more people than we could have imagined last century or even just a few years ago. Facebook was a valuable tool for me to reach out to many Jewish students when I was working at the University of Michigan Hillel. And I am sure that Facebook will play a key role in next year’s political elections. Of course, Facebook is becoming increasingly more beneficial for charitable organizations as well. AOL founder Steve Case appears to be taking Internet philanthropy to the next level with his Case Foundation’s charity contest for Facebook Causes.

Facebook is definitely here to stay. And according to Facebook is Jewish too:

Top Ten Signs Facebook is Jewish

10. Wall postings are something we’ve been doing for years at the Kotel

9. News Feeds, loshon hora made easy

8. Poking, the shomer negia way to flirt

7. $1 diamond rings!

6. Updating your status is better than your mom telling the world you are now single

5. Tagging photos brings Jewish geography back into the picture

4. Social networking; a nicer way of saying protectzia

3. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) vs. Tom Anderson (Myspace) … the last name says it all

2. Only colors: Kachol v’ Lavan [blue and white]

1. We are the people of the Book… we just got superficial

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Social Media Technology


I am currently playing four different Scrabble games at the same time against opponents from four different states. As if Facebook wasn’t addictive enough already! The online Scrabble game named Scrabulous is gaining in popularity. It has always been difficult for me to sit down for a Scrabble game against my good friend and Scrabble nemesis since he now lives in Chicago. And finding the time to play Scrabble against my ultra-competitive little brother is always a challenge. With Scrabulous I can play both of them… and at the same time.

SCRABBLEIn my time playing Scrabulous I’ve learned that the Hebrew plural word aliyot is a valid word. Also, in the second edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary the anglicized form aliyas was officially changed to aliyahs.

A Wall Street Journal article last week gave the background on the Facebook application and mentioned a potential copyright infringement by the two Indian brothers who created Scrabulous.

From “Networking Your Way to a Triple-Word Score: A Scrabble imitator becomes a Web addiction — with help from Facebook” by Jamin Brophy Warren (WSJ Online, October 13, 2007):

Since its Facebook debut in July, Scrabulous has grown to about 950,000 players. According to Facebook’s data, 36% of those players (about 342,000 people) are “daily active users,” or people who have logged in every day over the last 30 days. That’s compared with an average of 7% for the site’s top 50 tools and games, according to SocialMedia, a social-advertising company that tracks Facebook activity.

Those numbers reflect a critical decision by Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla, the brothers behind the game. Having drawn only a few thousand users to a Web site devoted to Scrabulous, they converted it to a Facebook “application” in June. An application is a module Facebook’s users can add to their pages and then invite their Facebook friends to join.

Rajat says that as of mid-September, the site’s revenue from advertisements displayed near the game board was sufficient to cover operating expenses. Now, the game brings in around $18,000 a month from selling advertising, says Jayant.

Legal experts say there are risks to Scrabulous, however. Copyright laws allow someone to freely use an idea, “but not copy the expression of the idea,” says Anthony Falzone, head of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University. He says the Scrabulous board looks strikingly similar to the Scrabble board, with light blue and pink squares in the same spots denoting double- and triple-word scores. The names might also be too much alike, says John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor.

Currently, the highest-scoring word listed in the global statistics page on Scrabulous is worth 1,778 points. The word, “OXYPHENBUTAZONE,” well known among Scrabble aficonados as the ultimate point getter, was played by Sam Chenoweth. But the 27-year-old physics grad student in Melbourne, Australia, says he didn’t do it while competing in a real game. Instead, he collaborated, in a series of moves, with a fellow master’s student who was technically his opponent.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Camp Jewish Ramah Social Media

Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day

I just received an e-mail message from Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the director of the National Ramah Commission which oversees all of the Ramah summer camps. In his message, Mitch describes the Facebook project taken on by Ari Magen, an 11th grader who used to be a camper at Ramah Poconos. Ari created a Facebook group encouraging all his friends to wear their Ramah Poconos t-shirts to school on November 15. When he began this effort in September, he had no idea how powerful a tool he was creating for the entire Ramah camping movement. According to Ari, over 1000 Ramahniks saw his message and joined the effort.

