Hot off the JTA Press: Synagogues and Social Media

Read all about it: “Synagogues Blogging and Tweeting their Way to New Kinds of Communication,” by Sue Fishkoff on JTA!

The article describes how congregations around the country are taking advantage of resources such as webcasts, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and video. Darim’s Lisa Colton notes that synagogues and religious schools are using social media to foster new models of community participation and engagement.

Props to our Darim Online members and friends – including Ellen Dietrick @cbipreschool; Gabby Volodarsky, Temple Sinai Oakland; Rabbi Alan Lucas and Rabbi Jeni Friedman at Temple Beth Sholom, Roslyn; Rabbi Jonathan Blake, Westchester Reform Temple; @Sixth & I; and, Congregation Ner Tamid – for diving into social media territory and sharing their stories!

How is your synagogue or religious community tapping into social media? Share YOUR stories!

The Social Sermon: An Innovative Approach to Community Building, Engagement and Torah Study

Picture 7Social media, like other major communication revolutions before it (think: printing press) have radically changed the way we learn, connect and organize. The impact on culture and behavior is significant – we have new ways to connect with our communities, find meaning, express ourselves and engage. The new ease of organizing is fundamentally changing the role that organizations play for their constituents. This is great news for the Jewish community, if we are able to take advantage of it.

We invite you to try a new approach to Torah study, community building, and perhaps even sermon writing in your congregation, The Social Sermon, an idea comes from acknowledging three things:

1) That many people can’t get to the synagogue for a lunch or evening Torah study class, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested;
2) That people want the social experience of learning, not just passive reading or listening to a lecture, and that connection through learning enriches a local community; and
3) Social technologies can be a wonderful tool to enrich and augment Torah learning in local communities.

Imagine a Saturday morning sermon that’s the work of not only your rabbi, but you as well. Lets take it a step further: what if it weren’t just you and your rabbi, but also your fellow congregants, young and old, those new to the community and the stalwarts of your city? By the time your rabbi delivers his Shabbat remarks, he or she could be drawing inspiration from, or even representing the discussion of, hundreds of his congregants!

What does The Social Sermon look like? At the beginning of the week a Rabbi posts a question on his or her blog, or on Twitter with a particular hashtag (e.g. #CBSSS for Congregation Beth Shalom Social Sermon), or as a Facebook post on the congregation’s Page. The first post would describe a theme of the parasha, or link to some text, and at the end, pose a question.

As comments and responses start to be posted, the Rabbi then facilitates an ongoing conversation through the week — responding regularly with insight, text, links, answers to questions, and more questions to guide the discussion.

By the end of the week, several things will have happened:

  • New people are engaged in Torah study. Likely a portion of the online participants are a demographic that doesn’t often come to mid-day or evenig adult education classes. (On-site classes – adult and youth – can also participate);
  • Participants will have formed new relationships through the online discussion, perhaps following each other on Twitter, friending each other on Facebook, etc. which leads to ambient awareness, thus strengthening your community;
  • The Rabbi will have a better understand of what aspects of the parasha resonate with the community, and be able to design a Shabbat sermon that is the most relevant for the congregation, and will have ideas, quotes, context to make the sermon even more rich; and
  • More people may show up for Shabbat services, feeling more educated, connected and like they have some ownership over the sermon that week.

And for those that missed the service, they could read it the next day when the rabbi posts the sermon back on the blog or web site, with a link on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Interested? Use the SocialSermon tag on this blog to find posts about the Social Sermon, and for case studies and guest posts from Rabbis and educators who are doing it. Follow #socialsermon on Twitter for updates, links to these blog posts, and to connect with others who are doing it. Join us on Facebook to be connected others who are doing Social Sermons and get important news.

Feel free to adapt the concept — a confirmation class could do this throughout the week between class meetings, a youth group could do it with their adviser or a parent facilitator. Please report back and let us know how it’s going, and what you’re doing. Please let us know if we can help you at any stage – leave a comment here, or any other space mentioned above.

Want more “hand holding”? Darim offers hourly consulting, and we are working with interested Social Sermoners to find funding from a donor or Federation small grants program to work with a group of Rabbis in your local community. Holler if you’d like more information.

Ready, Set…. Social Sermon!

Get Over Your Fear of Critics, and Learn To Appreciate Them

For some, social media is a bit scary because it empowers the public to voice their thoughts. While hopefully in the vast majority of circumstances this means engaging in more meaningful conversations, learning about new supports, and amplifying your message through valuable networks, it also means that critics can make their rants public. This is scary, and threatening. Partially because of the potential content of those rants, and largely because it represents a loss of control.

