Wedding Websites and Apps Are New Buzz

Couples about to be married can add  a “Wedsite” to their pre-wedding to-do list. Not too long ago wedding guests had to make a phone call to inquire where the couple was registered for gifts. They didn’t know much about what to expect at the wedding. And they likely had to wait for the rabbi to speak under the chuppah to learn how the happy couple had met.Today, it’s become standard operating procedure for couples to publish a website in the months leading up to the wedding. These websites — also known as “wedsites” — started off as basic one-page sites on the Web that included a few photos of the couple, the wedding date and location, and a guest book. Fast forward to 2013 and many couples now set up interactive sites complete with multimedia slideshows and videos, meet the bridal party pages, shopping portals to the gift registry, video clips of the band at past weddings, and surveys about what songs the guests want to hear.

These wedsites can be connected with the bride and groom’s Facebook profile and the photos guests take at the wedding can easily be shared to Pinterest and photo sharing sites like Snapfish, Polaroid Fotobar, and Shutterfly. The wedsites include such features as the gift registry, stories about how the couple met and where they became engaged, as well as where they’re headed for the honeymoon. For out-of-town guests these sites have proven to be important resources. Links to the hotel, discounts on airline flights, and the ability to coordinate travel with other guests are essential for a wedsite.

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Scammers Add to the Tragedy of Noah Pozner

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

When the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut were announced, Jewish media outlets immediately published articles about the youngest victim Noah Pozner, the Jewish 6-year-old who was laid to rest earlier this week in a traditional Jewish funeral officiated by the family’s rabbi, Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown.

As if the story of this tragedy couldn’t get any worse news reports have surfaced that individuals have sought to capitalize off the Pozner family’s heartache. A man named Jason Martin rushed to purchase the internet domain noahpozner.com. After the Pozner family had the noahpozner.com website transferred to its ownership, Victoria Haller, Noah’s aunt, emailed Martin. He wrote back that he’d meant “to somehow honor Noah and help promote a safer gun culture. I had no ill intentions I assure you.”

The purchase of noahpozner.com wasn’t the least of the surprising acts done by individuals not associated with the Pozner family. It was what was published on that website. Adding to the grieving family’s sorrow, someone the family didn’t know began soliciting donations in Noah’s memory, claiming that they would send any cards, packages and money collected to his parents and siblings. An official-looking website had been set up at noahpozner.com, even including petitions on gun control.

According to an AP story, Noah Pozner’s uncle, Alexis Haller, “called on law enforcement authorities to seek out these despicable people. These scammers are stealing from the families of victims of this horrible tragedy.” Noah Pozner’s family learned of the scam after a friend received an email asking for money for the family. The email was poorly punctuated and listed an address for donations with which the Pozners where unfamiliar.

Noah Pozner was the youngest of the 1st grade victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

While scams such as this one against the Pozners are all too common following a tragedy, it is still disturbing to the majority of people who live ethically. It is also outrageous that this family in mourning should have to deal with such a travesty and be hassled with having to deal with these scammers.

Ken Berger, the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, was quoted in the AP article. He said, “It’s abominable. It’s just the lowest kind of thievery.”

The noahpozner.com website now displays the eulogy his mother delivered at his funeral as well as several photos of the adorable 6-year-old who loved tacos. Donations to Noah’s Ark of Hope can be made on the site and a disclaimer clearly states that “This is the only official website for payment to directly and solely benefit the siblings of Noah Pozner.”

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

Ultra-Orthodox Correct About Internet Dangers

When I first heard that a rally was planned for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews to protest the Internet, I didn’t think it would attract much attention. After all, the Internet has long been under attack in Haredi communities and their rabbinic leaders have forbidden it in the past.

The event on May 20 at Citi Field in New York (home of the Mets) drew a massive audience of more than 40,000 men, with an overflow crowd tuning in to a live video feed at the neighboring Arthur Ashe tennis stadium. Women were not allowed entry to the event, but many viewed it, ironically enough, on the Internet through a live stream broadcast.

The speeches, mostly made in Yiddish with English subtitles on the stadium’s large video screen, condemned the Internet and warned that its impure content poses a serious threat to the Haredi lifestyle and the modesty that the Torah demands.

