Job Opening: Jewish Education Social Media

Social media is increasingly transforming the field of education, and Jewish education. Three innovators in the field are collaborating to accelerate adoption of social media tools and increase excellence in their use in the New York area to change the landscape of Jewish education and family engagement. BJENY-SAJES (a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation), the Experiment in Congregational Education, and Darim Online (Equal Opportunity Employers) seek to pioneer new approaches to education through more robustly engaging parents and networking educators, clergy, and lay leaders involved in educational innovation. The new social media tools offer the opportunity for us to take a leap forward in this vital work. We are now hiring for a new position, based at BJENY-SAJES in New York City. The Social Media Project Manager will lead and coordinate the design and implementation of two projects specifically focused on enabling early childhood centers and congregational education programs to share innovative educational approaches with member families and build learning communities among educators, clergy, and engaged lay leaders from across institutions engaged in these new educational practices. Find more details about the job here.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned Through My Wikispace

Guest blog post by Miriam Stein

This time last year, the most I knew about anything wiki related was Wikipedia, a site that I went to if I needed a quick, and hopefully accurate, background on something. In a few short months, and with the help of my talented and incredibly patient Darim coach, my approach to wikis and web tools has changed dramatically.

I was working at the Partnership for Jewish Life & Learning, whose mission is Transforming Community through Education. One of the Partnerships most innovative projects is called CE21: Congregational Education for the 21st Century. This is an initiative in which 6-7 congregations participate at a time and engage in a complete overhaul of their approach to congregational education, something that many people would agree is a broken system.

Any innovative project for the 21st century needs to include the power of technology tools. Our goal was to showcase the most cutting edge technologies both as a tool for the congregations, but also as a model for them to use in their own congregations. Although I was tasked with injecting this project with web 2.0 tools, I considered myself moderately capable in the use of social media, hardly the expert that I wanted to present myself as!

I was lucky enough to find out about the Darim Online program which provides excellent technology coaching for Jewish educational organizations. As described below, through my work with my Darim coach, Caren Levine, we created something that I am really proud of, and most importantly, is helping congregations transform their communities.

My goal was to create a forum for communication between seven congregations involved in CE21. They are all local to the area, but getting together at the same time for meetings or calls is a challenge. Through exploring what would be the best option for them to communicate, Caren and I came up with the idea of creating a wiki using Wikispaces. My most important criterion was usability for the target audience, who I knew might not be tech-savvy. Wikipedia is already very familiar to people, and that served to make people comfortable with the idea of a wiki from the start.

Once I knew that I wanted a wiki, I had no idea how to create it or how to make it effective. The following six months opened my eyes to how to create an incredible web resource. The best part is that I have learned a lot through the process. My lessons are listed below, with some explanation, and hopefully some instruction about how becoming comfortable with wikis and web technology is really about so much more.

  1. Be patient with yourself: learning how to speak a new language is never easy. My first few sessions with the Darim coach were all about learning the language of the wiki (like what “wiki” even means!). I wanted to know a lot immediately, but it took time to get used to the format, the language, and the tools that made information appear the way I wanted it to. I learned that there are web tools to help us become more comfortable with other web tools like the Common Craft video on how to use wikispaces! Taking a few minutes to invest in learning the right way to do things from the beginning pays off tremendously later on. That investment turned into the use of some really cool tools that we integrated into the Wikispace. Our goal was to make it as user-friendly as possible for our members, some of whom were not very tech savvy. We installed a navigation bar which serves as a Table of Contents for the site and was constantly visible on every page. We tagged pages with key words, and then created a tag-word cloud below the navigation bar to make it easier (and more visually pleasing!) for members to find pages relevant to certain themes. The more frequently a word or theme is tagged, the larger the word appears. I also knew that our site is very text-heavy, and I was looking for a way to make that more appealing to the user. With the help of Caren, I learned how to code the text so that within each page, we included a table of contents to help the user navigate the page. These small tools all of which I learned through practice, practice, practice took the site from a warehouse of information to a resource that was very user-friendly.
  2. Practice makes perfect, or at least makes it passable. As with anything, the more you practice, the better you become at it. The key for me to remember in creating the wiki was that while my end users were at a level that required a certain amount of knowledge to use it effectively, I did not need to know everything about Wikispaces. Sometimes the perfectionist in us gets the better of us, but the truth is what was really necessary was for me to meet my clients needs and make this tool helpful to them. What they needed was a forum for communication and a resource for information. A wiki was the perfect medium for that because it allowed them to exchange information and communicate without having to coordinate a specific time to talk with each other. The user-friendliness of Wikispaces made the experience really enjoyable. It also served as a model for how members could use a Wikispace with their own congregations as one did.
  3. You have friends who can help you whether at Darim Online or at the Wiki help desk. Questions would come up along the way as I continued to build up the wiki with more content and more features. Could it do this? Could we see that? The good news is that a lot of these questions were generated by the wiki members which is exactly what we wanted! Rather than try to figure everything out on my own (which I probably would not have been able to do anyway), my Darim coach was always ready with either a really nifty solution, or the right person with whom to be in touch for assistance. I dont think anything came up that we couldnt answer with a little bit of patience and creativity!
  4. Communication is what makes us human. Our ability to exchange ideas and collaborate has the potential to lead to greatness. Wikis make that even easier by providing forums for users to post their ideas and create content, building a site that is the woven fabric of the community’s ideas. The primary difference between a traditional webpage and a wiki is that content can be more easily generated collaboratively by members without an intermediary such as an administrator or webmaster. The CE21 Wikispace and the ideas and research there is the product of the communication of the seven CE21 congregations.
  5. Congratulate yourself on your successes. In creating a wiki, not only did I learn something new a skill that I can bring with me wherever I go but I know that I am helping my local congregations make their communities better. This means individual members will have an enriched Jewish experience, which is really what this is all about.

