Reform Jewish wedding, Conservative Jewish wedding or Orthodox Jewish wedding… they all have one thing in common — the personalized yarmulke. It’s impossible to go to a Jewish wedding and not receive a keepsake kippah with the bride and groom’s names imprinted on the inside along with the wedding date.Well, these personalized kippot have been fairly standard for a very long time. Some Jewish wedding couples choose to include the Hebrew date of the wedding along with the secular date and some couples have their names printed in Hebrew as well.
For the first time I saw a couple include a hashtag on the inside of their wedding kippahs. Hashtags are used on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Hashtags are a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) that are used to identify messages on a specific topic making it easy to search. Oftentimes at conventions, conferences, events and sports games a hashtag is recommended so users can follow the related posts.
Brian Stelter and Jamie Shupak’s wedding kippah with the #thestelters hashtag
For the second year Adat Shalom Synagogue brought two generations together for “Tech Connect.” This program, conceived of by Charlotte Dubin and endowed in memory of her late husband Harold, has Jewish teens teaching the older generation about new technology. Tech Connect II took place on two Sundays at the Farmington Hills-based Conservative synagogue.
A teen and a senior at Adat Shalom Synagogue’s 2nd annual Tech Connect
As I did at the inaugural Tech Connect, I opened the program with some thoughts on how technology has changed our lives. After speaking about how the Internet can be used these days to do everything from purchase an airline ticket to order photo prints of grandchildren to download a new pattern for the sewing machine, I watched as savvy teens assisted computer-challenged boomers with notebook computers and tablets. It struck me that this program should be replicated around the world because there are many Boomers and seniors who do not have young grandchildren around to help learn today’s tech gadgets.
Randi Zuckerberg of Zuckerberg Media with Rabbi Jason Miller at CES 2014
In her book “Dot Complicated,” Randi Zuckerberg writes about something that many of us have recognized. The older generations learn from the younger generations when it comes to computers and technology. I can’t count the number of times an adult has remarked to me how a child taught them to use a new smartphone. Perhaps this is no different than generations ago when adults couldn’t program a VCR or answering machine and relied on their children to do it.
I was in Jerusalem in December 2012 with a dozen of my Conservative rabbi colleagues on a mission to support our sister movement in Israel — the Masorti Movement. At a lovely dinner on the first evening of our stay at the Mamila Hotel in Jerusalem I was seated next to Arie Hasit. The two of us immediately began to talk over appetizers and commenced a game of Jewish geography. Turns out we know countless mutual people. As a high school student Arie was very active in United Synagogue Youth (USY) and knew many of my colleagues who were youth directors or working for USY international headquarters in New York during Arie’s high school years. Now, Arie is a student at Machon Schechter (Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies) studying to be a Conservative rabbi and also working as the Acting Rabbi of Naom, Masorti’s youth movement.Most of my colleagues on that mission traveled back to the United States a few days later before Shabbat, but I chose to extend my stay for a Shabbat in Jerusalem. Rather than visiting friends for Shabbat I took Arie up on his kind invitation to have dinner with him and some friends at his apartment in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Today marks ten years since Mark Zuckerberg founded The Facebook in his Harvard dorm room.
It was over Shabbat dinner at his home that Arie mentioned that, like me, he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity. I asked him which chapter of AEPi and he told me that he attended Harvard University. I explained that I had led a Birthright Israel trip for college students at both the University of Michigan as well as Harvard back in 2004 and of course he knew many of the students on my Birthright trip. Knowing that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was also a brother of AEPi at Harvard, I asked him the obvious question: “So, were you friends with Zuck?”
That’s when Arie Hasit looked up from his salad and told me that he was Number Four. “Wait a second, you had the fourth Facebook account ever?” I asked him incredulously.
Rabbinical Student Arie Hasit representing the Masorti Movement at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade
(Photo Courtesy of Arie Hasit)
It’s a story that Arie no doubt had recounted many times since his time at Harvard. I always enjoyed telling people that I had one of the first Facebook accounts in Michigan since I had known about The Facebook and as soon as the University of Michigan was brought into The Facebook, I used my umich.edu e-mail account (I worked for Michigan Hillel) and signed up. But Arie clearly had me beat. After three of The Facebook’s co-founders created their accounts, Arie Hasit became the fourth user on the famous social networking site.
Nostalgia is in. I recently coined the term “Nostalgia Posting” because one of the most common memes on Facebook these days is the Throwback Thursday, in which individuals and organizations post old photos from yesteryear and allow viewers to tag people they recognize and be amused at how things have changed over the years including hairstyles and fashion. One local company making good use of this is Joe Cornell Entertainment, which has been posting photos from their archives of Joe Cornell’s pre-bar mitzvah dance classes from the past few decades.
Metro Detroiters, as well as former Metro Detroiters, have found themselves getting lost in time on the Web since the Detroit Jewish News Foundation launched its digital archives in mid-November. Residing on the DJN Foundation’s website at www.djnfoundation.org, the archives have allowed local members of the Jewish community to scratch their nostalgia itch by searching for friends and family in the archives’ search function. Every weekly issue of the Detroit Jewish News over the past seven decades is included in the digital archives and even advertisements can be searched.
Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, recognized the importance of digitizing the thousands of old issues of the paper after a devastating fire occurred in the Detroit Jewish News offices back in 2002 and destroyed nearly all of the paper’s print archives. Horwitz and the new nonprofit foundation turned to Media Genesis, an internet services provider, to create the searchable index on the new website which lets users perform quick and accurate searches on the more than 260,000 dating back to 1942. The archives are available to the public at no cost and they have already proven useful to local historians, educators, students and community leaders.
Like internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, the DJN Foundation’s digital archives are fully searchable by date, name, and other keyword searches including advanced Boolean searches, which are a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators such as “and,” “not” and “nor” to produce more relevant results.
In the Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” we see young Danny practicing his haftorah for his bar mitzvah by listening to the cantor’s rendition of it on his record player. That scene was undoubtedly sentimental for Jewish men of a certain age who prepared for their bar mitzvah by keying up the phonograph in their parents’ living room.
Bar Mitzvah preparation has come a long way since the days of the record album. In the 1980s and early 1990s cantors and bar/bat mitzvah tutors recorded their voices onto audio cassette tapes so their twelve-year-old students could walk around the house listening to the chanting on a Sony Walkman. In fact, I remember many nights falling asleep with my black foamy headphones on while I listened to the late Cantor Larry Vieder of Adat Shalom Synagogue repeating the Torah trope (cantilation notes) and the long haftorah for my bar mitzvah. The mid-1990s saw the transition from the audio tapes to music CDs when bar mitzvah tutors began hooking up microphones to the computer and recording the bar mitzvah portion onto blank CD-Roms.
In recent years we’ve seen bar and bat mitzvah students receiving the audio version of the haftorah and blessings they need to learn via email, a concept that anyone over the age of thirty would find amazing.
The way Jewish teens prepare for their bar or bat mitzvah has changed dramatically thanks to technological innovation. Not only has the audio format changed over the years, but so too has the way in which these young men and women are being tutored.
I attended Techonomy Detroit again this year and my interview with Joel Tauber, one of the speakers at the conference, was published in this week’s Detroit Jewish News:‘TECHONOMY’ CONFAB INSPIRES JOEL TAUBER
The recent Techonomy conference on the campus of Wayne State University was not much different than last year’s event, the first of its kind here in the Motor City. Tech leaders and business icons from around the country converged on Detroit for a series of conversations and workshops discussing how technology and innovation can boost American economic growth, job creation and urban revival.
This year’s conference emphasized the national challenge of inadequate and inequitable education. Speakers discussed the role of entrepreneurs and industry, as well as how technology can be creatively applied to help revive America’s physical and social urban infrastructure, to reignite competitiveness and economic growth.
The majority of the speakers were under age 45 and so it is noteworthy that one of the Detroit Jewish community’s major philanthropists and a world-renowned business leader was one of the panelists. Among the prominent speakers at Techonomy, such as Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd), was Joel Tauber.
It’s no secret that Israel is the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. With thousands of tech companies and start-ups, Israel has become just as well-known as a center for technology innovation as it is for hummus.
Between two visits to Israel earlier this year, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land for techies – International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. Before heading out to the annual convention for “everything technology” I spent some time looking at the Israeli startups that would be exhibiting at the show. One particular company caught my eye, or rather my ear.
Like me, you have probably never heard of Israeli tech company Silentium before. But that will soon change. This company aims to fix something that many people didn’t even realize was a problem. Background noise. We often find ourselves talking loudly to someone standing right in front of us because we have become so used to the background noises of machines and electronics. We live in a very noisy world with a lot of noise pollution, but we’ve become accustomed to these hums and hisses.
It’s unusual for me to write about old technology. In the tech field what’s new is what’s interesting and newsworthy. Yesterday’s technology quickly becomes obsolete.
Yet sometimes, old technology can be more interesting than the latest gadget or about-to-be-released mobile app. As is the case with Judaism, we can embrace change and still revere the Tradition. Perhaps as a way to pay homage to the technology innovations of yesteryear and to feel nostalgic I keep a collection of old tech gadgets on display in my office. Hanging on the wall in glass cases are a panoply of laptop computers, personal digital assistants and mobile phones from a much slower and much bulkier time. On the wall in the conference room hang several enlarged framed magazine advertisements for computers from the 1970s and early 1980s.
My grandmother, Adele Gudes, shows the old record album with birthday greetings from her childhood
How will Google Glass affect Jewish education? This is the blog post I recently published on The Jewish Week’s “Jewish Techs” blog on that subject:
In 1982 when I was in first grade at Hillel Day School, a Jewish day school in Metropolitan Detroit, my father brought in our family’s Apple II computer for show-and-tell. There were no computers in the school at that time so it was a seminal technological moment for the school. I’m sure my father figured he would blow my classmates minds by showing them how to type a few lines of the LOGO programming language and get the turtle cursor to turn and move across the screen. However, my peers didn’t have any mind-blowing experiences that day — it was only the beginning of what our generation would come to expect from computers and technology.
Fast forward to 2013 when, earlier this week, I was a guest speaker in my son’s third grade classroom at the same Jewish day school. Speaking on the subject of technology and Jewish education, I became nostalgic and told the students how when I was their age we would save one word processing document on a floppy disc. I then took a USB flash drive out of my pocket to explain Moore’s Law — the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. They weren’t impressed. These young people have become accustomed to better, smaller, faster technology being rolled out every few months. They see their parents turning in their smartphones for better ones and downloading new versions of operating systems. They know that the graphics on the next generation of video game consoles in their basements will be more realistic than the ones before.
I jumped at the opportunity as soon as I received the press release from Jackie Headapohl, the editor at The Detroit Jewish News, asking me if I’d like to interview Dr. Michael Gray, the well-known plastic surgeon here in Michigan. The press release described a new social network called Pegged that Dr. Gray had created. It sounded as if this cosmetic surgeon was about to give Facebook a Face Lift. I spent an hour in Dr. Gray’s office learning about Pegged and the entire time I kept thinking that people will both love and hate this controversial social networking site. Here’s the front page article from this week’s Detroit Jewish News:
Plastic Surgeon Reconstructs Social Media
Dr. Michael Gray, a popular and successful plastic surgeon, spends his days transforming the way people look on the outside. But one thing he can’t do is fix who they are on the inside. That doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in trying though.
Gray, who is from New York, heads the Michigan Cosmetic Surgery Center and Skin Deep Spa in West Bloomfield. He wondered whether he could at least learn more about people’s character on the inside and create a social platform that would force them to try and change themselves internally. “The world is broken. What if we had a resource to assess who we meet? Would we be able to make better decisions about what we do in life? Would people be self-reflective after they get a review? Would they change?”
Gray felt the social networking sites already in existence, like Facebook, were not helpful because the users were in control of their profiles and able to create the type of persona they wanted to portray. So Gray began to envision a social networking site that would promote greater self-awareness and help people become better. What he came up with will no doubt be met with mixed reactions.
A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK
Pegged (pegged.com) will be controversial. The networking site (a mobile app is in production and will be released soon) will be a painful reality for many people. All social networking sites currently allow users to create their own profile, but in an interesting twist on the idea of social network profile creation, Pegged allows someone else to create a person’s profile. If you don’t like the waitress at the restaurant you can “peg” her by creating an account and detailing why she missed the mark. If a former friend is spreading rumors about you, you’ll have the opportunity to publicly call them out on their transgression. On the other end, the site will be beneficial for those looking to hire or date someone with more accurate data available for background checks.
“When I hire staff for my practice every candidate looks great on their resume and in their initial interview,” Gray explained. “It usually takes about six months for their true colors to show. I just don’t have time for that so I want to be able to look someone up and immediately understand what type of person they really are.”
Gray believes the “opinion-built profile” through the assessment of others will be a tool that could allow Pegged to ultimately make humanity better. While the process won’t be without pain, he thinks it will be a path to insight. “The web and mobile app will be entertaining and fun, but at its core, the intention is to bring people into accountability for their interactions with others, and to offer them opportunities for self-reflection and growth.”
HOW IT WORKS
Through the comments and ratings made by others on a profile, Pegged follows people in their daily lives of social interaction and assigns them a “humanity score.” Over time, a graph will be produced showing the ups and downs (positives and negatives) of the quality of that person’s interactions chronologically in their lifetime. Gray believes this graph will provide users with valuable information about whether or not to date, hire, work for, or join a group with another person. Individuals will rate and review each other anonymously which will no doubt be one of the more controversial aspects of the site.
Concerned about bullying, Gray insists that there are many safe-guards built into the system so that no one is being rated based on religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation, and there is always the opportunity to respond to any comment. Gray won’t get into the way in which Pegged will prevent bullying, but says it will be similar to the measures Facebook implements to keep hate speech and abuse off their site. In an effort to resolve conflict between two parties, Gray is hoping to add a basis for mediation on the site.
The most controversial element of this platform is that even if a person chooses to live anonymously and social-media-free, unless one avoids people all together, someone will eventually join him or her to the website. “You can live like an ostrich with your head in the sand and pretend Pegged doesn’t exist, or you can participate and maintain some control through responding to posts about you,” Gray says. “Of course you will get people who lie, or who are haters, but in the long run, I believe that if you’re a good person, it’s going to pan out.”
Dr. Michael Gray is known for helping people improve their external image, but in this new endeavor he might have created the technology to help people do their own surgery on their character. Perhaps Pegged will be a tool to better help individuals prepare for the process of repentance on Yom Kippur.