I often remind those concerned that control is largely an illusion — those rants and conversations happen in the parking lot, the dinner table, via email and on Facebook. The companies that have done a great job of turning around their brands (Comcast, Dell) have done so not be trying to shut down the conversation or ignoring it, but by listening, acknowledging, and learning from it. (For stories about what they’ve done, read Twitterville.)

Chris Brogan, a widely known and well respects new media marketing specialist, writes a very prolific (and insightful) blog and weekly e-newsletter. This week he talks about critics, and offers some advice :

If you are fortunate enough to have critics, you’re doing something right … I want to share with you how I deal with critics, and what you might learn from the gifts they give you.

Thank them. No matter what a critic says, say “Thanks for your thoughts,” or a variation. They have taken the time to offer their opinions, however invalid or unhelpful, with you. Say thanks. It’s the only good response to a criticism.
Don’t defend yourself. The person giving you the opinion probably doesn’t care what you have to say about it. They just wanted to share their take. You can reply and reflect back what they’ve said, but try not to defend. It only comes off as making you look defensive and it just goes nowhere fast.
Decide for yourself, in private, if you agree. You don’t have to take every critic’s opinion, but listen to whether there’s any grain of truth in what they say. I learn when my critics are my friends, but I learn LOTS when they are people who don’t much like me. Sometimes, I’m able to adapt their mean words into something of great value to myself.
Don’t just throw it out, is my point. Criticism can be helpful, even non-constructive criticism, if you are willing to hear a bit of it and throw away the junk. Thing is, don’t necessarily run around seeking it, either. It can build up like toxin in our veins, and if we’re only hearing a stream of icky things, that doesn’t help us at all.

… It took me a long while to believe in myself enough to not believe in critics. There’s a great bit from an interview (and I forget who the subject was), where she said something about really loving her positive reviews, but then her agent said, if you believe all the positive reviews, you have to believe all the negative critics. That’s stuck with me.

Personally, I’ve found most of the criticism we receive on the blog is really helpful — it teaches me where I can improve, adds value to the conversation, and often helps me identify knowledgeable folks who are invested in our mission.

How do you think about critics and criticism, whether it be on or offline? How do you use it as a productive feedback loop? How to you respond to critics? What have you learned?

Darim Online has a Facebook Page and You Can Too

Facebook is growing up.

While you might have thought Facebook users are mostly 18 and 22 years old, the fastest growing population segment on Facebook is women 55 and older!Furthermore according to, nearly a quarter of all users on Facebook are 35 years old and up.

These facts may be surprising at first, but it what it tells us is important: Facebook users are of all ages and include the people that you want to engage with your organization.

To tap into this demographic shift, many nonprofit organizations have created Fan Pages, or popularly referred to as just “Pages,” to interact with their constituents on Facebook.

While individuals on Facebook create personal profiles, the analogous feature on Facebook for organizations is a Page. Organizational pages provide many of the same features as a profile page such as:
  • A name
  • A Picture
  • Basic Information
  • A Wall where you or others (if you allow them) can post notes, photos, links, comments and more
  • Applications to your page including the Causes App, which directs fans to make a donation directly to your charity, and
  • A News Feed

The news feed is really important because it allows the followers of your page to keep up with you without having to come to your page over and over. This is one of the key differences between pages and Facebook groups. In other words, the information in a page’s news feed goes directly to your fans rather than waits for your fans to come to it.

Example of a Temple Emanu-El’s news feed from its page:

Notice how Darim’s most recent post shows up on the home page of a follower mixed in with updates from other friends:

Because on a user’s homepage your organization is appearing among friends and other pages, it’s important your posts stand out with compelling and valuable content. For example, your organization can use its news feed to post interesting articles on the web, events that are happening in the community, etc., in addition to promoting yourself.

Before you create your page, it may be helpful to explore other nonprofit Pages on Facebook. If you have a favorite nonprofit page on Facebook, please leave a link to it in the comments section with why you like it.

While you are looking at the pages consider:

  • Who the organization is trying to reach out to?
  • What are the messages the organization is communicating?
  • How does the Page amplify and support the organizations other media or web presences?
  • How often is the Page updated?

Over the next series of posts on JewPoint0, we will lead you through some of the main opportunities you have in creating a Page. In the meantime you may want to check out Facebooks short tutorial and step-by-step guide on creating a page at Also, if you have any questions or comments feel free to post in the comments section by clicking in the link above. You could also tweet a question to @DarimOnline.