Miriam Stein is the Director for Jewish Life at the Charles E Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD. She worked on the Wikispace for the CE21 project for the Partnership for Jewish Life & Learning. Miriam lives in Washington, DC and when she is not working on cool web 2.0 projects and teaching, she is the proud wife of Andrew and mother of Aviv.

Passover Tweets – er, Treats – er, Tweets

tweet-the-exodus[cross-posted from jlearn2.0] What’s new for Pesach this year?

Here are a few fun morsels to leaven liven up the holiday!

Not to be forgotten, of course, is last season’s fave, Moses is Departing Egypt: A Facebook Haggadah. Alas, the link seems to be itself departed – anyone have a current one?

Any other faves out there? Share yours!

Learn Hebrew in the Palm of Your “Yad”

In January, Birthright Israel NEXT launched its first iPhoneapplication, Mila-4-Phone. The application (app), a Hebrew-learning program that uses flashcards and includes audio pronunciation, has been downloaded more than 3,000 times so far.

Such success signals the grand potential for Jewish organizations to use apps to reach their constituents in a new way: right in the palm of their hand.

Graphic from Mila-4-Phone App
Graphic from Mila-4-Phone App

Apps are what websites were to an organization ten years ago, Daniel Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, said. Back then, we used to joke “you are not real until you are virtual.”

Brenner makes a good point. In the web of the 1990s, websites were static and reference-focused. Today, the web is increasingly more fast-paced and social-focused thanks to the ubiquity of user generated content and the rise of social networking sites.

As apps bring the social web to phones and other mobile devices, organizations are pressed to deliver valued-added content that is more than just reference material.

Apps challenge organizations to show how ongoing, updated information from the organization is relevant to users, Brenner said.

For Birthright Israel NEXT, the key to compelling content was listening to its target base, a population that was expressing interest in returning to Israel and learning Hebrew.

We view the iPhone app as having two mission related functions one educational and one community building, Brenner said. One element of our mission is to deepen the connections that young adults have to Israel Hebrew learning certainly does just that.

But the real power of the app is that it is building a community of over three thousand young adults who share an interest in Hebrew language. Since we are involved in promoting ulpanim in ten cities and in holding ‘beit cafe’ events where Americans can meet Israeli peers and work on their Hebrew, the iPhone app serves as a magnet for folks with a shared interest and has encouraged people to meet others who want to learn Hebrew.

While the app may not be for every Birthright Israel alumni, it has attracted a large, focused following with more than 3,000 downloads from 49 countries.

Niche followings are the best type of followings, Brenner said. Knowing that over 3,000 young adults who are for the most part unaffiliated Jews and who did not go to Jewish day school all want to learn Hebrew is a very good thing.

Seeing a Jewish organization invest in a new technology and using it to reach its base in a 21st century model transcending space, time and place is definitely a very good thing.

So good that other Jewish organizations are taking notice. For instance, Mazon has an iPhone app as does the Cleveland Jewish Federation, which launched Jewish Cleveland in March.

Will apps be the new websites of the 2010s?Are you or your Jewish organization thinking about creating an app? Sound off in our comments.

Video of Mila-4-Phone in Action

To learn more about Mila-4-Phone check it out here.If you dont have an iPhone, or iPod touch, you can still join in on the mobile- Hebrew-learning fun with Birthright Israel NEXTs Hebrew Word-A-Day Text Messaging program. Just text Hebrew to 41411 to get started.

No More Scissors and Paste: Bringing the Shabbat Service Online

By Matthew Grossman, BBYOs Executive Director

Last week BBYO announced the launch of what I believe is an exciting, inventive tool available to engage teens in a meaningful Shabbat experience: Build a Prayer. As a free, online tool the site is designed to connect youth with prayer and Shabbat like never before by allowing them to build and customize their own service.

At BBYO, I constantly see teens, advisors and staff members using unique spaces and creativity to offer relevant, powerful Shabbat services, a unique challenge since most teens have only experience services within their synagogue. This challenge is only made more difficult by the fact that most teens arent comfortable in a traditional siddur they dont know where services start and end, what to include, or what is safe to leave out.

To meet that need (and often times to save money), these worship services are typically guided by a teen-designed collection of songs, poetry and prayers that is compiled through an effort of photocopying, cutting and pasting together old song sheets and prayer book passages. As an organization, we saw the need to provide Jewish teens with an accessible place to explore prayer and its meanings doing it online also happens to save some glue.

What makes this site so exciting is that it brings thousands-of-years-old prayers into a modern day realm that teens relate to. It is streamlined and easy to use. In a few clicks of a button, teens have a complete service in front of them in which they feel some much needed connections. While not every teen feels comfortable finding their way in a traditional siddur, Build a Prayer allows teens to put together a basic Shabbat service in a space they can easily navigate.

The site is designed for teens, educators, camp counselors, youth group advisors, JCC professionals, chavurah leaders basically, anyone who is interested in putting together a Shabbat service in a formal or informal setting. The site allows Hebrew, English and/or transliterated text to be compiled with ones own pictures, prayers or poetry toward the creation of a custom Prayer Service which can be printed and used anywhere.

With help from and a series of videos, users can learn more about the traditions and tunes behind specific prayers. Additionally, a content library holds creative elements from individual prayer services as they are created. Because this is an online resource, people can collaborate on the development of each service and comment on them once they are placed in the Build a Prayer library.

While recent studies show that participation in traditional religious experiences decline during the teen years, the desire to connect spiritually on ones own terms remains strong. Build a Prayer is another resource we are offering the Jewish community as a way to better connect with Jewish teens. Organizations looking to reach the teen audience should look at this as a tool to literally bring prayer to life.

Matt Grossman is the Executive Director of BBYO. He began his career at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Matt is also a member of the Darim Online board of directors. Matt currently lives in Washington, DC where he works at BBYO’s international headquarters.

Jewish Education 3.0: A Revolution in the Making

je3 logo

Kudos to the Lippman Kanfer Institute at JESNA for launching their JE3 project, Technology and Jewish Education: A Revolution in the Making! [Full disclosure: your friends over here at Darim were involved in its development]

The project revolves around the question: “What does it means to ‘do’ Jewish education in a 21st century digital world?” The JE3 site features a core narrative that explores various aspects of the integration of technology-facilitated: visions of Jewish learning, the transformation of learning and teaching, examples from the field, concerns and challenges. Along with this context-setting narrative, the site provides a platform for articles from leading Jewish educators.

Want to get in on the conversation? Read, reflect, respond… submit materials, add comments to articles, tweet using the hashtag #jed21…. C’mon over….!

10 for 2010: #3 People of the E-Book

Last week’s launch of the iPad signaled Apple’s entrance into the digital world’s growing market for the “third device.” While personal computers and cell phones are two distinct devices, some are calling for a gadget to fill the space in between the two. Whether that device is going to be more like the do-all netbook/tablet iPad or a dedicated reader like Amazon’s Kindle is yet to be seen.

What can be said though is that these new devices are not a passing fad. Some hopeful analysts claim that the iPad and Kindle, by offering new format possibilities for books, newspapers and magazines, might just save the media industry. E-books, for example, are currently available for 125,000 titles on Amazon and make up 6 percent of the site’s total sales in books, including 48 percent of all titles available in both formats.But forecasters project sales to grow exponentially in the near future to the point that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has proclaimed that after a successful 500-year run, the book’s time has come.