The day after the rally I was contacted by Ben Sales, a reporter for JTA. He wanted my opinion of the event and a quote about how I understand the role of the Internet in Jewish life. My sense is that he presumed I would criticize the rally’s organizing group for not realizing the gift of the Internet or how it has improved our lives.

Rather than disapproving of the rally or criticizing the speakers for a shortsighted understanding of technology, I explained that these Haredi leaders are correct. And they are. The Internet most certainly jeopardizes their way of life. The Internet will cause Haredi Jews to sin and will tear away at the fabric of their modest lives.

The way the Haredi communities have maintained such strict adherence to their understanding of religious life is by erecting borders to protect themselves from outside influences. Within a controlled, ghettoized environment self-control is not required as much as it is in a free and open society. The Internet virtually removes the ghetto walls and nullifies the borders of the Haredi neighborhoods void. Thus, the perils of the Internet are real to this community.

Many assume that when Haredi leaders speak of the threat of the Internet to their adherents they are referring to pornographic content. I don’t believe this is the case. The Haredi community is well versed on the availability of content filters that will sift out such immodest material. In fact, most of the speakers at the rally forbid their followers from browsing the Web without a filter for inappropriate sites.

Filters take care of removing indecent photos of a sexual nature and images of immodestly dressed women. What an Internet filter will not remove for the Haredi Web surfers however is other material their leaders consider to be explicit. Content that challenges their core beliefs and structured way of life are of most concern to the rally’s organizers. If Haredi Jews cannot exert the self-control needed to avoid content of an immodest nature, they can rely on the filters. However, they will still be subjected to “intellectual porn” – the thoughts and opinions of Jewish scholars that will challenge their thinking.

Scantily clad women can be seen by Haredi Jewish men on their way to Queens when they look at billboards on the side of the highway or magazine covers on sidewalk newsstands. However, Torah commentary written by modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis is only accessible to them through an unfiltered and unmonitored Internet. Blog posts, op-eds and doctoral theses are the pernicious enemies that scare Haredi leaders most about the Internet. Viewing pornographic imagery may lead Haredi disciples to sin, but unfiltered use of the Internet leads them to virtually leave their isolated community and could cause them to go off the path, venturing outside of their real life community as well.

Most of the Haredi critics of the Internet recognize that the Internet is necessary in today’s world and cannot be banned entirely. The speakers at the Citi Field rally readily admitted that both men and women in their communities rely on the Internet and other forms of modern technology for business as well as for personal use (banking, shopping and as a medical resource).

The real threat of the Internet to the insular Haredi communities is that the Internet quashes the walls to the outside world that they have so steadfastly erected over the generations. The free flow of information that could undermine the Haredi way of life is the real concern. In that sense, the Internet certainly poses an ever present danger. It will be interesting to see the effects of the Internet on this community in the coming years.

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

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Rally Against Internet

If Al Gore actually had invented the Internet, as he once claimed, he would be the least popular guy in any ultra-Orthodox neighborhood today. It is clear that the fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders despise the Internet and technology because they’re willing to spend over $1.5 million in a rally against the Internet next month in Queens, New York.

Ever since the Web became popular in the mid-1990s, the ultra-Orthodox community has railed against it. Ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim consider the Internet as threatening to their strict way of life. They believe it promotes the ills of society and has the force to steer its devout members off the path of strict religious observance.

In the past, some ultra-Orthodox rabbis have attempted to issue a complete ban on Internet use for their members. In some cases their rulings were motivated by the easy availability of pornography on the Web. In other cases rabbis have forbidden Internet use because they consider it a secular act with secular content that will contaminate their communities. Most Haredi rabbis don’t consider the educational advantages of the Internet and tell their students that using technology is a bitul z’man — a waste of time that could be used for religious study.

Many Haredi yeshiva leaders have condemned Internet use in sermons and some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods display posters in the streets promoting the Internet ban. Over the years, there have been attempts in the ultra-Orthodox world to create an alternative Internet so that Haredi adherents could use email and use the Web for religious matters like booking a flight to Israel or purchasing a book. Special “kosher” search engines and web portals, like Koogle, have come and gone over the years in efforts to offer safe Web surfing to pious Jews in Haredi communities.