Strut your Stuff

  • Do you have a Fan Page? Feel free to post a link to it in the discussion section so we can all learn from your example!
  • There are many resources on the web about Facebook pages. Here are a few links to get you started. Try visiting Rachel Levy’s blog, Beth Kanter’s or Jeremy Owyang’s for more information about Fan Pages.
  • Stay tuned to JewPoint0, as we post tips on picking a name for your page, choosing a picture, what information to include and how to generate compelling content.

Take My Copy of Twitterville

Yes, it’s true. I want you to take this book out of my hands. I’ve read it, it’s great, but now it should be yours. As I’ve written before, I won this book from Beth Kanter and the author Shel Israel, with a promise that I’d pay it forward. So it’s your turn to elbow and claw your way through the throngs of hungry readers with your insightful comments, but first a few reflections to whet your appetite:

  1. While I’ve loved Shel’s previous work, I did expect this to be a well written “capitalize on Twitter’s exponential growth” book. In fact, it’s incredibly insightful, with great profiles of people and companies using Twitter in really creative ways. It stretched me. It’s also completely accessible to beginners. A fine line that Shel seems to have walked perfectly. I was pleasantly surprised.
  2. It challenged some decisions I’ve made – decisions that were strategic and thoughtful when I made them. For example, using the organization name and logo instead of the person’s name and photo, even when they are tweeting for the company. I’m still chewing on this one. In the meantime, I’ve edited @DarimOnline to show that it’s mostly, not entirely, Lisa at the keys. I’m curious how others think about offering this “human face” and transparency while still promoting the brand and, perhaps most importantly for many small organizations, creating continuity if/when staff turns over.
  3. I was reminded that you can start small and casual. As one guy from Ford is quoted, “Twitter was… the country store, where people came in and out and shared their gossip, and there I was, sitting by the pickle barrel.” (pg. 85)
  4. It’s more about listening than about talking. It’s so counter intuitive to so many of us that it can’t be said enough.
  5. One person in the organization can actually lead major change. So many examples were about one person in a large organization using this little tool in their remote cubicle, and it seeped into company culture because it was so darn useful.

So… that leads us to the question: How is Twitter useful for you? Alternatively, you can share your best piece of Twitter wisdom, or a Twitter-related question you’re wrestling with. We’ll choose our winner around Sukkot. And… please leave your Twitter username with your comment so we can check you out!

Announcing: The New Darim Educator Fellows Program!

Attention North American educators in congregational / complementary Jewish settings! Ever wish you had the opportunity to spend some focused and supported time on developing and implementing your Big Idea for Jewish learning and new media? Looking for a community of like-minded educators?

Well, guess what?!

Darim Online is pleased to announce the Darim Educator Fellows program, an intensive semester of hands-on professional learning.

The program is designed for educators in Jewish congregational / complementary learning settings who are already using new media in their work and who would like to take their practice to the next level.

Darim will mentor up to 3 educators who are willing to devote at least 2-4 hours a month to professional learning over a 5 month semester. The Fellows program includes one-on-one coaching, exposure to successful models in Jewish and non-Jewish educational settings, and more. Darim Educator Fellows also participate in the broader Darim Online Learning Network for Educators.


Details and applications for the Fall semester are available here. Applications must be received by Friday, August 14, 2009, 6:00pm Eastern.

We offer additional learning opportunities to Jewish educators through membership in the Darim Online Learning Network for Educators. Learn more on Darim’s website.

The Darim Educator Fellows and the Darim Online Learning Network for Educators is made possible by a generous grant from the Covenant Foundation.

What is “marketing” and “communications”?

While many people think the word “marketing” refers to trying to sell something, it’s really much more beautiful than that. We can look at the Jewish community in 2 different ways. Commonly, we see institutions which are trying to get people to become members, attend events, and make donations. Through a different lens we see groups of people with common interests, needs and locations coming together to form communities. And as these communities grow, they need some structure to support their activities.

The mistake we make in thinking about marketing and communications is that we put the institution first, when we should be putting the individual, and the community needs first. It is a subtle but important difference. The exciting thing about “web 2.0” — both the technology tools and the culture evolving with it– is that it brings us back to the centrality of the community over the institution.

Our Learning Network session tomorrow for Darim member congregations is a first step in examining this shift. “Communications” are more than a standard issue bulletin and the phone tree. Communications today is about weaving together the community. It’s as much about listening and responding as it is about hawking your wares. If you are a member can can’t attend our session you can find useful resources and an archive of the webinar in Dirah. If you’re not yet a member of Darim you can learn more on our website.

Coming soon – some reading recommendations for rethinking your assumptions about marketing and communications. Stay tuned.