For the People of the Book, a people not generally known for its early entrance into new technology opportunities, it’s time to start envisioning how things will change as we become the People of the E-book.

  • How might the Jewish community increase Jewish literacy as more religious and educational resources become digitized in e-formats, and thus become more easily disseminated and accessed?
  • Will prayer become more individualized as siddurs (prayer books) become available to everyone and can be carried without adding any extra bulk to a briefcase or book bag?
  • Will learning of Jewish texts attract new students as Torah and Talmud become available in new formats?
  • Will Jewish life become less expensive by saving on the purchase of books at religious schools and day schools?
  • How might synagogues and JCCs build relationships beyond their walls as sermons, newsletters and blog entries are sent to the palm of constituents’ hands?
  • Will all Jews need a handheld device, like new students at some universities, in order to fully participate in all the community has to offer?

We want to hear from you! How else might the Jewish world change as it enters the digital realm? What’s your organization or community doing to interact in the digital world?

Don’t Say Cheese

David Frank

In the old days one hallmark of a professional photographer was that the photog was never without a camera. By that standard, today just about all of us are professionals.

Cell phone cameras are ubiquitous. Now we go through our days visually armed, as it were, often immediately emailing friends the resulting photo reconnaissance of our lives. We post these mega-pixel bits and bytes of our lives in our Facebook albums. We tweet them to whoever will follow. We collect them in vast numbers on our computers. Sometimes they are dark, blurry rectangles that assert simply that we exist. Sometimes they surprise us with unspeakable depth, transforming even a random moment into a powerful enduring memory. Sometimes we make prints of them so they can become our companions, or even turn them into hardcover, realio-trulio coffee-table books all about us.

What does it all mean? Have we all become self-obsessed users of the latest must-have tech-tools for noting, recording and sharing our lives? Or think of this – have we, perhaps, all become historians newly in procession of cutting-edge tools for making meaning. Using these tools is it possible that we can now translate our busy, sometimes chaotic lives into the illustrated narratives that, upon reflection, help us understand who we are, where we fit and what we mean.

Here is a small example of what I am getting at. I have spent about an equal number of years in my life working as a Jewish educator and as a photographer. Recently, I have begun to photograph bar/bat mitzvahs – but with what I believe is an interesting twist that incorporates the sensibilities of both.

It is not just about a party. And it is certainly not about lining up the family and at my prompt encouraging them to, Say cheese. In fact, I do as little directing as possible. Just like you can with your cell cameras at the ready, I am after stories from real life. I begin months before photographing the child studying, working with the rabbi and cantor, documenting the mitzvah project, the party planning, the suit/dress shopping, anything related to any aspect of what is involved in a 21st Century bar/bat mitzvah – taking pictures that ultimatelygive me the raw material to tell a much bigger story. Now a trusted confidant, I interview the child exploring what they make of all the attention being heaped upon them, their Torah reading, their expectations, and their fears. I talk to the parents about their child, their aims for the event, their Jewish identities and what they hope to pass on to their children. Then I weave a narrative words and pictures and I put them in a book a personal history book that can play an important role in helping a family define and express the meaning of the experience.

Bat Mitzvah – Images by David Frank

And, here is something to consider – even the very fact of photographing makes meaning. Remember, Im not talking about a Say cheese grab-shot. But Im also not suggesting anything about the quality of the camera you might use. Im talking about the quality of paying a particular kind of attention that has the capacity to suggest to your young subject that THESE aspects of your process (the study, the talks with the rabbi, the time spent alone drilling words of Torah, etc.) are significant and valuable. And the resulting photographs then can take their rightful place.

And the photographs make the memories. Thats why we take pictures. We grab from the swift flow of undifferentiated life a few split seconds of our lives and say, Stop! Just now I want you to be this age, with these people, in this place forever. Such pictures, especially at peek moments can help to define who we are.

Consider the photo documentation of your own life. How your memories are sparked when you peruse an old album. Look at my big hair! Those are some crazy lapels! Look how beautiful Mom was when she was young. What if the interior monologue could continue Here I am before my Bat Mitzvah. Im so proud that or Wow, this was the first time I touched a Torah. or Here I am in the rabbis study Pie in the sky? Perhaps, but without the photographic jolts to memory over the years the event loses its specificity and its power to shape identity. Identity = authentic experiences, sensitively documented and well remembered. My own, now adult, daughter is still awed by the photos that remind her that all those people had come to see HER.