The Jewish Daily News today reported that tens of thousands of participants will take part in a huge rally on May 20 (Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan) “in order to combat the evils of the Internet and damage of advanced devices.” Presumably by “devices” they mean mobile technology like smartphones and tablets. A rally organizer told the Jewish Daily News that the rally will be the largest in the history of Orthodox Jewry in the United States. While it was originally reported that the rally will be held in Shea Stadium, the organizers quickly corrected that as the New York Mets’ former ballpark doesn’t exist anymore. The former site of Shea Stadium is now the parking lot for the new Citi Field.

While there’s just no telling just how many ultra-Orthodox Jews will actually show up at the May 20th rally against the Internet and technology, it is a safe bet that the event won’t be live tweeted or depicted with Instagram photos — at least not by the very people rallying against such technologies. Personally I can’t imagine how the organizers will ever begin to promote an event of this magnitude without the help of Facebook or other social networks… or how those wishing to attend the rally will find it without the help of Mapquest or Google Maps!

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

Children and Technology: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous

Versions of this appeared in the Detroit Jewish News and on the Savvy Auntie website

As our society becomes even more dependent on technology, we will have to continue adapting to the technology innovations that continue to amaze us. The constant advances in everything from mobile gadgets to our household appliances will force us to change the way we currently do everyday tasks. If you need help figuring out how to use any of the new technology, just ask your kids.

Joking aside, children adapt quickest to new technology because they don’t really have to adapt much. Swiping on an iPad screen, controlling the Xbox 360 Kinect videogame console through virtual reality, or starting the family’s washing machine from a mobile app seem to come naturally for children. In the same way that parents joked in the 1980s that they needed their children to program the VCR, today’s parents marvel at how comfortable their children are with new technology.

Children as young as four years old are using the Internet, mobile devices, and gaming consoles. In some cases this is a good thing, but there are certain risk factors that parents should be aware of. While technology can be used for positive educational purposes, there are also serious physical and psychological concerns.

A recent Nielson study finds that in households owning a tablet computer and with children under 12, 70% of children use the tablet. 77% of these children are playing games, while 57% use the tablet for educational purposes. The rest of the most common responses include 55% of these children using the tablet for entertainment purposes; 43% to watch television and/or movies; and 41% to keep the child occupied while at a restaurant or event.

Many parents report that letting their children use tablet computers like the iPad can be very helpful when waiting at the doctor’s office, on long car rides, and before the meal arrives at restaurants. There are also advantages to having children do their homework on the iPad. Julie Feldman of Farmington Hills, Michigan explains that her daughter Emily (a 4th grader at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit) is excited to come home and finish her advanced math homework on the iPad using the application Wowzers. Feldman, a registered dietician, also sees advantages in technology for children concerned about their nutrition. “My young clients are able to track their daily food intake with an app making it much easier to monitor what they eat.”

There are, however, concerns that some children are spending too much time in front of a digital screen. When children spend too many hours watching television, playing video games, surfing the Web, and using a tablet, they are likely not getting enough exercise or face-to-face social interaction. Dr. Daniel Klein, a children’s psychologist in Metro Detroit, says he sees many young patients who are spending too much time using technology by themselves and not enough time playing outside and interacting with their peers. He works with parents and provides guidance to help monitor their children’s computer and gaming activities. There are also fears that children will see things in video games or online that will have negative effects on their behavior and can lead to anxiety disorders, violent behavior, or hyperactivity.

Feldman believes that parents should determine what technology they allow their children to use based on the child’s maturity level. She gave her daughter a cell phone when she was 8-years-old, but understands that this might be too young for other children. “It’s very dependent on the child,” she says. “My daughter spends many hours at dance classes and needs to be able to communicate with us. Having a cell phone and being able to text us is anxiety reducing for her.” She also has become more cautious about her 3 ½-year-old son’s video gaming activity as she has noticed that he is acting out violent scenes and shooting with pretend guns after playing some realistic video games.

All parents should be aware of their children’s activity online and put monitoring software in place to ensure safe experiences. If a child is using a computer, parents should ensure that adult content does not come up in search results. Google and other popular search engines on the Web have SafeSearch features to filter adult content from search results. Violent scenes can also be avoided with such applications as NetNanny, which provides Internet controls.