As I was reading Mitch Cohen’s e-mail about “Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day,” I thought how funny it would be if I was wearing a Ramah t-shirt today by coincidence. I unbuttoned my flannel shirt and looked down to see that I was in fact wearing a Camp Ramah Yahad in Ukraine t-shirt (pictured). Without even trying I participated in this effort.

Here is Ari’s description of “Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day”:

I went on Facebook and created an event called “Wear Your Ramah Shirt to School Day.” When I created it, I was only thinking about the Poconos campers wearing their shirts. I didn’t even think about the other Ramah camps. I was very excited for all of Ramah in the Poconos to don our latest Ramah Shirt. On everyone’s profiles, groups, and events there is a feature called a “Wall”. The wall is a place where people can just write stuff and it can be seen by whomever visits the event site.. The next day, I logged on and started to see comments on the events wall. I expected to see a few comments from my friends, but I realized that these weren’t chanichim from Poconos, but from all of the other Ramah camps. Since I intended for the event to be just for the Poconos, I was very surprised to see other people joining in. But, when I went back and re-read the title of the event, I realized that Poconos wasn’t in the title. You know how every camper thinks their Ramah is just “camp.” Then, I thought “Wow, this was a great mistake that I made!!”

I began receiving questions such as, “I was in Israel this summer, can I still participate?” or “I work, can I wear my shirt anyway?”, or I wasn’t at camp this summer but I want to join in. Is that okay?” and my favorite question was, “I wear a uniform to school, what should I do?” Realizing that people were taking this so seriously, I changed the description of the event to, “Wear your latest Ramah shirt to show your Ramah pride!!! If you wear a uniform I’m very sorry you can’t wear it to school. This is open to all Ramah camps, from Poconos to Israel and everywhere in between!!!! If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to message me.”

Every couple of days I checked to see how many people were “Attending”. After the third day or so it had reached 100 people. After about 3 weeks, there were over 900! Then I put out a challenge to try and get to 1,000 people. By the time I went to bed last night (after choosing which of my many Ramah t-shirts to wear), there were 1058 people.

Make that 1059 Ari. Even if #1059 was by accident.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Social Media Technology

Jewish Wisdom for Facebook

Jacob RichmanEveryone knows that Facebook is Jewish and that Facebook has changed Jewish life on campus, but now computer programmer Jacob Richman has brought some Jewish Wisdom to the social networking site.

Jacob Richman (left) and I both launched our personal websites around the same time. I started, the precursor to, in March 1996 and Jacob started his site in April 1996. Jacob, based in Israel, has created many resourceful websites over the years including several online language tutorial videos and sites listing Jewish links on the Web.

A few months ago, he created My Hebrew Name on Facebook — a Facebook application that enables Facebook users to list their Hebrew name in their profile. Today, Jacob Richman launched a new Facebook application called Jewish Wisdom, which lets users search over 3,000 Jewish proverbs, sayings and quotations from the Jewish Wisdom database and display favorites on their Facebook profile. The quotations in the database are taken from the Talmud, Torah, Maimonides, and Chofetz Chaim; as well as from the likes of Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Ben-Gurion, Arthur Miller, Freud, Henry Kissinger, Mel Brooks, and Jerry Seinfeld.

For those few holdouts who still don’t have a Facebook account, you can still access the Jewish Wisdome database at

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Music Politics Social Media

Leah Kauffman

Leah Kauffman - Crush on ObamaOne more Jew who should have made the Forward 50 list in my opinion is Leah Kauffman. The 21-year-old Jewish woman who wrote “I Got a Crush on Obama” (over 4 million views on YouTube) now stars in her own video to the song she wrote and performs about Ann Coulter (“Perfected: The Ann Coulter Song”). Leah’s song is the best response to Ann Coulter’s “Jews need to be perfected” comments yet. Leah is a very talented musician (her songs are on her MySpace page) who also wrote and sings “I like a Boy,” a tribute song to the U.S. troops. The website has a video of Leah performing her parody songs live, including her hilarious spoof of the famous Justin Timberlake video from Saturday Night Live.

Leah’s “Crush on Obama” song even led to Birthright Israel alum Michelle Citrin‘s “Rosh Hashanah Girl.”

The JTA article about Leah Kauffman is here and below is Leah performing her Ann Coulter song:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Art Social Media

Paintjam by Dan Dunn

This is very cool. Make sure you watch it until the end.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |