(Click here to read part 1)
Here’s the Question I Ask Myself? If we create sacred spaces outside the walls of our synagogues, will Jews Participate?
I believe that Jews want to engage in Jewish life and want to be part of a Jewish community. For many Jews the current model of the synagogue does not work and it is time to create innovative ways to connect to those Jews. And to create different models of what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century.
Since the day I entered the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College my vision has always been to find ways to connect with Jews who do not feel welcomed in Jewish institutions, find ways to connect with those who do not want to belong to a synagogue, and to build an inclusive Jewish community, one that is welcoming to all who want to come. BTW it is not enough to just say “We are welcoming.”
I want to meet Jews where they are in their lives and create sacred spaces outside the boundaries of synagogues. I want to talk and listen to Jews about Jewish life and to help them be with the God of their understanding. I think this is important because, as many of you already know, just because we built a synagogue does not mean Jews are going to come. I’ve been to some amazing synagogues and one of the reasons I’m studying to be a rabbi today is because I am a product of this
amazing synagogue, and I had an amazing rabbi who mentored me and provided the best example of how I want to be in the world.
According to the 2013
Pew Study of American Jews 94% of Jews are proud to be Jewish and they have expanded what it means to be Jewish and express and see their Jewish identity very differently than previous generations.
So… how do we connect with those Jews. I’m going to share with you all what I am doing and what I hope to do in the future. I want to challenge other rabbis and rabbinical students to share what they are hoping or planning to do to engage the Jewish community.
This Spring, I received an Auerbach Entrepreneurial Mini Grant (which supports innovators in launching a series of bold experiments that seek to reconstruct Jewish experience and engagement for the 21st century) to lead Shabbat services once a month during late spring and through the summer of 2016 at Arnold’s Way Cafe in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. The owners of the cafe have strong Jewish identities but do not belong to a synagogue. They believe in the Jewish people but have been let down by synagogues. Leading services at the cafe is attractive to the Jews in Lansdale. It’s a relaxing environment, people can come as they are and more importantly it is not a synagogue. If this experiment is successful I plan to continue leading services for the remainder of 2016 and through the summer of 2017. You can read more about my efforts in the Philadelphia Inquirer
Connecting with People through Technology.
I have been a technology geek for most of my adult life, always trying new Smartphones, computers and different types of social media. This geekiness has given me a sizable following on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Today more online experiences are happening through mobile devices. A trend has started among social media apps and these trends are updates that are meant to be consumed on the spot, and disappear into the digital sky of the web. Apps such as Snapchat and other messaging apps behave very differently than traditional social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Snapchat’s public videos and pictures disappear after 24 hours; Periscope, Facebook Live and Busker and other live streaming apps focus on live video with built-in chats that streams over the phone. These applications are growing fast and are attractive to people, especially those in their 20’s and 30’s.
Over the last few months I started using these types of social media apps to connect with people. I’ve tested a variety of live streaming applications and believe that Periscope, Busker and Facebook Live attract the largest audiences. And I started testing Snapchat. I’ve been using these apps to celebrate shabbat, to share my insight as an emerging rabbi, to teach liturgy, sing Jewish music, and to give a divrei Torah. All of these applications provide creative ways to connect with people and are amazing opportunities to connect with Jews. For example, I opened a Snapchat account which allows anyone who wants to connect to connect. A growing number of people are following me on these channels and are finding my knowledge helpful. Both Snapchat and live streaming are amazing and provide new and innovative ways to reach people who are not engaged in Jewish life, or who want alternatives.
There are very few rabbis using these platforms. The rabbis that do use these apps are not using these platforms the same way that I am. The one exception is Chabad. Chabad has always been very forward thinking in their social media and I want to add a progressive Jewish voice on these platforms.
Let’s Talk About Snapchat…
Today many people, especially Jews in their 20’s and 30’s are on various forms of social media and are using messaging apps to connect with people. Snapchat provides an amazing opportunity to connect with people, especially Jews in their 20’s and 30’s, through storytelling. Keeping with part of my mission to meet Jews where they are in their lives, I am using Snapchat’s storytelling features to give mini Torah lessons on Mondays, Thursdays and on Shabbat, and give other Jewish lessons on blessings and discuss major Jewish holidays. There are over 30 people following my Jewish lessons on Snapchat, which is amazing considering I started the account in April and there was a pretty steep learning curve. The Jews and non-Jews who are watching are engaged and responding to Jewish snap stories on Snapchat.
Now that you know some of what I am doing to connect with Jews outside the walls of synagogues, what are you doing?