In addition to psychological and emotional concerns, there are also physical dangers when children use technology. Dr. Daniel Rontal, an ENT at the Rontal-Akervall Clinic, notes that with the increased popularity of portable music devices among children comes an increased health risk to children’s ears. “Some children don’t realize that something is broken on their ear buds and they scratch their inner ears,” he cautions. “There is also the danger of noise induced hearing loss and that is something that isn’t even realized until years later. It won’t show up for 15-20 years, but we’re seeing more people with early hearing loss in their mid 30’s because of listening to music which is generally being played louder than it was in the 80s and 90s.”

“Kids in general feel that they’re bullet proof,” Rontal adds. “The white iPod ear buds just sit in the ear and those are okay, but the ones that go into the ear canal, called sound isolating headphones, can definitely cause infection and scratch the ear.”

Kidz Gear offers wired headphones for children designed specifically for the Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad. The Kidz Gear headphones feature unique KidzControl Volume Limiting Technology that provides a safe listening experience while helping to protect children’s hearing. This technology delivers a safe volume limited listening experience for children that is always on and limits the volume levels to 80dB and 90dB.

New technology helps us be more productive and improves our lives, but we have to learn to use it safely and in healthy ways. So too, as adults, we must be responsible and monitor the way our children utilize technology. In some cases, technology seems to be make things worse. For example, overuse of computers and mobile devices can curtail important interpersonal communication and can hinder children from developing the skills necessary to deal with others in real life.

There are real benefits to children using technology as well. Reports abound that demonstrate how technology is bolstering children’s learning experiences and complementing the education they receive in school. Some technology is even making it easier for children with developmental disabilities. The bottom line is that, like anything, there are positive and negative implications to the latest, greatest technology innovations. There are risks to children using technology without the proper supervision and moderation. The best thing that parents can do is become well trained in the technology their children are using so that they can monitor it best. That will ensure a positive, safe, and healthy technology experience for children.

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

Sitting Shiva for Traditional Shiva

I’ve been thinking about death and mourning quite a bit lately. To begin with, the first week of the new year brought with it a rash of deaths here in the Detroit Jewish community. There were a fair share of elderly grandparents who died in their 80s and 90s during the first week of 2012, but that isn’t all that uncommon. Within a one-week period, however, there were tragic and untimely deaths in every age demographic ranging from a drug overdose to horrific traffic accidents to sudden massive heart attacks to the succumbing of long illnesses. There was a lot of mourning and a lot of grieving here in the Detroit Jewish community.

I’ve also been thinking about death and mourning because I’ve been working on an article for The Detroit Jewish News about the Shiva Connect website which helps mourners coordinate shiva following the death of a loved one. The research I’ve done on this website has pushed me to look closer at how Jews are observing shiva in the 21st century.

Author Bruce Feiler’s article in today’s  NY Times was difficult to read because it makes me think that we should perhaps sit shiva for the traditional expression of Judaism’s mourning rituals which have been around for thousands of years. Feiler, the author of Walking the Bible, writes about observing a “secular shiva” for his friends who have died recently (or for his friends’ relatives). Rather than paying a condolence call to the home of the mourners, Feiler’s friends have gathered elsewhere and ordered pizza and a fruit salad and listened to eulogies by the grieving family. Bereft of prayers or the obligatory rites of Jewish mourning, Feiler finds this “secular shiva” to be a natural outgrowth of our busy, complicated lives without religion in the Digital Age.

There is already a trend among non-Orthodox Jews to minimize the length of shiva. The Hebrew word “shiva” means seven and refers to the number of days the mourners are required to stay at home receiving visitors to pay their condolences. Traditionally, the only time that shiva isn’t the full seven days is when it is interrupted by a significant Jewish holiday during which time formal morning is prohibited. When I first became a rabbi eight years ago I would listen to families explain why sitting shiva for the full seven days seemed too arduous. I would then be able to convince them to do it even it meant a little bargaining such as keeping the final few days private without opening their home to everyone. These days, it has become commonplace for families to only “hold shiva” for a few days or at the very least a few hours following the funeral.