At a recent Bat Mitzvah the family stood on the bima with the rabbi reciting the Havdalah blessings. They tasted the wine, smelled the spices, illuminated their fingertips but missed, until they saw the photograph, the moment when a daughter, caught up in her thoughts and feelings, rested her head on her mothers shoulder. It lasted for a second. Went unnoticed. But the photograph now has great familial power. The photograph creates the memory. The memory is inexorably tied to this very intimate and Jewish moment.

You have the tools. You have the digital means to enter the rush of ones and zeros and use it to stop time, to write histories, to interpret the present in service of the future, to fill the histories of those around you with the memories of Jewish moments. And these moments make meaning. They illustrate the narratives through which we come to know who we are.

Further resources:

The Meaning of Family Photographs by Charles Williams

Candid Photography, and the Meaning of “Real-Life” by Len Bernstein

Reading Photographs to Write With Meaning and Purpose, Grades 412 by Leigh Van Horn

Social Media And The New Meaning of Photographs

Family Photographs: Content, Meaning and Effect by Julia Hirsch

David Frank was a photojournalist and graphics editor at various newspapers in Michigan before becoming a Jewish educator and the Director of Conferences at CAJE. He is a storyteller, always trying to tell the public story, the back story, the whole story – your story. He makes art out of both the simple and the sublime moments in life. He lives in New Jersey. You can learn more about his photography at

Twelcome to Twebrew School

What would Eliezer Ben Yehuda Tweet? Well, from what we know of the eccentric father of modern Hebrew, he probably would have found the technology (let alone the prospect of naming it) overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean we have to…

The latest initiative from NJOP (National Jewish Outreach Project) is a Hebrew literacy initiative, with Twitter and social media as its hook.

The project is an outgrowth of NJOPs popular Read Hebrew America program, said NJOP publicist Ilya Welfeld, founded with the idea of reaching people who arent inclined to join a community class the Jewish Tweets social media brand was a perfect background, providing a little kitsch and allowing people to learn Hebrew in bite-sized pieces.

Right away, almost 200 people officially registered, Welfeld said, noting that these are just the people who proactively want to be receiving everything directly to them. But on a daily basis, several hundred people are participating however theywant. The intent was to create learning that was atyour own pace, in your own space.

TwebrewSchoolprovides three free learning options: Tweetups, video lessons, and newsletter signup; and if you already know Hebrew, you cansign up to be a Twebrew School teacher . Check out your Twebrew twoptions at this twebsite

Have you joined the ranks of Twebrew School teachers? Do you know someone who’s using NJOP’s Twebrew School program in their local community? Share your experiences and feedback with us here.

Haven’t seen the Twebrew School videos yet? Begin your education with Lessons 1 & 2.

This post is an expanded version of the original, which appeared on Esther’s blog, My Urban Kvetch.

Dream with Darim: Darim Educator Fellows Winter/Spring Cohort Applications Open

Got a Big Idea for Jewish learning and new media? Are you an educator in a North American congregational / complementary Jewish setting? What are you waiting for? Apply now to the Darim Educator Fellows program!

Darim will work with up to 3 individuals through coaching and mentoring over a five month Fellowship. Check out details and the link to the application form here:

Meet our current Fellows:

  • Joshua Altman, Temple Sholom, Greenwich, CT Josh is creating an online collaborative newspaper / blog with his religious school students.
  • Lynne Lieberman, Friedman Commission for Jewish Education, West Palm Beach, FL Lynne is developing an online professional development course on differentiated learning for synagogue educators.
  • Rachel Sesser, Temple Sholom of West Essex, Cedar Grove, NJ Rachel is creating an online community resource for students and their families to engage in classroom and extracurricular activities.
  • Viki Shayna, Temple Beth Emeth, Ann Arbor, MI Viki is developing an extension of a community collaborative project that will bring together American and Israeli families online.

Get your creative juices flowing this holiday weekend! Applications are due Friday, December 4, 2009. Questions? Give us a shout at [email protected].

Helpful hint: we posted a preview of the application on the Fellows information page so you can prepare your longer responses in advance and cut and paste them into the online application form.

The Darim Educator Fellows program is made possible by a generous grant from the Covenant Foundation.