Feiler’s NY Times article is titled “Mourning in the Age of Facebook”, but it focuses less on social media sympathies and more on this New Age observance of shiva. (I wrote about mourning and the effect of social networking sites like Facebook in a blog post for The Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog in May 2010.) Feiler’s argument is that shiva is too difficult to take place at the home of the mourners. I’ve heard this argument before and agree with it on some levels. The last thing that many mourners want to think about after their loved one has died is opening their home to an unknown number of people including many strangers who are connected to the deceased through other mourners. Of course, the idea of shiva is that the mourners shouldn’t have to worry about making sure their house is clean for shiva or if there will be enough food or ample parking. That should be taken care of by their community of friends. But truthfully, it is still stressful time for mourners and is likely the leading cause of the desire to shorten the length of the traditional shiva period.

I recently spoke with the leader of a local Reform congregation who shared his vision of creating a physical space (not in the synagogue or funeral home) for mourners to gather for shiva. It would be designed to feel like a living room and friends would visit with the mourners there so no one had to open their home to countless people during the immediate week of grief. On the one hand this idea makes sense, but there’s a certain warmth that I believe would be missing. There’s a certain unique feeling about shiva in a mourner’s home. Traditionally the mourner shouldn’t have to leave home during shiva. That is why people come to the shiva house and daily prayer services are held there rather than in the synagogue.

The part of Feiler’s article I found most troubling was the notion that we’re just too busy these days to fully respond to death. Feiler quotes a hospice nurse who explains, “We’re just too busy in this world to deal with losing people.” I certainly hope that’s not the case. There is a reason that seven days of mourning were instituted. While death is never convenient, we are obligated to respond to it by taking time out of our busy, overextended schedules and comfort the mourners in their time of grief.

It is certainly more convenient to post a quick sentence or two of condolence on the mourner’s Facebook Wall, but that shouldn’t preclude us from performing the tradition acts of comforting the mourners as instituted by our faith. Judaism is fluid and progresses through the generations in response to the changing culture of the times and the needs of its practitioners, but we should be cautious in how much we change certain aspects of our tradition. Formal shiva serves a purpose and while it is not a convenient situation it guarantees the comfort of the community.

As Feiler notes, “Especially in a world in which so much communication happens online, the balming effect of a face-to-face gathering can feel even more magnified. The Jewish tradition of sitting shiva offers an appealing template.” Rather than seeing social media promote the loss of traditional shiva observance, I hope it is used to strengthen it. We are all busy with many distractions, but hopefully we’ll find ways to use modern technology to help our friends who are grieving. We should recognize the inherent value of traditional shiva rather than trying to reinvent it. I’m glad that Bruce Feiler found meaning in the “secular shivas” he observed for his friends, but I pray that we’ll return religion to its proper place in Jewish mourning ritual.

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

Bread Art Project

I’m a big fan of creative ways to raise money for good causes. One winning idea belongs to the Bread Art Project, which allows anyone to create their own artwork on a piece of bread (toasting is a personal preference!).

The Bread Art Project will help the more than 17 million children in America who struggle with hunger. Every approved submission yields a dollar donation from the Grain Foods Foundation to Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit committed to ending childhood hunger in America. This organization connects children with the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives.

Here’s my submission:

By creating your own bread artwork you can help ensure that every child in America has the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives. To learn more about the Grain Foods Foundation, visit gowiththegrain.org.

I plan on contacting the Bread Art Project to recommend altering their project for eight days this spring. I envision it looking something like this:

Hat tip to Amanda Fisher of Brogan and Partners for introducing me to the Bread Art Project

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

No Dog Got Stoned in Jerusalem

There are certain things that we all read on the Web that we find unbelievable. Not “unbelievable” as in “amazing,” but events that simply cannot be believed. Some of these crazy things have actually occurred as reported, but many are simply hoaxes. Thank God for websites like Snopes.com to debunk these myths.

Last week, my hoax detector was going off at full speed when I read on Yahoo! News that a stray dog was condemned to death, or stoned, by a rabbinical court in Jerusalem. The report in Yahoo! News was reprinted from the Israeli newspaper Maariv which reported that a stray dog wandered into a Beit Din (religious court) in the strictly Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem and refused to be moved. A judge on the Beit Din determined the dog was a reincarnation of a secular lawyer who died 20 years ago. The article claimed that the judges on the Beit Din then “decreed” that local children stone the dog to death. Once the story hit Yahoo! News it got picked up by the BBC where it was the most read story of the day.

Of course none of this actually happened. It was a joke. That’s right, a joke. However, with news items traveling the globe at lightning speed thanks to the Internet, this story was everywhere within an hour. The damage was done even though Maariv issued a correction and apology on its website, JTA released an article explaining that there was no stoning of a dog, and Yahoo! News took the story down. It was already re-posted on hundreds of websites around the world.

The religious court issued the following statement:

There is no basis for stoning dogs or any other animal in the Jewish religion, not since the days of the Temple or Abraham… The female dog found a seat in the corner of the court. And the children were delighted by it; there were hundreds outside the court. They are used to seeing stray cats but most have never seen a dog before. The only action we took was to dial the number of the Jerusalem Municipality to get the people in charge to take it away.

There was no talk of reincarnation, a lawyer has never been mentioned, either now or 20 years ago, and there was no stoning. Such inventions are a kind of blood libel, and we wonder why the inventor of the story did not continue to describe how we collected the blood of the dog to make our matzah.

The story, when circulated on Yahoo! News, attracted more than 1,800 comments, most expressing violent anger. Just another example of people believing the truly unbelievable on the Web. Maybe it’s time for the large news agencies to actually fact check before publishing on the Web.

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

Jewish Tech Meetup Brings Jewish Techies Face to Face

Cross-posted at the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)

It’s not uncommon for tech savvy Jews in Cyberspace to develop online relationships with other Jews who frequent some of the same social networking sites and blogs. These relationships, however, often remain in Cyberspace. Sure, there are the occasional conferences and retreats in which techie Jews will meet in the “real world,” but most of the communication takes place online.

These friendships transcend geographical limitations. The discussions take place on Facebook and Twitter and in the comments section of blogs. They span across several time zones and don’t discriminate between denominational affiliation. While these friends in Cyberspace won’t run into each other at the grocery store or picking the kids up from school, they will be there to offer condolences upon the death of a relative or to share in the happiness of a simcha. Collaboration among this group is Jewish techies is common and start-up initiatives have been created in recent years to bolster the entrepreneurism of this community.

On May 16, Jewish New Media Activist Daniel Sieradski posted an announcement on his Facebook page. His announcement simply read, “Sign up for the inaugural Jewish Tech Meetup, June 16″ with a link to an event on the meetup.com website. A week later, on May 23, Sieradski tweeted that “The Jewish Tech Meetup sold out in just two days w/o even announcing a speaker. Talk about filling an obvious need…”

The event, hosted at Makom Hadash, will be an opportunity for Jewish techies to get together in “real life.” Hoping to make this into a monthly forum, Sieradski bills the event as a chance to discover what is happening at the intersection of Jewish life and technology. “The NYC Jewish Tech Meetup offers guest speakers, networking opportunities, and seasonal hackathons. Connect with your peers, hear the latest from the field, and explore opportunities for collaboration.”

He explained that “the NYC Jewish Tech Meetup seeks to bring together Jews who tech, either in or out of the Jewish community, for networking and professional development opportunities, as well as to get Jews -in- tech to bring their skills and ingenuity to the table to try to address some of the bigger challenges facing the Jewish community, particularly with regards to education, social welfare, and political organizing… The hope is to develop community and an open exchange of ideas between those doing IT for Jewish causes and Jews who know IT better than they do Judaism or Jewish issues.”

This event falls under the umbrella of Open Source Judaism, the initiative Douglas Rushkoff and Sieradski started in 2003 with the launch of Rushkoff’s book Nothing Sacred. Open Source Judaism seeks to promote openness, transparency and direct democracy in Jewish education and communal leadership. Sieradski describes the endeavor as being “fully inclusive, nondenominational and non-proselytizing (ie., we are not a religious organization) though we do engage issues of Jewish spirituality and education.”

Sieradski promises to announce the guest speaker for the June 16 event slated to take place at Hazon’s Makom Hadash, which is a residency center for second-stage Jewish non-profit organizations. Makom Hadash combines affordable space and office services with a community of colleagues and regular opportunities to learn, socialize and collaborate, it enables its member organizations to focus more on their missions, develop more sophisticated organizational infrastructure and collaborate more effectively together. “Founded in 2010, Makom Hadash now offers space for up to 27 full-time workers; a few spaces for resident organizations are still available. Stage II, slated for completion later in 2011, will expand capacity to 45 seats. In addition, organizations not requiring full-time office space can join the center’s community as non-residents members, using Makom Hadash for drop-in space and office services, and to connect with Jewish non-profit colleagues.”

Over the past few years, the level of collaboration among tech savvy Jews, both in and out of the Jewish communal world, has been impressive so it will be interesting to see what happens when they’re actually in the same room.

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

Why Atheists Love Religion Websites

I published my first blog post on the Huffington Post website back in October. What immediately amazed me was the large number of comments posted about my piece. In the first couple of days there were close to 500 responses to what I had written. And then I began to skim these “talkbacks” to find that the vast majority were written by individuals who were angry about any form of organized religion and believed that God was as make-believe as Mickey Mouse. I was surprised to see so many self-affirmed atheists not only lurking on the religion section of the Huffington Post, but also being its most vocal contributors. It should be noted that my blog post had little to do with God and was devoted to post-denominationalism in Judaism. Most of the comments were from lapsed Christians who now felt religion was a joke and seemed angry that it was still in existence (in any form).

I planned to write about this phenomenon, but never got around to it. So, I was glad when my colleague Rabbi David Wolpe, of Los Angeles, posted his feelings about it on the Huffington Post yesterday (“Why Are Atheists So Angry?”). In a much more eloquent way than I could, Rabbi Wolpe put into words his take on why there are so many atheists participating in the online conversation on websites devoted to religion — and why their comments are so tinged with angst. When I first read his post yesterday there were no comments, however, when I checked back today there are now close to 900 responses — certainly with a good number of them from the atheist community.

Rabbi Wolpe writes:

How harmless is it to post an article about why people should read the bible on a site devoted to religion? I did on this very page, and it evoked more than 2,000 responses, most of them angry. I had previously written a similarly gentle article about how God should be taught to children that evoked more than 1,000 responses, almost all negative and many downright nasty.

It is curious that a religion site draws responses mostly from atheists, and that the atheists are very unhappy. They are unhappy with the bible (“foolish fairy tales” is one of the more generous descriptions), unhappy with the idea of God (the “imaginary dictator” whose task in human history, apparently, is to ensure that oppression and evil triumph) and very unhappy with anyone (read: me) who presumes to offer religious advice to the religious. Only the untutored assume that religious people predominate on websites (Huffington Post Religion page, On Faith in the Washington Post, Beliefnet.com) devoted to religion.

In the past when I have debated noted atheists — Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others — the audience was heavily weighted toward my opponents. That makes sense. Each of these men — like Dawkins, Dennett and others — brings with them a large following. But why seek out a religious site solely to insult religion?

To summarize, Rabbi Wolpe offers four four reasons why he believes atheists are so angry. First, Atheists genuinely resent the evil that religion has caused in the world. Second, they are convinced that religion is a fairy tale that impedes science/progress/rational thought. Third, “there is an arrogant unwillingness to engage with religion’s serious thinkers.” And, finally, he argues that “there is sometimes in the atheist a want of wonder. In a world in which so much is still not understood, in which multiple universes are possible, in which we have not pierced the mystery of consciousness, to discount the supernatural is to lack the openness to mystery that should be a human hallmark. There is so much we do not know. Religious people too should acknowledge this truth.”

Perhaps websites like the Huffington Post and Beliefnet should offer a section devoted solely to atheism so that the atheists would no longer dominate the airwaves in the religion section with with their angst. Or perhaps, these individuals will continue to weigh in on the discussions surrounding religion, but will do so in a more civil manner that will actually move the conversation forward in a productive way. I know deep down that these individuals are still seeking. They are still interested in the conversation and have their fleeting moments of belief; otherwise I don’t think they’d spend the time engaged in the debate.

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